CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Remember the 2001 postgame rant by then-Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora when asked what his 4-6 team's chances of making the playoffs were after a loss to San Francisco?
Let me refresh you.
"What's that? Ah . . . playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs,'' Mora said, his voice squeaking at a higher pitch than it was after his famous diddly-poo news conference following a 1996 New Orleans loss to the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
"You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game! Another game.''
That priceless moment came to mind on Monday as Carolina coach Ron Rivera talked about the Panthers (5-3) being a potential playoff team after extending their winning streak to four straight games with Sunday's 34-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
It came to mind because many coaches, particularly halfway into the season, don't like looking that far down the road -- much less talking about it.
Not that he has given up his one-game-at-a-time mantra or is looking past Sunday's game at reigning NFC champion San Francisco (6-2). Not at all.
“You guys brought it up,'' he said. "I keep telling you it’s one game at a time. We’ve got San Francisco coming up.”
At the same time, Rivera didn't hesitate to say this can be a playoff team. As much as he likes coach speak, it's not in his DNA to deny something he believes to be true.
And after enduring consecutive seasons of 6-10 and 7-9, it probably felt good to mention the "P'' word.
“I’m confident in who our guys are and I’m an optimist,'' Rivera said. "The thing I want to stress is that the next most important game we play is the one we’re about to play, and that’s the 49ers.''
A win at San Francisco would legitimize this as a playoff contender, if that already hasn't been done. The 49ers are coming off a trip to the Super Bowl and are regarded as one of the favorites to return.
Carolina has beaten five teams with a combined record of 8-33. That gets you noticed, but not a lot of style points.
Not that Carolina's wins should be brushed aside. Seattle, regarded as the best team in the NFC, trailed a winless Tampa Bay team that the Panthers dismantled the week before 21-0 before rallying to win 27-24 in overtime.
The Saints came into Sunday's game against the .500 New York Jets with one loss and lost 26-20.
They are reminders that no win is cheap.
But there's no doubt a win over San Francisco would bring more value to the Panthers than anything they've accomplished thus far.
"We’ll get a good indication as to where we are,'' Rivera said. "Why? Because they are the defending NFC champs and they played in the Super Bowl last year.”
That's what led to the playoff question, a topic that hasn't been discussed at Carolina since the 2008 season. Rivera simply was asked if this felt like a playoff team. He answered it honestly like he does every question.
"Yes it does,'' he said. "It feels like a team that has an opportunity, has a chance to go forward and be better. We're not anywhere where we need to be.
"As I said yesterday, we didn’t play very well in the first half and we made a lot of mistakes. We left a lot of opportunities on the field.''
That the Panthers beat Atlanta by 24 points in what was their most inconsistent performance in a month speaks volumes. That they overcame another key injury -- in this case two players went down at right guard -- without missing a beat also speaks volumes.
“I think we can be a playoff team because of the things that we’ve done and because of the way we’re playing,'' Rivera said. "If we had played like this consistent all the way through, who knows?
He was referring to a 12-7 loss to Seattle in which the Panthers fumbled inside the Seahawks 8 late in the fourth quarter, a last-second 24-23 loss at Buffalo and a 22-6 setback at Arizona in a game Carolina easily could have led 21-3 at halftime.
"We have a great opportunity and a challenge in front of us,'' Rivera continued. "The chances can be limitless. But we have to play that way. Just because we’re doing it now doesn’t mean it’s automatic.''
Rivera then went back to his one-game-at-a-time routine. It wasn't as entertaining at Mora's rant, but it was just as heart-spoken.