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Rivera challenges team to respond


CHARLOTTE - Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has spent plenty of time analyzing what happened in Sunday's lopsided loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Rivera, however, is now more interested in spending time looking at what happens next - both Sunday in Detroit and beyond.

"This is gut-check time," Rivera said Monday. "These are tough lessons, but we've got to find it inside ourselves.

"How we handle these circumstances will define us as a football team and whether we become the kind of team we want to be."

After surprising everyone – themselves included – by being very competitive in all of their first eight games against the likes of the Packers, Saints, Bears and Falcons, Carolina returned from its bye week confident, only to get crushed by a .500 Tennessee team by a 30-3 count.

"I would have taken any of those eight games in the first half of the season opposed to what I saw yesterday," Rivera said. "It's disappointing. Taking that step back hurt, because we had made such progress.

"The biggest thing we've got to understand is that we played the way people expected us to play at the beginning of the year – that's what happened. We'll continue to have ups and downs, but it's how we handle the downs that's going to dictate who we are. This is a good opportunity for us to bounce back and play well."

Rivera's players echoed his sentiment.

"To dwell on this isn't really the answer," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We played about as poorly collectively as a unit could possibly play, and that's what you get in this league when you do that.

"Really our only option now is to continue to go forward. We've still got seven games left. We still feel like we have a lot we need to accomplish, and we can't wait to move past this as fast as possible and get off to a better start this coming week."

Throughout Rivera's first season as head coach, taking over a team that went 2-14 in 2010, he has explained that the Panthers are going through a process. He re-stated it again Monday, and it seemed to resonate even more following the team's first blowout loss.

Without naming the team by name, Rivera clearly compared the Panthers' plan to that currently being executed by the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers went 6-10 last season – including a loss to Carolina – but are 8-1 this season.

"This is about developing a football team. There is no quick fix, no sudden turnaround," Rivera said. "There are some teams in this league that have gone from bad records to good records, but if you look at the personnel they had last year and this year, you say, 'Wow, they're doing a pretty good job with the same personnel.'

"There's a team yesterday that did a tremendous job that's now 8-1, but last year everybody was beating them up. Now all of a sudden they're a better football team because they've got a year of experience. That's what we're trying to do."

!That's why, according to Rivera, the Panthers released veteran defensive tackle Ronald Fields last week even though Fields appeared to be doing an adequate job of spelling rookie starters Sione Fua and Terrell McClain.

With Fields out of the mix, second-year tackle Andre Neblett responded with his first career sack Sunday. The Panthers also were able to activate an extra defensive end in rookie Thomas Keiser, who responded with two tackles, including a tackle for loss in his NFL debut.

"We're trying to find the guys that we think are going to be the best and develop them," Rivera said. "We've got two young defensive tackles that have played very, very well. They've played hard for us, and they're learning and developing. Andre Neblett is a young guy who has gotten an opportunity and has taken advantage of it, and we activated Thomas Keiser yesterday, and he did a good job."

As Rivera's first season turns the corner towards its conclusion, established veterans will continue to play. But by the end, Rivera also wants to have established what the young players on the roster are capable of – all while still striving to win as many games as possible while also trying to avoid a repeat of Sunday's setback.

"We're talking about the future here, about a nice, long run with a group of young men who really want to be here and really buy into the things that we're working toward," Rivera said. "We've got seven weeks left, and in those seven weeks we're going tough decisions that will influence this team as we go forward."

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