Steve Reed

CHARLOTTE, N.C.: Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera remembers turning to Dave Gettleman following a training camp practice this summer, and asking the Panthers general manager, Am I seeing what I think Im seeing?

Rivera wanted verification that this Panthers team was clearly the most talented hes coached in five seasons one he thought had Super Bowl potential.

Well, it turns out that Rivera was right.

And now that the Panthers have realized those expectations, the fifth-year coach believes theyre capable of bringing home the organizations first Vince Lombardi trophy.

The thing weve got to remember is what were playing for, and thats to win it, Rivera said Monday. Its not about getting there. Its not about being a part of it. Its about winning it. And that will be our main focus.

Said quarterback Cam Newton: Were not finished.

Rivera, who won a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Chicago Bears as a linebacker, said hell rely on his former coach Mike Ditka, among others, for advice leading up the Feb. 7 Super Bowl against the AFC champion Denver Broncos.

One of the things coach Ditka emphasized to us was to enjoy the moment, Rivera said. The moment doesnt come very often. Its hard. Its hard to get to where we are right now.

Full of confidence

The Panthers have remained a loose, confident team throughout the season.

Theyre a tight-knit group, regularly hanging out off the field together, and seem to thrive playing the underdog role even though they opened as a 4-point favorite against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

That harkens back to when some believed the Panthers were the worst of the 5-0 teams in October.

The Panthers would prove doubters wrong, winning 14 consecutive games to open the season before suffering their only loss at the Atlanta Falcons. They finished the season as the No. 1 scoring offense in the league and led the NFL on defense in takeaways.

They have rebounded from that loss to win three in a row, including home playoff games against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.

Weve been doubted. Weve been slated; all of the above, but yet when you have turnouts like [Sunday] it makes it all worthwhile, Newton said after the win against the Cardinals.

Added wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery: Everyone can try to find something when they doubt us, but we just try to go out there and put our ball on display.

Dont go changing

Rivera has said he loves his teams personality and doesnt want players to change.

He doesnt mind Newtons touchdown celebrations, his players posing for pictures on the sideline when the game is in hand or even lip-syncing to Drakes lyrics, We got a really big team; we need some really big rings in a video theyve posted on social media.

We are who we are, Rivera said.

Right now, what the Panthers are is a championship team looking for the franchises first Super Bowl.

Rivera doesnt plan to change a thing.

Do what youve done, Rivera said. Some of my experiences in coaching, you get to certain experiences like the playoffs, and sometimes you get a little bit of panic. Am I doing enough? Should I do more? Should I change this?

I told our coordinators, Were going to stick to what got us to where we are. Well emphasize that to the players and make sure we keep our personality.