CHARLOTTE — It would be different if Panthers head coach Matt Rhule hadn't seen what his team was capable of. And the same is true of his players.
That's why there was a tangible sense of frustration as they went back to persistent themes on Monday, when they looked back on the 27-21 loss to Washington.
The Panthers gave up 190 rushing yards, and that's happened before in games such as Dallas, Minnesota, and New England. The Panthers have allowed 163.0 yards per game on the ground in their six losses. In their five wins, they're allowing 56.4 yards per game on the ground.
So even though his team is very clearly still in the playoff mix in the NFC — and has some good things such as the return to health of Christian McCaffrey and the return of Cam Newton on its side — Rhule wants to see the foundation of his defense improve quickly.
"My message to the guys is, play great football and everything takes care of itself," Rhule said. "You can't give up 190 yards rushing and say we're still in the race. Good teams don't give up 190 yards rushing. right? So let's clean that up, let's get the football right.
"It's not about Christian's back, Cam's back, it's about a whole team. The whole team has to execute. It's about all of us, and a sense of oneness where we play a lot better."
Making losses like Sunday's more frustrating is the way they've followed big wins on the road. They played so well in Atlanta and Arizona, only to fall flat here against the Patriots and the Washington.
"We certainly know how to do it," Rhule said. "We have to put it together, and we have to start doing it week in and week out. It's got to be cultural. It's got to be everyone in the Carolina Panthers organization understanding it's not about fluff, it's not about anything else other than football. And I've tried to say that since the beginning.
"I think we've made some strides, we're 5-6, we've made some strides since last year, but we've got to grow up as a team, and I have to lead the way, and I need my veteran players and leaders to lead the way. There has to be an accountability to the standard. . . . If we can make that step, then we'll be a good team. But we won't be a good team until we make that step. That commitment execution and forgetting about everything else is what good teams in this league do. They show up on Sundays, and they execute."
From listening to some of the veterans Monday, it's clear there's some frustration with that lack of consistent execution.
Linebacker Shaq Thompson gave a few short versions of "Do your job" in response to a handful of questions. Outside linebacker Haason Reddick was a little more effusive, but said it was time for players to take things a little more personally.
"We've got to hold everybody accountable," Reddick said. "It wasn't good enough, and we have to throw the friendships out the way, the buddy-buddy out the way. Our vets, the guys are playing well, the guys that are doing things the right way, maybe not right all the time, but at a high percentage, we have to step up and start holding guys accountable. To help us win, we have to hold everyone accountable, all the way across the board."
Asked what he meant by the "buddy-buddy," and Reddick said it was time for players to hold each other to a higher standard.
"Everybody here, we are grown men," he said. "Sometimes a guy might see somebody do something wrong, and instead of saying something or getting on the person that's doing wrong, tend to show a blind eye. Or 'Hey, come on now,' that soft tone instead of a stern 'Hey do your job, get your job done' type of tone."
That might not make for as many good feelings, but the Panthers have shown enough good football, that the lack of it in back-to-back weeks is wearing on them.
View all of the best photos from pre-game, in-game and post-game from Carolina's game against Washington.