CHARLOTTE – Just when the Carolina Panthers appeared to have another victory well in hand, things threatened to get out of hand.
The Panthers managed to regain the upper hand when it mattered most, but only after too much drama for head coach Ron Rivera's comfort level.
"The thing I would like to see is for us to make it a little easier on ourselves," Rivera said after his Panthers lost a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter but rallied to remain unbeaten with a 29-26 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
"We missed opportunities, but we showed resilience again with the opportunity to win the game at the end," Rivera continued. "But give credit to them. They fought and scratched, and they deserved to have the game go into overtime."
It didn't look like the Panthers – now standing as the NFC's lone unbeaten team at 7-0 – would need to work overtime for this one after they opened up a 23-6 lead early in the fourth quarter with a pair of touchdowns in a span of four minutes, 30 seconds.
But the Colts offense, which hadn't found the end zone all night, awakened behind quarterback Andrew Luck with two touchdowns of their own in 4:37. They nearly scored a third to win it, instead kicking a 24-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to force overtime.
In the extra period, the Colts claimed their first lead of the game on a 50-yard field goal before the Panthers again did their thing.
"We responded. We answered," Rivera said. "They get in position to kick a field goal, and then we drive it down and kick a field goal, get a takeaway and kick the game winner.
"We've done the things we need to do to give ourselves a chance to win football games, but at some point we need to be smart and be careful. I'd to like see us play a very consistent game, to play to our abilities."
Rivera went on to say that the Panthers have been efficient with doing what's needed to win but added: "We haven't played a complete game. We haven't played a consistent game."
There's no better time than the present.
Next up are the Green Bay Packers, a fellow unbeaten entering the weekend that fell from the ranks with a loss Sunday at still unbeaten Denver. The Packers handled Carolina 38-17 in Green Bay last season and are plenty capable of doing it again.
It is, however, a different year.
The Panthers were blown out by Philadelphia last year and lost twice to Seattle. Carolina's two victories before holding off Indianapolis? The Seahawks and the Eagles.
"They're a good football team with a potential Hall of Fame quarterback and some playmakers with an aggressive style and an attacking defense," Rivera said of the Packers. "We had trouble last year, but we are a different team.
"We're a different team that played Philadelphia, a different team that played Seattle, and now a different team that's going to play Green Bay. So we'll see."
View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Indianapolis.