Loose locker room a good sign for Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- DeAngelo Williams emerged from a pile of defensive players who apparently had him pinned on the floor when reporters entered the Carolina Panthers' locker room on Wednesday.

"Media!" the veteran running back shouted as he and about a dozen other players scrambled to gather their composure and get to their locker.

So, I asked, what did we miss?

"Nothing," Williams said with a smile. "Nothing happened."

He then shouted, "Ya'll better keep your mouth closed, defense."

There was an almost carnival-like atmosphere throughout the 45-minute media availability. It ended with quarterback Cam Newton pulling his shorts up near his belly button and imitating general manager Dave Gettleman.

If there were any lingering side effects from Sunday night's 31-13 drubbing at New Orleans that ended Carolina's league-best eight-game winning streak, you couldn't see it here.

There were no signs that confidence has been lost, either. Players were as loose as they've been all season.

"That's a plus," coach Ron Rivera said. "They understand, they know what's at stake. At the same time, they're not going to let it become overbearing."

What's at stake is the team's first playoff appearance since 2008. At 9-4 heading into Sunday's home game against the New York Jets (6-7), the Panthers remain in control of that destiny as long as they don't let one loss turn into two or three more.

Rivera indicated on Monday the loss could be a good thing, that players may have gotten full of themselves and let little things slide.

Not complacent, but comfortable.

"I feel we did get a little ahead of ourselves just as far as feeling good," defensive end Greg Hardy said. "It happens to the best of us. When you get something you deserve, it gives you a great feeling. You get kind of comfortable in a sense ... I feel like that's where we were for a brief second.

"We learned our lesson. We got our hand burned. We're back. It's game time."

Newton noticed what he called a "great energy, a great vibe" in practice. He said it with the same kind of conviction he used on Wednesday when the Panthers were 0-2 heading into a Week 3 game against the New York Giants.

The Panther responded with a 38-0 victory.

"There were a lot of guys out there that were eager to practice, that had something to prove," Newton said. "And that's something you want to see as a leader, as a teammate, as a player. It can become contagious.

"No one is feeling sorry for themselves because we just took a loss."

Rivera said the loss could be a great learning experience. Hardy wouldn't go quite that far, also a good sign.

"I'm never going to justify losing," he said. "That's a ridiculous, ridiculous statement. Losing sucks. No one should ever do it."

But even Hardy noticed an aggressiveness and focus in practice that was reassuring.

"We picked up a few things, which is a good thing on a Wednesday," he said.

Hardy fortunately wasn't around for the throw-down that happened near his locker after practice. Had he been, somebody could have been hurt.

"That's right," he said with a laugh.

Nobody was hurt. It simply was, as fullback Mike Tolbert called it, team bonding.

"We're just having a good time playing around," he said. "We're not stressed at all. We know what we're capable of."