CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Rivera believes the Carolina Panthers rediscovered their swagger during a 38-10 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday — and he couldn’t be more pleased.
"Oh yeah, definitely — did you see the picture?" the Panthers fifth-year coach said excitedly on Monday.
Rivera was referring to several of his players posing for a team picture on the sideline — and also doing the "dab" — in the waning moments of their 11th straight home win, one that assured the Panthers home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
The victory photo has become a tradition for the Panthers (15-1) this season, although some opposing teams have taken exception to the celebration and called it excessive and disrespectful.
Rivera doesn’t seem to mind, as long as his players "aren’t doing anything malicious or hurting anybody."
He doesn’t believe they are.
"One thing I did tell these guys, keep your personality," Rivera said. "Keep true to who you are. And that’s important, because that’s what makes them who they are as football players as well as people. If we’re disappointing some people, I apologize for that. This is who we are and this is how we’re going to do our thing."
Falcons linebacker O’Brien Schofield wasn’t happy the Panthers were posing for pictures in the closing minutes of Carolina’s 38-0 win over the Falcons in early December.
When the Falcons got revenge two weeks later in Atlanta and ended Carolina’s perfect season at the Georgia Dome, Schofield harkened back to that loss and said there’s a "better way" to show class if you win a game.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is no stranger to celebrations — and offers no apologies.
When he pretended to rip open his shirt like Superman early in his career athletes around the country began mimicking his celebration. And Newton made the "dab" insanely popular in recent weeks and soon everyone was doing the dance.
His enthusiastic personality has carried over to his teammates.
"That’s been us ever since Week 1," Newton said Sunday. "Nothing is going to change. I say it all the time. We’re not celebrating because we’re losing.
"Hopefully, if we are able and blessed to be in those situations, there’s going to be a lot of guys flying around, having fun and doing what they love doing, just living in the moment."
Even normally reserved tight end Greg Olsen got into the act on Sunday.
Olsen, who took some slack on social media for not participating in some of the recent sideline celebration photos, was right in the mix after the Panthers wrapped up the NFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time.
"We were all enjoying it," Olsen said. "It’s not usually my thing, but I’m all about the team."
Rivera said he felt his team lost some of its swagger following the 20-13 loss to Atlanta in Week 16.
That setback cost Carolina a shot to match the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only unbeaten NFL teams.
When players reported to work the following day Rivera was concerned because everyone was so down. But he said my midweek players had responded and battled back and rediscovered its personality.
"You just didn’t see" that swagger, Rivera said. "Going to Atlanta and not playing as well as we’re capable of, and then playing as well as we did (on Sunday) is exciting. It really is. It is great to see the guys enjoying it and to see their confidence. I think it is part of who we are."
Linebacker Thomas Davis said it was vital not only that the Panthers capture home-field advantage, but also to build some momentum heading into the post-season.
The Panthers will play Jan. 17 in the divisional playoffs against one of three teams — Seattle, Washington or Green Bay.
The Panthers have beaten all three this season.
"It was important for this team to get back on track, and we were able to do that –offensively, defensively and on special teams," Davis said. "Whenever we go out and put it all together like we did today, it’s going to be tough to beat this team."