Skip to main content

Panthers learning how to win


CHARLOTTE - Carolina Panthers players had grown weary of hearing about what could have been but wasn't.

In response, they grew up.

The Panthers led in nine of their first 10 games but had just two victories to show for it, but now they've won three of their last four, including Sunday's 28-13 victory over a 10-win Houston Texans team.

"You get tired of everybody in the locker room saying, 'Man, we were up. We should have won,'" wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "Well, let's stop losing games. Let's just go out and win so we don't have to have these same discussions.

"Practice won't be as hard, and Coach won't be talking about the same thing over and over if we just go out and win games."

The Panthers enjoyed having Monday off after winning their third consecutive road game, a streak matched in the NFC only by the New Orleans Saints.

In Sunday's victory, their first of the season over a team with a winning record, the gains made extended well beyond the scoreboard.

"The one thing that is starting to happen is that this team is starting to develop its character. You're starting to see leaders stepping up and taking over," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Monday, making particular note of rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

"Cam is a young guy who is very respectful of the veteran guys around him, but now he's starting to have the realization that he's the guy," Rivera continued. "He's going to be one of the guys that helps take us to the next level."

LaFell said Newton fired up the team before the game with a speech, helping jump-start a half in which the Panthers blew out to a 21-0 lead. Then in the second half, when the going got tough, other voices joined the chorus.

When the Texans rallied to within 21-13 and appeared poised to complete a comeback similar to the one the Atlanta Falcons had pulled off a week earlier, veteran left tackle Jordan Gross went to work.

"In the flow of a normal football game, there's going to be a stretch where you're struggling on offense or defense. You've got to get through that, and that's what we haven't been able to do most of this year," Gross said. "So I was going up and down the sidelines telling guys, 'Hey, we're still up eight,' because a lot of times when you have that momentum change, even though you have the lead, it doesn't feel like it.

"I said, 'We've got to play like we're playing with the lead.'"

Next, wide receivers coach Fred Graves chimed in.

"Coach Graves called an offensive meeting on the sideline and lit into us, telling us that we needed to make a play, get a drive going and stop putting our defense in bad situations," LaFell said. "We needed to man up."

And finally, when the Panthers took the field, Newton again rallied the troops.

"I've looked at the film from the first game of the year. Plays were being made, but honestly in the whole grand scheme of things I could have had more control of that game," Newton said Sunday. "Fast-forward it to today, and I understand the nature of the game - that it's going to go up and down, up and down. But you still have to get everybody onboard to know that when it's time to attack, everybody has to be a part of it."

That's exactly what happened, as the Panthers built the lead back to 15 points with a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown march after they had mustered just 23 yards on 12 plays in the entire third quarter.

Linebacker James Anderson followed that with an interception in the end zone on the Texans' ensuing drive, then the offense ran out the final 7:25 with a steady diet of running plays.


The final quarter typified the Panthers' new, more mature attitude as the season winds down.

"It's not so much about what the other team is doing now. We're going into every game feeling like we're going to be the dictators," LaFell said. "Whatever we do on offense, defense and special teams will determine whether we win or not.

"We're not worrying about the look you give us or what your offense is going to do to our defense. We're going to come out here and attack you. We're going to put points on the board, make you turn the ball over and win the game."

Related Content