BALTIMORE – By any measure, the Carolina Panthers have endured back-to-back stinging Sundays, a pair of losses where victory was realistically out of reach for the majority of the fourth quarter.
But by any measure, the Panthers' 38-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens dropped them to 2-2 on the season, better than the 1-3 record they had at this point last year – when Carolina finished 12-4.
And by the way, 2-2 is good enough for a share of the NFC South division lead.
"Pushing the panic button? I don't think so," left tackle Byron Bell said. "I'm sure guys are going to be down, but we've got to stick together and be a family. That's how life is – you can't give up on each other.
"The ultimate goal is there, and we've got to keep our eyes on the prize. We're 2-2, we're .500, so we've just got to get over the hump and come back and play ball."
Head coach Ron Rivera said he was "disappointed" after a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of game, one where his offense moved the ball but didn't convert and his defense got moved around.
It was essentially the same message following the Panthers' fourth game last season, when Carolina lost 22-6 at the Arizona Cardinals to fall to 1-3.
"My message to our team was that we've got to get these things corrected. We went through the same thing last year, Week 4 against Arizona." Rivera said. "That's what I basically brought up. I told them, 'Guys, we've got an opportunity to get things going in the right direction.'
"We'll come back, have a good week of work and we'll get ready for Chicago."
Next week's game versus the Bears looms large. It's big, because it's at home with road games against unbeaten Cincinnati and hard-to-beat Green Bay to follow.
But above all, it's big because it's a chance for the Panthers to show that they intend to be the team they were the first two weeks of the season rather than the team they have been the last two weeks.
"We're OK. We will be," quarterback Cam Newton said. "You've got to look at every person and evaluate them by looking at the man in the mirror. I've got to play better. The offense as a whole has to be better. The defense as a whole has to be better, and special teams."
Consistency is an elusive but invaluable quality in the NFL. Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, who one week after rolling to a victory at Carolina fell at home to a Tampa Bay team that the Panthers pushed around in Week 1.
Consistency was something the Panthers managed to capture last season, but only after an uneven first month.
"We have to understand the journey," said 11-year veteran and first-year Panthers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "Every NFL season is a journey, and every NFL team is in development.
"We've got to appreciate the process by keeping on working. We've got to correct some mistakes, but this is no time to hang your head and act like the season is over."
Tight end Ed Dickson wasn't on the Carolina team that turned things around in 2013, but he knows as well as anybody that it can be done. Dickson was a member of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens team that lost four of its last five games but snuck into the playoffs and went on to win the Super Bowl.
"Highs and low," Dickson said. "If it was all pretty, it wouldn't be football."