CHARLOTTE – After the Carolina Panthers dominated the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, everyone outside the locker room had to wonder where that type of performance had been all season.
"It was like that in here, too," center Ryan Kalil said. "That's not far from the feeling."
Kalil also has a feeling that what happened wasn't a fluke. The 31-point victory was a case of the Panthers playing their most complete game to date and the Saints playing their most incomplete one. But Carolina didn't resort to any sort of trickery that points to the game being just a one-week wonder.
With fans and reporters outside the locker room calling for sweeping changes as the losses mounted over the last two months, the Panthers continued to say all they really needed to change was their level of play.
Sunday, they did just that.
"The most exciting part is that we didn't really change anything. We just figured out a way to be better at what we're doing and be more consistent at it," Kalil said. "The tapes in the past haven't been terrible. It's just been a missed play here, a missed play there, and this time you didn't see that."
Kalil chalked up what looked like sudden success for the offense to the passage of time for an offensive group with its share of youth. Three rookies – wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and guards Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell – were in the starting lineup on offense against New Orleans.
There has been some signs of progress before the Saints game, though they didn't show up on the scoreboard like the Panthers would have hoped. An explosive second half versus Atlanta before the bye came a little late, and the running game got going after the bye in Minnesota but only after a couple of special teams errors created too big of a hole.
At New Orleans, everything worked well from the very beginning.
"All season long there have been plays to be made, and the schemes and play calling have been really good. We just didn't execute as a group on offense," Kalil said. "We showed up a couple of games but too late. We had been very inconsistent. This was a much more efficient offense. We took turns making plays.
"The young guys have some experience now. We've been sticking with the same scheme all year, and it's finally starting to pay off. Guys understand what we're doing, and it's a lot more productive because of that."
The emphatic victory kept the Panthers' playoff hopes alive, but for a team that took a one-day-at-a-time approach during its six-game losing streak, there's no looking past Sunday's home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Our focus isn't on worrying about what we can't control," Kalil said. "We made our own bed with how we played in the middle of the season. The focus is just on finishing real strong."