CHARLOTTE – When asked what stands out about the first nine weeks of the season, head coach Ron Rivera shook his head.
"What doesn't stand out?" Rivera said. "It's been a long nine weeks, to be honest, it really has."
The Panthers started 2-0. It was the first 2-0 start for the franchise since 2008, and it came on the heels of a 12-4, division championship season.
But things have changed quickly, and now the Panthers, who are 1-5-1 in their last seven games, are weathering a storm.
"We had some good moments early on in the season – I thought we picked up right where we left off," Rivera said. "Then things got crazy for a little bit."
Defensive end Greg Hardy was inactive for the Week 2 victory and he hasn't played since being placed on the exempt/commissioner's permission list on September 17. His absence has impacted the defense and it has forced Carolina to adjust to create more of a pass rush.
Quarterback Cam Newton spent the first few weeks of the season playing through pain while working his way back to full strength from ankle and rib injuries. He had seemingly hit his stride before struggling in the last two games.
Injuries have created more problems more Carolina. A banged up offensive line has forced undrafted rookies into prominent roles, and running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert have all missed time – challenging an offense that wants to lean on a power run game.
That's a lot of to overcome, but all teams have their own adversity. The Panthers won't garner sympathy from their opponents.
"We've had our opportunities to bounce back, and we did for a while. Now, we are in a lull," Rivera said. "We are in a figure it out situation. We have to figure out who we are going to be."
Rivera is optimistic his team can and will bounce back.
The state of the NFC South means Carolina is still alive in the division.
"We've all been in situations like this where your division is down," Rivera said. "It ends up being the team that comes back, the team that gets up and keeps fighting.
"We are by no means out of the race. We are looking from behind a little bit, but we are still in a good situation."
And Rivera is starting to feel better about his team's health situation.
"We'll have a little time to get some rest and we are going to get a whole bunch of guys back on the practice field, which gives me a lot of confidence, it really does," Rivera said. "We are going to get some offensive linemen back, some DBs back. I feel good about that."
So with seven games left, Rivera is confident the Panthers will weather this storm and emerge with plenty of fight left.
"Anything is possible," Rivera said. "Don't count us out."