Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 11/8/11
CHARLOTTE, NC The Carolina Panthers certainly didn't like going into their open week with the lingering taste of a home loss to the Minnesota Vikings. But the time off was necessary, and it was put to good use. The players needed to get away, to not see one another for a few days and recharge their batteries. The best measure of that being a success or not was gauged Monday in the first practice back since the break. Consider it a success. "It was a great practice," first-year Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "You don't want to get overly excited about a Monday practice, but it was good. We were full pads with good tempo. A lot more crisp than I thought it would be, but the guys handled it well. I was very pleased with the way it came out. It was good; it was refreshing." The Panthers kick off the second half of their season Sunday, entertaining the 4-4 Tennessee Titans. This is an important game for Carolina, which is 2-6 with mostly close defeats, because five of its final seven games are away from Bank of America Stadium. And road wins in the NFL are hard to come by. More than a specific number of victories, though, Rivera has a different criteria for gauging his team's season once it concludes. He wants the nose pointed in the right direction, regardless of its wonloss record. "Satisfying, obviously, would be to win eight to win out," he said. "But there's no telling what's going to happen you have to play them. But the biggest thing, more so than anything else, is managing expectations going through the process, but you most certainly want to end trending up ... "I want to see us finishing, playing hard and playing fast and playing physical. And at the end of the year, we can look at it and say we did exactly what we could do." That would mean maintaining its offensive production. Carolina is fifth in the NFL with 415 yards per game. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton is rated 12th in the NFL in passing at 87.1. He's ahead of marquee names Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith is second in the NFL with 918 receiving yards. Carolina, however, is 18th in defense and 29th in penalties. Rivera doesn't mind some defensive offsides in recent games, as he said a directive from the bench was for players to get off the ball and get vertical, and maybe they were a bit tenacious at times. Otherwise, that area needs cleaning up. "To get the personal fouls like we've had a couple of those for the retaliations, that can't happen," the coach said. Overall, Rivera and the players know they left a victory or two out on the field, and with some good fortune here and there could possibly be .500 or better. That gives them the inspiration to correct some wrongs and turn the second half of the season into something special. They know that, despite their record, the football world has taken notice, and they want to continue that upward trend. "We talk about being relevant," said offensive tackle Jordan Gross. "Guys have been talking about Cam; there's been some buzz about coach Rivera and this offense. But you want to make some noise the second half of the season, and that's what we're focused on now. "People might think we're crazy, but that's our goal right now ... to win eight in a row, starting with the Titans this week."
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