Reaching a .500 mark of 3-3 is nothing to write home about, but the significance of Sunday's win was far more about what the victory meant, rather than what it achieved. Looking at it from a macro level it was simply the Panthers winning a game they should have against a similarly talented team, but it was about getting into a dirty, bloody street fight and showing this Carolina team has the edge to play with confidence.
That edge is something that has been sorely lacking during Ron Rivera's tenure, where passivity seems to be the more valued approach to game management. Teams tend to echo the mood of its coaching staff, which is why the Panthers have struggled so much in the past. If a head coach shows he doesn't trust you on fourth down, how does an offense trust in itself? If a defense isn't leaned on to make that one last play, how does it know what's required to get the stop?
When Rivera decided that risk was the only way to save his job, the Panthers started to play with urgency. Trust begat trust, and suddenly the team had something to play for -- something bigger than just wins and losses. On Sunday the Rams chose to try and undermine this confidence with trash talk, which might have worked if they picked the right topic. Unfortunately for them they misjudged the Panthers and picked the nerve the team believes is untouchable, family.
It's understandable that Rams' fans don't get it. It's not easy to understand that the family environment seeps through the whole organization, becoming a basic tenet of their beliefs. Talk about anything, just don't touch family -- Janoris Jenkins learned the hard way. Steve Smith is far from a model citizen, but trash talking his wife is one of the few ways to waken the sleeping giant that lives inside the diminutive receiver.
The fight became a turning point on Sunday. A moment where the Rams lost their composure, and the Panthers fed off it. Everything came together in a perfect confluence where weeks of pent up frustration was released on a team, and while a 15 point win isn't a beat down, the players fought for each other.
Glass half full
The Panthers have had more convincing wins this season, but the victory over the Rams was far more meaningful. It showed that this streak of beating one-win teams isn't endemic, and that the team as constructed can handle another 3-3 team when the field is even.
We've hit a stage where Cam Newton has evolved into Newton 2.0, a player who can channel his emotions positively and morph into a game manager when needed. There wasn't anything too special about Cam's game on Sunday, he simply identified the Rams' weaknesses on defense and continued to press them.
This was the single most exciting element to the game. Newton completed an unnatural 88-percent of his passes, using just five receivers -- but finding them in ways where almost every play was perfect.
Whatever happened to Captain Munnerlyn needs to continue. He flew all over the field like Luke Kuechly, and all Munnerlyn did was make plays. It was wonderful to see an often maligned player make a difference, even if it might just last a week.
At this point Ron Rivera knows what needs to be done. Let your players succeed at the strengths and let the work sort itself out. It's worked over the last two weeks and there's no reason to stop now.
Glass half empty
Boy oh boy did the Panthers get lucky. If that fight didn't happen in the third quarter and the Rams didn't make a couple of bad plays this game is entirely different.
A boneheaded clipping play erased a touchdown, Brian Quick dropped another in the end zone -- if these two are converted and Chris Long can remain on the field we might be having a very different discussion today.
The run game was pretty atrocious yesterday, which normally becomes a huge problem. Thankfully drives were extended with bad defensive penalties, as St. Louis gladly gave up eight penalties that really helped.
It's taken the better part of the three years, but it finally looks like the Panthers know how to win. Carolina are carrying no major injuries into a Thursday night game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where they should easily cruise to 4-3.
Anything can happen from that step. Getting above .500 should be the only goal, with nothing else being discussed inside the organization. Reach that point, move on -- one game at a time. If the Panthers can do that, there's no telling where this team can go, especially with Jonathan Stewart remaining to be added to the fold, and he shows a knack for getting the hard yards when DeAngelo Williams is struggling.
It was a gloriously dirty win, enjoy it for all it's worth.