CHARLOTTE — It sounds strange to say it, and it's still impossible to know what it all means.
But at this moment, in this building at least, the Panthers are on a bit of a roll.
The Panthers continued to build on the solid defense they've played in the non-Cincinnati recent weeks, but this time, they also scored some points on offense to go with it.
The result was a 23-10 win over the Broncos Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, their third straight win at home under interim coach Steve Wilks (now 3-0 in his hometown).
That improved them to 4-8 for the season, meaning they're going to need a lot of help to have any hopes of the postseason (it's only a possibility because they're in the NFC South), but at the moment, the hope they feel in that locker room is real because they're playing well.
The Panthers had played half a game in recent weeks (specifically in last week's 13-3 loss in Baltimore), but the offense did its part Sunday.
And that it came with a quarterback change was impossible not to notice.
Sam Darnold, starting his first game of the season after replacing Baker Mayfield, was back to the competent form he showed in the first four games of last season. Last year, when he had much less of an offensive line, he posted a 95.4 passer rating and went 3-1 before things started going off the rails.
Sunday, Darnold was 11-of-19 for 164 yards and a touchdown, and re-established a connection with wide receiver DJ Moore, who finished with 103 yards (after Moore entered the game with 502 yards in the first 11 games).
Darnold threw a 5-yard pass to Moore for a touchdown in the first quarter, and rolled in for a score after collecting his own fumble in the third quarter. That made it Darnold's sixth rushing touchdown since the beginning of last year, tied with Chuba Hubbard for most of any Panthers player since the start of the 2021 season.
The Panthers have a simple formula at the moment, and they're executing. They protected Darnold well, and continued to run the way they've been doing since Wilks took over.
— The Panthers also built on the job they did last week against Lamar Jackson, keeping Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson from ever getting into any kind of rhythm. The man who was for so long a Panthers nemesis in Seattle finished 19-of-35 for 142 yards with a touchdown and three sacks.
Defensive end Brian Burns had a pair of sacks, giving him 10.0 for the year.
It's the first time he's reached double-digit sacks in a season, with five games left.
He also batted down a pass at the line, and forced a Wilson fumble on one of those sacks, as the Panthers continued to apply pressure throughout the game.
There was a nervous moment in the fourth quarter, as Burns was slow to get up after a play. He threw his helmet to the ground in frustration, and slowly walked to the blue medical tent. Moments later, he came out of the tent, waved to someone in the crowd, and gave a thumbs-up sign, before returning to the game.
— Even when the Panthers made mistakes, the defense allowed them to survive.
Rookie Raheem Blackshear muffed a punt in the first half to gift the Broncos good field position, but the Panthers held Denver to a field goal.
Blackshear, who has been good on kickoff returns this year, was filling in for Shi Smith after Smith missed most of last week with an illness. Smith came back on the field for the next punt, but Blackshear later returned.
The Panthers also balanced the scales by creating a special teams turnover in the fourth quarter, with cornerback T.J. Carrie ripping the ball away from the Broncos' returner to set up a field goal of their own.
— Foreman was in and out of the game to get checked for what appeared to be a left ankle situation, at one point going to the medical tent to get checked.
But he continued to come back, and showed no signs of slowing down late.
Safety Xavier Woods left the game in the fourth quarter, and was announced as questionable to return. He did not return. The Panthers have been using special teams standout Sam Franklin Jr. more on defense the last two weeks, with Jeremy Chinn playing closer to the line of scrimmage as he did in his rookie year.
— Long snapper JJ Jansen did, in fact, snap in the first quarter, making official his place in franchise history.
It marked his 221st game with the team, tying former kicker John Kasay's mark for service time.
Kasay and Jansen worked together here for two years (2009-10), and one or the other has been on the roster every year of the franchise's existence.