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 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Carolina's 38-0 rout of the New York Giants on Sunday could serve as a ``catalyst'' for his team.
There certainly is that potential after Carolina's disappointing 0-2 start.
Not only is the Panthers' confidence soaring following the most lopsided win in the franchise's 19-year-history, but the they have a favorable schedule coming up after this week's bye.
Beginning next week, the Panthers have a four-game stretch that includes Arizona (1-2), Minnesota (0-3), St. Louis (1-2) and Tampa Bay (0-3).
The Panthers don't play a team with a winning record until they host New England on Nov. 18.
``You look for something that can be a hallmark game, a game that everyone points to and says 'Wow, that's the one that got things rolling,''' Rivera said at a press conference Monday.
Ron Rivera said now the big challenge is not losing that momentum with the players getting four straight days off beginning Thursday and coming back hungry next week.
``We have to be realistic because we've not arrived by any stretch of the imagination,'' Rivera said. ``We have to approach each week as a learning situation, a growing situation and keep shooting for the top of the mountain.''
The win was a big one for Rivera, whose hot seat might have gotten a lot hotter had the Panthers lost.
But the attitude around the stadium changed almost overnight following the huge win.
And while it can be said the victory came against a winless Giants team that appears in disarray offensively, wide receiver Steve Smith said he could care less.
``Some people are going to try and discount the win and say, `It's a win against team that wasn't very good,''' Smith said. ``We played a team that was struggling and we did what was necessary, so that was good.''
It might be tough for the Panthers to match their performance on Sunday moving forward.
After squandering fourth quarter leads in losses to Buffalo and Seattle the first two weeks, the Panthers left no doubt about this one completely dominating the Giants in every phase of the game.
The Greg Hardy-led defense sacked Eli Manning seven times, forced three turnovers and pitched a shutout. The offense scored five touchdowns, rolled up 402 total yards and tallied 27 first downs.
Cam Newton was special, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another in his best game of the season.
Newton said it was far from a perfect performance but added the win gives the Panthers an ``ego boost'' and some needed ``swagger'' after two tough losses.
``For us this is just one step,'' Newton said. ``We have to keep going and get the mentality of `We can win - and we will win.'''
Newton's swagger was certainly back and his teammates took notice.
``Cam was outstanding,'' offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. ``When he's on and leading the team the way he's supposed to, then we're tough to stop.''
What's encouraging for the Panthers moving forward is they played their best defensive game despite being without four starters on defense and missing four defensive backs.
Free safety Charles Godfrey was lost to a season-ending injury the previous week, cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh) were injured, and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott benched struggling three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason for Chase Blackburn.
But the Panthers showed they have depth - and a pretty darn good front seven.
``We know exactly what we've got to do to keep winning,'' said safety Robert Lester, who went from practice squad player last week to starting against the Giants. ``That's the mindset we're going to keep, that's the mindset we're going to have going into the bye week and to the following week at Arizona.''
Despite the momentum gained by the win, Rivera said the bye week comes at a good time.
He's anxious to get several players back on the field and allow some others to get healthier when the Panthers return to face the Cardinals on Oct. 6.
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AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org
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