The Rivera Report: Panthers starting to find their identity?

Cam Newton's status

Just before head coach Ron Rivera took the podium on Monday following the Panthers' win over Arizona, the team announced Cam Newton would be sidelined for the second week in a row. Rivera said the announcement was meant to reduce the number of Cam-related questions during the press conference, but he still answered a few concerning the injured quarterback.

"Cam's doing his rehab stuff," Rivera said. "There's really no timetable, so we'll see what happens."

Rivera said no decision had been made yet on whether or not Newton will travel with the team to Houston next weekend. Newton didn't make the trip to Arizona.

Kyle's composure

With the No. 1 quarterback sidelined for the immediate future, backup quarterback Kyle Allen's impressive performance in Sunday's victory was just what the doctor ordered for Carolina.

"I think Kyle's performance was what we needed," Rivera said. "He came out and played very well and did the things we were hoping he would do. I think what it does is just energize us at a time we needed a little bit of energy."

After turning the ball over via strip-sack on the team's opening drive, Rivera said he was impressed, but not surprised, by Allen's composure, saying it was no different than how the quarterback performed last year in New Orleans.

"The thing about Kyle that's always impressed me is that he handles those things," Rivera said. "He's cool. He's kind of aloof to things that happen, because he knows he can't control it, so he always seems to be that guy that goes to the next play. I think that's one of the good things about him."

Finding an identity

Early in the season each team forms an identity, and oftentimes that comes to define them throughout the year. Sometimes it doesn't though, as Rivera cited the team's 6-2 start last season before its second-half collapse.

"To me it's about surviving through training camp and then getting things put together as you go into the regular season," Rivera said. "That's kind of what's happening, I think, right now."

But after an 0-2 start, Rivera and the Panthers knew they needed to find a positive identity for this year's team sooner rather than later. If Sunday's result in Arizona is any indicator, the team is headed in the right direction.

"We had a whole new offensive line that was kind of being put together and they really didn't get an opportunity to work together a lot," Rivera said. "Now we've got a group of guys that have played three games together and feel comfortable about that, and really had an opportunity to have all our skill players on the field at the same time.

"It's really about, just to me, finding that identity now and building on it as we get through September, and really then hopefully establishing who we are as we go forward."

Playing a complete game

For the first time this season, Rivera said the Panthers won in all three phases of the game.

"It really came together," Rivera said. "It's good to see that it all came together and everybody, all three phases, really pitched in in a victory like that."

Rivera praised Allen and the offense, which put up 38 points and 413 total net yards, as well as the defense's monster performance with eight sacks and two interceptions. While the special teams units didn't end up creating a game-changing play, Rivera saw promise from the punt return unit.

"I thought special teams also did some really good things," Rivera said. "I just thought it was unfortunate about the (51-yard) punt return. I thought Ray-Ray (McCloud) did a nice job finding his crease and hitting it. That would have really been the cherry on top as far as a complete team victory, but unfortunately, we had it called back."

Getting the young guys involved

Rookie left tackle Greg Little saw his first game action on Sunday, rotating on the offensive line with Daryl Williams.

"We brought him here for a reason," Rivera said. "We saw it in training camp, we know that we've got to find a way to develop him."

Going up against 17-year veteran Terrell Suggs is one way for the rookie to get developed, and for the most part, Little held his own.

On top of Little, young guys like rookie defensive ends Brian Burns and Christian Miller, and second-year players like Allen, cornerback Donte Jackson and defensive end Marquis Haynes all received praise from Rivera.

"We've got some good young guys that are going to be here for a long time, and we've got to start developing those guys. The only way they develop is if they play," Rivera said. "We've got a lot of young guys that as this team goes, it'll go as these young guys play."

Measuring the immeasurables

Rivera talked about the limits of analytics, crediting much of the Panthers' success to the intangibles – particularly the team's chemistry.

"We have a whole group of guys that are getting to know each other even more, and nothing does it better than the opportunity to hang out, spend quality time," Rivera said. "Adversity does tend to bring you together, but at the same time it can break you up."

Luckily for the Panthers, the season's early struggles combined with the first road trip of the year strengthened players' bonds, as Rivera cited seeing guys hanging out in "pods" while in Arizona.

"You could see the connections," Rivera said. "You could see the groups of guys, and it's not your typical group of guys, it's a mix of everybody. I think that's one of the things that helps build it.

"Everybody's hanging out with one another, and that to me is really kind of the thing that leads to a positive locker room. We've got to hopefully continue to be able to do that."

View all of the best photos from the sidelines, locker room and field from Carolina's win at Arizona.

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