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Panthers improve to 5-8, 'ride behind' interim coach Steve Wilks with chance to reach postseason

Steve Wilks has the Carolina Panthers poised to make noise down the stretch.

Carolina bludgeoned the Seattle Seahawks, 30-24, on Sunday to earn their first road win in more than a year.

Players credited Wilks with keeping the team together despite the early season struggles that led to Matt Rhule's firing.

"We ride behind Wilks," linebacker Shaq Thompson said, via the team's official website. "He came in here, he's a true alpha, he's a true leader, and guys follow behind him.

"He's done amazing. Look what we've been going through."

When taking over as the interim HC, Wilks promised his club would play hard-nosed football and stellar defense, run the ball and avoid mistakes. They checked off each box Sunday in a demolition of Seattle.

Carolina rushed for 223 yards, churning the clock and moving the chains. The Panthers generated 24 first downs, 14 on the ground. Down the stretch, they ran the ball on 17 of their final 19 plays to close out the victory. The defense intercepted Geno Smith twice and forced key punts in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

"It's thrilling, again, just for the men in that locker room for how hard they work, how dedicated they've been," Wilks said. "We found ourselves to be able to work through 'it.' I always talk about don't allow 'it' to get in the way, whatever 'it' may be. And, you know, it started with the coaching change. And you know, I can go on and on with the different things, with players leaving, coaches leaving, whatever. And you know, those men in that locker room, find a way to refocus and get it done."

The win is the Panthers' third in their last four games, moving Carolina to 4-4 since Wilks took over. In a woeful NFC South where the Bucs are collapsing, the Saints can't get out of their own way and the Falcons have turned to a rookie quarterback, Wilks' Panthers have morphed into the most consistent team.

"You talk about playoff mentality; I told them boys last night when I talked to the team, these are the games, if you want to be a playoff team, these are the games you have to win, these environments," Thompson said. "And these guys showed up."

The Panthers' final four games are all against teams currently sporting losing records -- vs. Pittsburgh (5-8), vs. Detroit (6-7), at Tampa Bay (6-7), at New Orleans (4-9). With the two division games at the end of the schedule against rivals it's already beaten this season, Carolina has a chance to do the unthinkable, going from the cellar to the penthouse.

"We always just stayed together," Thompson said. "That's the biggest thing. Win, lose or draw, we were staying together. We were all going to fight for each other. All of our names are on this team, and we're going to go out with a bang.

"Everybody's buying in. We're one game behind, and we're taking each one one at a time. I couldn't be more proud of this team."

The Panthers staying together and giving themselves a chance to make a postseason run is a credit to Wilks who could see an incredible run turn into a full-time gig in Carolina.

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