CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera had a simple message for his players following Thursday's blowout loss to the Steelers – one that you don't hear too often from, well, football coaches.
"Get away from football," Rivera told his team. "Sometimes the best medicine is to get away from it, to forget about it and then come back ready to roll."
The Panthers got rolled on Thursday Night Football. Entering the game on a three-game winning streak that started with what looked like a pivotal moment for the direction of the season, Carolina fell hard, 52-21, to the surging Steelers.
Carolina's fourth-quarter rally from 17 points down back in Week 7 at the Eagles was a turning point – until it wasn't. Now a lopsided loss back in the state of Pennsylvania could possibly prove a turning point as well.
"I do think it can be; it's a matter of how we take it. We've got to learn from this experience and get better from it," Rivera said. "I believe we're a better football team than we showed. One game is not going to define who we are going forward. It shows us and gives us an example of what will happen if we don't play to our abilities."
The Panthers' actual bye was in Week 4, the earliest on the NFL schedule. Now a mini-bye created by playing on Thursday night has arrived in Week 10, a good time for players to recharge their batteries for the stretch run.
"First of all it gives them an opportunity to rest their bodies; I would like to think that we have more than seven weeks left," Rivera said, referencing his hope that the Panthers will advance to the playoffs for the fifth time in six season. "And it gives them a chance to really, truly get away from it, to do some other things and then come back and energized and refocused so we can get rolling and see what happens.
"We've got a stretch coming up where we've got to play well. We've got Detroit coming up. They're a good football team. Going forward, we have an opportunity to play well and win some football games."
Three of the next four games for the Panthers, still sitting in playoff position at 6-3, are on the road, but there's a good chance they'll be favored in all four games. The best record of the quartet belongs to the Seahawks at 4-4, and they're the one team in the stretch that has to come to Charlotte.
After those four games against Detroit, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Cleveland, the Panthers wrap up the schedule with three games against their fiercest division rivals, hosting the Saints and Falcons before wrapping up the regular season in New Orleans.
"We've got to take them one at a time, and we've got to get past this one," Rivera said. "This was a humbling learning experience. A lot of good things happened in a three-game stretch, and then unfortunately we made some mistakes.
"We're still evaluating and reviewing some things, and we've got a little bit of extra time to do that. We'll come up with the appropriate answers."