CHARLOTTE – When Panthers head coach Ron Rivera addressed his team Monday morning for the final time this season, he didn't mention the team's early-season struggles but instead focused on the strong finish and promising future.
The past undoubtedly will come up when Rivera meets with Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson to discuss his job status, but Rivera has reason to believe the struggles are a thing of the past.
"When you look back on the entire season, you always think what could have been, but I think going forward you look at what has become more so than anything else," Rivera said. "This team finishing the way it has, this team doing the things that it needed to do to finish strong, the confidence that they played with and the things these players accomplished.
"I like where we are. I like the things we've done."
The Panthers put the capper on a four-game winning streak to close things out Sunday in New Orleans, rallying from an 11-point deficit with 28 consecutive second-half points for a 44-38 victory over the Saints.
In the victory, the fifth in six games following a 2-8 start, the Panthers made the kind of plays at big moments that opponents made against them earlier in the season, and they did so in all three phases of the game.
Running back DeAngelo Williams reeled off runs of 65 and 54 yards on his way to a franchise record 210 yards, the 54-yarder going the distance to jumpstart the comeback. Safety Charles Godfrey made an acrobatic interception to set the offense up for the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter, and Armanti Edwards followed with a 69-yard punt return that led to another Williams touchdown, virtually sealing the victory.
"One of the things I had been concerned about was that when we needed to make plays, we hadn't. But recently, when we needed to make plays, we did," Rivera said. "Charles Godfrey's interception was about as big as it gets. DeAngelo's big runs. Armanti's big punt return. You look back the last few weeks and you see those things – plays made at the right time.
"Hopefully that's indicative of where we're headed."
It's still to be determined if the Panthers will move forward with Rivera. He said Monday that it's "just a matter of time" before he meets with Richardson to discuss his future.
"I'd like to have the opportunity to have the job," Rivera said. "That's pretty much it. We'll go from there. We'll see.
"I'll just say this: I think we are better today than we were when I first got started."
Rivera essentially shared that message with his team Monday, putting his players first as always by talking about their bright future rather than his uncertain one.
Sunday, Rivera's players let their play do the talking.
"I think the way we finished the year shows how the guys in the building feel about Coach Rivera and the coaching staff," offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner said, adding that Rivera didn't refer to his job status when addressing the team for the final time in 2012.
"He didn't mention it," Hangartner said. "He just said thanks for the hard work this season and thanks for finishing on a strong note. That was kind of where it was left."