CHARLOTTE – As cornerback Captain Munnerlyn jogged toward the Panthers' locker room at FedExField on Sunday, he couldn't help himself.
"It's about time, I'll tell you that," Munnerlyn bellowed to nobody in particular following Carolina's 21-13 victory over the Washington Redskins. "It's about time."
And it was about time for the Panthers – about time that they won a close game after so many painful losses, but also about the time they put in even as the losses mounted.
"It was good to see. The guys deserved it," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Monday. "When you lose football games but you're close, especially four weeks in a row, it tells you that you're good enough to win, and you should win. So when you get a game like yesterday – we could have won by a little more and not made it as exciting down the stretch – but it was great."
The Panthers (2-6) had dropped their previous four games by a total of 12 points after leading all four in the fourth quarter. Carolina, however, closed the deal this time to head into the second half of the schedule on a high note.
"It's about continuing to trend up," Rivera said. "Obviously you want to win them all, you want to win as many as you can. What that number is, I don't know, but everything we do is about trying to win them all. We'll start with this first one."
Rivera said one of the keys to the Panthers not looking like a one-win team Sunday was that they haven't been acting like a one-win team behind the scenes. Despite a demoralizing start to the season, the players have done a remarkable job of keeping morale up, an attitude that helped put them in position for the ultimate morale booster against the Redskins.
"The nice thing has been that as hard as it has been after some of these games, our guys bounce back. They've been very resilient," Rivera said. "It tells you that these guys really want to do things the right way and are willing to make those sacrifices."
Rather than seeing his players go into a shell, Rivera has witnessed them going to work. An amped-up energy level that enveloped practice last Thursday and Friday translated to the game, but just as important is what Rivera has seen from his team after practice.
"After practice, you watch groups of guys stay and do extra work," Rivera said. "You don't expect that from guys that are going through what they've gone through, but that's what they're doing. That's been great.
"The players have really been doing the things they need to do to get better."
They were better against the Redskins, and they'll need to be better still when the Denver Broncos bring their three-game winning streak to Bank of America Stadium this Sunday.
But now that the Panthers have snapped their five-game losing streak, they feel like it finally could be their time.
"It's all about confidence," Rivera said. "You play this game better obviously when you're confident, when you know things are going to happen rather than just hoping. It's a mentality.
"This is an emotional game, and we needed to get over that emotional hump. It was really good to see. There have been some really good things that have gone on the last few weeks. Obviously we only have one win to show for it, but at least we are showing in the right direction."