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Panthers finish what they started


CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers finished strong at Indianapolis on Sunday, and they aren't finished yet.

"That's a mentality, a toughness that we have to continue to develop, and that was a huge step for us," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Monday, one day after a 27-19 victory over the Colts. "If you look back at what happened to us against Detroit (a week earlier), we didn't answer. This time, we did. We answered with special teams, the offense put points on the board, and the defense came up with two interceptions at the end of the game.

"It can be a huge confidence builder."

Monday, Rivera found himself in the unique position of being able to talk in positive terms about finishing – referencing both the recent past as well as the near future.

Entering the Colts game, the Panthers had five of their previous six opponents on the ropes, only to come away with just one victory. They finished the job Sunday, however, and now have a chance to win road games on back-to-back Sundays for the first time since 2007 when they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 13.

The Panthers haven't won back-to-back games, regardless of venue, since a three-game winning streak to end the 2009 regular season.

"The opportunity now is to do something that we haven't done," Rivera said. "We'll approach it one Sunday at a time, but in the back of our minds we know what we're working towards and what we're playing for. It's an opportunity to set the tone. We've just got to approach it that way. Just keep working hard, and good things will happen. I really believe that."

After the offense and special teams set the stage, the defense delivered the finishing blows against the Colts with interceptions in the end zone by cornerback Chris Gamble and safety Sherrod Martin in the final five minutes. It was in stark contrast to a week earlier, when the defense keyed an early 24-7 lead but then faded in a 49-35 loss.

"The biggest thing was, 'Hey, give us a chance to win,' " Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "In the first quarter of the Detroit game, we did that with sacks and turnovers, but after that I didn't think we gave our football team a chance to win. There's not a guy in that room that felt good about that, myself included.

"Sunday, we made huge plays down the stretch. They had a couple of opportunities late down eight to score and tie it up, and we answered. That was huge."

The emphasis on finishing started well before the game. McDermott showed the team a video of its best plays Saturday night at the team hotel, and then he kept the positive vibe going in the hours leading up to kickoff.

"He wanted us to turn the page and start fresh," linebacker Dan Connor said. "We had a lot of pre-game talks to get our heads on right. We knew we had to come out and attack."

Rivera said the Panthers plan to collectively attack what's left of the season – in part for the sake of next season.

"We're playing for six Sundays now - the next five, and then the first one next season," Rivera said. "We're going to continue to build in that direction."

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