Ron Rivera enjoying good times too

CHARLOTTE N.C. -- Whether it was the return of running back Jonathan Stewart, a great practice or a three-game winning streak that has the Carolina Panthers above .500 for the first time since 2008, coach Ron Rivera was in an unusually chipper mood on Wednesday.

When asked if Stewart would be activated for Sunday's game against Atlanta, he responded smartly, "Well, Jonathan will be ready if he's needed."

Later, asked when was the last time he practiced in full pads, Rivera deadpanned, "I think '92 was my last year.''

Ba-dum TSH.

That would be Rivera's last season as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears. If you want to know the last time the Panthers practiced in full pads, which is what the person asking the question meant, you'd have to go back two and a half weeks.

Rivera knew that. But it was good to see him have a little fun after spending the first few weeks answering questions about whether he would survive the season.

Quarterback of the future? The Panthers signed former Chicago Bears Matt Blanchard to their practice squad on Tuesday, which was an interesting move for several reasons.

First, it gives backup Derek Anderson a break from running the scout team, something he has done since the Panthers released Jimmy Clausen in the final cuts.

Second, Carolina cornerback Josh Norman intercepted a Blanchard pass and returned it for a touchdown during a 24-17 preseason victory over the Bears at Bank of America Stadium.

Blanchard, 24, also had a decent day completing 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards. A week later, he fractured a knuckle in a preseason game against San Diego.

"Obviously, we wanted to start looking to the future,'' Rivera said. "We didn't have anybody there. This is a young man we've kind of looked at and liked. We figured when the opportunity was right, we'd like to work him out, and (Tuesday) we saw some things we liked."