CHARLOTTE — Whenever a team loses a few in a row — or a game in heartbreaking fashion like the Panthers did last week against the Eagles — the bigger concern becomes how they respond to keep it from becoming a trend.
And as it pertains to the very narrow scope of the first day of on-field work this week, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule appeared to be pleased.
"I thought today was our best practice we've had, probably since I've been here," Rhule said Wednesday.
Players were in full pads, and they said there was a little extra in the way they went about their work. Once the practice plan was posted, players realized Wednesday was going to be different.
"Yeah. I think word goes around pretty fast in the locker room that way," quarterback Sam Darnold said. "We all knew what to expect. And we had a good day out there."
Darnold described the day's work as "intense."
"It was good," he said. "To be able to go against each other for a couple of periods, a good physical practice was something we needed. I thought we came out strong.
"It's always good to fly around full speed."
Wide receiver Robby Anderson said, "I think we came out with a little animosity. I think everybody's a little frustrated because we lost the last two games. . . . the goal is to practice good, and play better."
But it wasn't like they were out there beating each other's brains out; there was a focus to the work. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown described it as having a heightened "attention to detail."
"Guys are holding each other accountable more than ever right now," Brown said. "Whether it's DaQuan Jones, an 8- or 9-year vet, or me in my second year or Daviyon Nixon in his rookie year, we've all got something to say to each other. From a D-line perspective that's how it was."
That had to have been music to Rhule's ears, because he preaches to his team about the importance of practice. He believes that's where improvement has to happen, and that teams have to want to practice well, so seeing his team respond Wednesday was clearly a positive.
"The defense came out with a lot of energy today, the offensive guys had an edge to them, so that was a good practice," Rhule said. "We've been practicing well, but this is the best. Hopefully, we see some dividends and do it again tomorrow.
"When you have an edge, usually you're a lot better. To not have played our best game last Sunday, you'd hope you'd have an edge."
There were also signs of that during the Eagles game. The Fox network broadcast showed Anderson yelling at receivers coach Frisman Jackson during the late stages of the loss. Without context, it makes it look like a sign of players losing control.
But Anderson explained Wednesday that he was trying to communicate to Jackson that certain routes would be open to him, based on the coverage he was seeing. The way the game was going doubtless heightened the intensity of the exchange.
Anderson described it as "passion" rather than anger, but admitted that he was frustrated by the way the game was going.
"I don't really see nothing wrong with that," he explained. "Tom Brady does that, and he's one of the greatest. Players get mad, coaches yell at players. It's nothing I'm ashamed of. It's not like anything I'll look back on five years from now, and it will affect my legacy.
"The world can see I actually care. A lot of times people get extensions and get money and step back and collect the check. That's not the case with me. I'm here to be great. my mindset is I've got a lot to prove, and I want to win, so I hope that's how my teammates view it."
Based on the reactions to the way they worked Wednesday, many of them shared the fire.
"You want to be able to put the past behind you, but as a competitor, you understand coming into a Wednesday practice, we lost last Sunday," Darnold said. "That should tick all of us off a little bit.
"And that being said, we've got a lot of great competitors in that locker room, and they came out ready to practice ready go today. So we're going to continue to have that mindset throughout the week, and we'll be ready to go on Sunday."
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Panthers prepare to face the Vikings on Sunday in Week 6.