CHARLOTTE – As the wins piled up during their undefeated run, the Panthers returned from road games to see fans eagerly waiting at Bank of America Stadium to welcome them home.
After their first loss of the season Sunday at Atlanta, players and coaches didn't know what to expect when they pulled into the parking lot.
Head coach Ron Rivera was blown away by what he saw. It was quite possibly the largest gathering of the season, and fans were screaming with pride as the team buses arrived.
"To have them show up and cheer us after a loss is tremendous, it really is," Rivera said. "In good times, it's easy to find friends. In hard times, it's tough to find them. But shoot, they were there. That really touched me."
Increased pressure and attention accompanied the Panthers as they neared 16-0. The Panthers were on an unprecedented run, the likes of which the franchise had never seen.
The overwhelming show of support hours after defeat struck a chord with Carolina's head coach.
"Really, I felt like we disappointed them. I really did," Rivera said. "I had a feeling inside, like God, we let these folks down."
The quest for an undefeated season may be over, but the 14-1 Panthers still have so much to play for. And the fans let them know that they'll be behind them every step of the way.
"Hopefully (that loss) sticks in our craw. Hopefully it helps to motivate us and drive us," Rivera said. "Our goal is to win the Super Bowl. That's the vision, that's the destination. But we still have to take the journey."