NEW ORLEANS – In the world outside the Panthers locker room, Carolina far exceeded all expectations in Sunday's 41-10 victory at the New Orleans Saints.
But inside the locker room, the Panthers simply met expectations.
"When we win, I am satisfied. I am excited about it. I am delighted. Still, it is what we expect," head coach Ron Rivera said after his team took care of business for the first time in two months. "You expect to win playing hard with an aggressive style of football. I thought that our guys did that today."
After every game since the Panthers rallied to beat the Chicago Bears in Week 5, Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton have spent their postgame press conferences addressing what went wrong.
Sunday, the questions were much more positive in nature, but Rivera and Newton's nature wasn't that different than it had been in previous pressers. The victory saved the season in terms of keeping Carolina's playoff hopes alive, but the Panthers understand that one victory – no matter how impressive – doesn't erase the losses and doesn't guarantee success going forward.
"Of course I am happy right now, but we still have our work cut out for us," Newton said. "Victory is always a great feeling, but we cannot be complacent about this."
And the Panthers won't be. After getting a taste of what textbook execution and playing with an edge can add up to, Carolina will surely be hungry for more.
They can't ask for much more than they got from Newton and everyone else Sunday.
"When he's in control like that, he's as good as there is," said tight end Greg Olsen, who hauled in 10 of Newton's 21 completions. "This was the day we've been talking about trying to have. Now we have to sustain it.
"We've seen what we're capable of; we have to keep this formula going. This is who we are. This is what we're good at. We've just got to continue to execute it."
Newton and the offense were the tone-setters, piecing together about as perfect a drive as you can following the opening kickoff to forge a 7-0 lead. Newton used his arm and legs with equal effectiveness, completing all five of his passes – to four different receivers - for 56 yards while running twice for 24 more.
There were very few hiccups all day. Newton's 83 yards on the ground – highlighted by a lunging 2-yard touchdown run - complemented a 155-yard performance for running back Jonathan Stewart. Through the air, Newton's 226 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions keyed a season-high passer rating of 114.0.
"When you execute like that, it's fun to watch. When you don't, it's hard to watch," Newton said. "As an offense, my job is to put up points any which way possible, and when the offensive line is playing as well as they did today, and our running backs are running like they were, and our guys are catching the ball like they were, it's hard to lose."
If the Panthers could have pinpointed what was holding them back during their six-game losing streak, they never would have lost six consecutive games. But that's old news now, and Sunday's victory soon will be as well. After the victory, Rivera told his team to live in the moment instead of looking ahead to the big picture.
That's what they did Sunday – snap by snap – to snap a long losing streak and possibly salvage their season.
"Whoa. That's looking way too far for me," Newton said when asked if the Panthers can win out. "That's what got us in this position right now. We just have to focus on coming back tomorrow, watching this film, making our corrections and getting ready for our next opponent.
"Sometimes you look too far ahead when the answers are right in front of you. If you just pay attention to each and every detail, everything else will take care of itself."