CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Cam Newton got caught up in the moment just like everyone else, but he doesn't intend to get trapped by the moment.
The playoff atmosphere last Sunday in San Francisco, followed by a team-wide feeling of joy comparable to a playoff victory, was one to remember.
But Newton and the Panthers can't afford to forget what got them there.
"We're relevant right now, but we can't stop and say, 'Let's pop bottles. Let's celebrate and order some hot wings and pizza,'" Newton said. "We're just halfway through the season right now. We've got to continue to do the things that are putting this feeling in our hearts because it's becoming a special thing to watch."
Newton marveled along with everyone else at the defense's effort in a 10-9 victory over the reigning NFC champion 49ers, but with the perennial championship contending New England Patriots coming to town for Monday Night Football, Newton has turned his attention more toward the "10" that was on the scoreboard last Sunday.
He knows it wasn't a perfect 10.
"Our defense has been stellar, and from the looks of it they will continue to be stellar with the leadership that they have," Newton said. "It was fun to be a part of, but we know that offensively we're not going to be able to get away with scoring just 10 points a game and saying that's going to be enough. I don't care what defense you have out there."
While the 49ers rank fourth in scoring defense and sixth in yards allowed (the Panthers are second in both categories), the Patriots are a bit of a mixed bag. They're one of 12 NFL teams allowing more than 360 yards a game, but they're one of just seven teams allowing less than 20 points a game.
"They're a really good coached team that plays sound football," Newton said. "They really don't get fooled by a lot of things. That minimizes big plays – guys that know where their help is in coverage and manipulate quarterbacks and create turnovers. That's an offense's nightmare.
"At the same time, it still comes down to how we play as an offense. If we listen to coaching and do the things we're capable of doing, this game will favor us."
The Panthers offense has exceled at keeping the chains moving. Newton hasn't produced nearly as many explosive plays as he did his first two seasons, but Carolina ranks third in the NFL in third-down efficiency and are facing a Patriots defense that ranks 24th when it comes to stopping third downs.
That level of efficiency has helped Carolina lead the league in time of possession, a statistic that should be again important Monday with the Panthers obviously preferring that Tom Brady stand on the sideline as much as possible.
"In this league to win consistently, you have to have the big-play threat – which we do have – but you have to have methodical drives constantly," Newton said. "We have showed more times than not that we're capable of that, and if we have that mentality – especially with our defense playing lights-out like they are – it can be scary at times.
"Offensively, we've got to continue getting first downs, have that first-down mentality. If you get enough first downs, sooner or later you're going to get in the colorful rectangle at the end of the field."
Newton knows that getting into that "colorful rectangle" enough times eventually leads to the winner's circle, and that's the ultimate goal come Monday. Newton would love nothing more than a repeat of the emotionally charged scene in San Francisco but knows it will take execution rather than emotion to reach that goal.
"The opponent right now is the New England Patriots, THE New England Patriots," Newton said. "We have to pack our lunch and come into work with a clear head and sound mind. We know we have to put our best foot forward."