Are the Panthers Ready for Prime Time?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow's Sunday afternoon match-up with the 49ers is the first test of meeting high expectations for the Ron Rivera-led Panthers.

Nobody outside of Carolina has expected much out of these Panthers. We hit rock bottom after falling to 1-3 after a loss to the Cardinals. They now stand at 5-3 and will play their toughest road game of the season. Yet I will myself be at my highest level of anticipation for this game as compared to any since the 2008 playoff game. Should the Panthers win tomorrow it would be a resounding 'yes' they are ready for the Patriots and Prime Time Monday Night Football. But before I get too far ahead of myself let's now focus on the 49ers. So are the Panthers feeling some confidence about winning in San Fran?

Some would suggest the Panthers are  'mentally tough':

Panthers are mentally tough team

"We've done a good job of just doing our jobs and of just staying at it, staying at it, staying at it," Kalil said. "We're not really worrying about what's happened in the past – whether that's last season, the season before that, the losses early on this year, the wins early on this year or the first half today. "We're continuing to stay the course and fight, fight, fight."

The difference has been the fact the Panthers have played lights out in the 4th quarter versus just the opposite during the losing streaks. That would certainly suggest a degree of mental toughness. Part of that though is being able to focus when the pressure is on. So have the Panthers appeared focused leading up to their high profile game this week? Ron Rivera sounds a little nervous:

NFL relevance making Carolina Panthers nervous | CharlotteObserver.com
“I said, ‘Hey guys, let’s focus back in. We’re a little nervous, we made some mistakes that we normally don’t. Let’s focus in and that’s what we’re trying to do,’” Rivera said. “We’re trying to emphasize it’s another game.” The Panthers (5-3) will play the 49ers (6-2) on Sunday in one of the biggest games in Week 10 in the NFL. Carolina’s four consecutive wins have brought more national attention, and each day Rivera has tried to stress to his players that Sunday’s contest against San Francisco is the biggest only because it’s the next game on the schedule.

Despite his players’ nerves, Rivera said it wasn’t necessarily a bad omen for Sunday. “It’s a good omen because to me they realize how important it is,” he said. “The important thing is pulling them back. Settle down, bringing them back to focus. It can be a bad omen but again, making sure we bring them back to focus.”

Okay now I'm nervous! I'm just kidding, I actually feel good about this game because this is not the Jake Delhomme led Panthers. I love Jake but I have to admit when it comes to converting 3rd downs and extending drives I'm taking Newton any day.

I do like the way Rivera is handling the 'nervous' practice as he called it. He's calling it like he sees it rather than ignore it. He's taking it straight on. Whether Rivera can actually pull them back and focus may very well determine if they can hang with the 49ers. Tomorrow we find out if these Panthers are truly ready for prime time.

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