Miami aside, Panthers' locker room solid

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
8:00
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Safety Mike Mitchell was talking about the camaraderie in the Carolina Panthers' locker room when cornerback Captain Munnerlyn interrupted.

"I really don't like you," Munnerlyn shouted.

Mitchell tried to resume the conversation, then laughed and said, "He's a funny dude, isn't he?"

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesSteve Smith and the Panthers are riding a six-game win streak, and the team says camaraderie among players is fueling the good vibes.
All kidding aside, there is a tight bond in this locker room, almost a brotherhood that makes players want to work harder for each other in practice and games.

They can't imagine what it's like in Miami, where NFL investigators have been interviewing players and management about the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin hazing/bullying scam.

But just because the Dolphins (5-5) are in an environment that has to be distracting, the streaking Panthers (7-3) aren't overlooking them as they head into Sunday's game at Sun Trust Stadium.

If anything, they're more leery, understanding Miami beat San Diego a week ago amidst the distractions.

"Distractions can work one or two ways," Mitchell said. "Usually, it can bring guys together and they'll end up playing better or make the team disintegrate.

"I really don't like talking about them, because I really don't know the facts on the situation. I just know I can't spend my time thinking about what they're doing off the field. What I'm thinking is what schemes and formations they'll use on the field."

That is what coach Ron Rivera wants to hear. He's preached all week that the Panthers can only control what they do, not what investigators in Miami are doing.

He's succeeding, too.

"I know this, when I played for Mike Ditka, the one thing he did was always look for a rallying point," said Rivera, who played linebacker under Ditka at Chicago. "This could become a rallying point. Let's circle the wagons, let's take care of ourselves and what we do, we do it together."

While Rivera didn't want to talk about what is going on inside Miami's locker room, he was more than happy to talk about what is happening in his. He likes the atmosphere that has been created by a solid mix of veterans and young players.

He likes that everyone seems to get along, which he believes is a factor in Carolina winning six straight games and seven of its last eight.

"When you create chemistry and it's positive chemistry, there are certain things about having each other's back, doing things together, going out and getting involved," Rivera said.

There's little doubt amongst players the chemistry in the locker room has helped Carolina get to 7-3 after a 1-3 start. Mitchell was part of locker rooms at Oakland where not everyone got involved, and admitted "it's tough" to win.

That doesn't mean everyone has to like each other to have a successful team. Talent in some cases can overcome camaraderie.

"This is the NFL," Mitchell said. "At the end of the day, it's what you get paid to do, so it's not about being friends. You can do it [win], obviously, but it's a lot harder. You've got to like coming to work and like who you're working with to really be passionate about it and do a great job.

"That's why we've been successful here. We like coming to work and we like who we're working with."

Linebacker Thomas Davis said it begins with the organization bringing in high character players.

That may explain why the Panthers have been able to bounce back with win streaks at the end of the past two seasons that began horribly -- 2-8 each year.

"When you [bring in character players], you're going to have a good locker room," Davis said. "We've always had good leaders and good young guys that have come in and listened to the leaders on the team.

"It's tough going through losing times, but ... guys stuck with it. That goes back to having high character guys."

But winning does help. It makes a close-knit group even closer.

"When you're winning, man, it's easy to come to work, get along with the guys," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "Not to say we don't get along, but it's more fun to be around each other when you're winning games.

"Us winning brought each other closer."

That, in turn, has made it easier for the Panthers to focus on what they're doing and not be distracted by what is happening in Miami.

The Dolphins certainly don't appear to be.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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