CHARLOTTE – "We play for each other, not just with each other."
Fullback Mike Tolbert said those words a few weeks back, and they resonated.
That one-word distinction – "for" instead of "with" – carries a lot of weight in Carolina.
People are asking a lot of questions about the 9-0 Panthers, one of them being: Why is this team still undefeated?
Yes, the quarterback play has been superb. Yes, the running game has been consistently productive. Yes, the defense has been stout and opportunistic.
But the more players you talk to, the more you discover how important they feel brotherhood and trust is to their success.
"There are a lot of individuals in this league that wish they had the mesh that the Carolina Panthers have in that locker room," quarterback Cam Newton said. "This is a special thing we have going."
People around the league have suggested Carolina is home to one of the tightest locker rooms in the NFL.
The Panthers can't speak for other teams, but they know that what they have is unique.
"It's not common," said Tolbert, an eight-year veteran. "It's not common at all."
The tight-knit nature of the Carolina locker room essentially boils down to two things that aren't as easy to find as you might think.
One, they like and defend one another. Two, they believe everyone in the room can help win games, and they've needed a collective effort to win games.
"Guys genuinely like each other," Tolbert explained. "And we trust in everybody's ability. We know from top to bottom that everyone can play. We love doing this together."
Said wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., a nine-year veteran: "It's a great group. I believe everybody knows what that man is really about when they look left or right."
Said second-year guard Trai Turner: "That shows, I think."
Turner said the locker room dynamic is a "huge" reason the Panthers are 9-0.
"There is a certain culture this team has built," he said. "I was fortunate enough to come into it."
So was 12-year defensive end Jared Allen, who was traded to the Panthers from the Chicago Bears earlier in the season.
"This team is very selfless. Zero drama," Allen said. "That takes the right individuals and the right type of coach."
Head coach Ron Rivera made the locker room a priority a long time ago. And its health has become a driving force in the team's success.
"I think our culture downstairs is what we've been working to build," Rivera said. "We've got a group of young men that fit our organization very well. A lot of these guys just enjoy each other's company.
"They continue to bond as a football team and as young men. We're in a good spot right now. I hope we can continue to create this type of culture."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game versus Washington.