CHARLOTTE – Panthers head coach Ron Rivera made it clear that by no means has his 4-3 team arrived. But after three consecutive victories, the Panthers are proving they intend to remain relevant throughout the season.
"It gives the guys the realization of what our potential is," Rivera said. "We can most certainly be relevant."
"Our intent is to continue to play hard and win football games and stay above (.500) to give ourselves a chance."
There are those who may remain skeptical of the Panthers' progress due to the fact they have yet to defeat an opponent with a winning record.
To that, Rivera and his team pays no mind.
"In all honesty, it doesn't matter what others think," he said. "The truth of the matter is how we feel about ourselves – and we feel pretty good about who we are. Will we be tested down the line? Absolutely. Every week is a test. In this league it is very hard to win."
The fact that the Panthers feel good about themselves isn't just rhetoric. It's evident on the field.
Rivera's propensity to go for it on fourth down – Carolina converted another fourth-and-1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday and is four-of-six on the season – exemplifies the confidence this team boasts.
"We have some really good weapons, and by not going for it on fourth down I took the ball out of their hands. That's crazy," Rivera said.
"I've had a couple players come up and say, 'Hey, thanks for showing confidence in us.' As a coach, that's important, because now you feel like, you know what, I am doing the right things, the players are behind me. They believe in themselves, and that's exciting."
The players' belief is shared with a coaching staff that is in sync.
"The one thing that I really do appreciate is the chatter that goes on with our coaches," Rivera said. "As we get into those situations (I'll ask), 'How do you guys feel about fourth-and-one?' (Offensive coordinator) Mike Shula will say something, (tight ends coach) Pete Hoener will say something, (offensive line coach) John Matsko will say something. I'm listening to what the potential call could be, and to hear the confidence in their voices. … You feel really good about it."
After an 0-2 start, the Panthers have identified their strengths and a formula for success. The wins have followed.
"We were never quite sure what we had," Rivera said. "Now we know."
INJURY UPDATES: Defensive end Charles Johnson suffered a groin strain late in Thursday's game, and Rivera said the early news on the severity of the injury is encouraging.
"So far it is positive," Rivera said. "A lot of things will depend on how sore he is the next couple days. He did get an MRI, and the MRI was negative. There is some swelling. The key will be how he reacts to the treatment he's going to get the next few days."
Rivera knows Johnson, a Georgia native, is determined to play in the Panthers' next game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium.
"The Atlanta game is a very personal game for him," Rivera said. "Knowing him, he will do everything he can (to be ready), because he loves playing Atlanta."
Running back DeAngelo Williams suffered a bruised quadriceps during the game, and he will receive treatment over the weekend. Rivera expects Williams to be ready for Week 9.