CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera shared a simple message with his team following Thursday night's loss to the New Orleans Saints, one that was difficult to digest in the moment but one that the Panthers must embrace in the days to come.
"It was basically, 'Keep your head up. It's not over. We've still got a long season left,' " tight end Brandon Williams said. "We can bounce back. We just have to stick together. Each one of us needs to evaluate ourselves and figure out what we need to do to better ourselves."
For all of the team's struggles of late, the Panthers had occupied first place in the NFC South all season before Thursday, when the Saints passed them with a 28-10 victory. It was an outcome that could have far-reaching implications, especially with Carolina losing the teams' first meeting at home and still having to visit New Orleans in Week 14.
The rematch, however, could easily carry as much weight as Thursday's first matchup. The Saints' four games before they again play the Panthers are all against teams with winning records, while the Panthers face two teams with losing records and will benefit from their bye between now and the second Saints game.
New Orleans held a one-game division lead through nine games last season but ended up one game behind Carolina in the division race.
"It's not as if we don't have an opportunity, don't have a chance," Rivera said. "The thing we've got to do is take a look at ourselves, make some corrections, get some players back on the football field healthy, and then we'll see what happens.
"We've got a nice little break now in terms of getting ready for our next game (Nov. 10 at Philadelphia), so we should be able to get some guys back out on the football field. We're going to find answers. We're going to find them.
"We have an opportunity to get right back in the middle of it. We've got to put our minds to it and get it done."
After the way Rivera and the Panthers turned things around last year following a 1-3 start, the players and coaches both believe a repeat is possible.
"We have a lot of football left to play," guard Andrew Norwell said. "We'll find a way. I've got all the faith in our coaches."