CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera began telling the Carolina Panthers his latest motivational line as soon as they walked back to the visitors' locker room at the Georgia Dome after Sunday's blowout loss to the Falcons: "We've been here before."
Carolina's coach was noting a 1-3 start, a record his teams have now experienced in four of Rivera's six seasons. But he might have just as well meant what could happen this week.
With quarterback Cam Newton in the NFL's concussion protocol, his status for Monday night's game against the Buccaneers is very much up in the air. If he's not cleared, it'll be Derek Anderson vs. Tampa Bay, Part III.
Back in 2014, there were doubts about Newton's health ahead of each matchup with the Buccaneers. He ended up sitting out both games while Anderson went 2-0.
Neither Anderson nor head coach Ron Rivera met with reporters Wednesday, so it was up to third-string quarterback Joe Webb to provide an update on the NFL's reigning MVP.
"He was in good spirits," Webb said when asked about Newton's demeanor before his teammates went out to practice. "He wasn't down or nothing like that."
Newton, who suffered his first documented concussion when he took a legal helmet-to-helmet hit from Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on a two-point conversion run, was feeling good enough to watch film Wednesday before popping into a local music store. But a series of neuropsychological exams stand between him and his next practice. Then, before he can play in a game, he has to be cleared by both a Panthers physician and an independent neurologist.
It's still too early to get a good sense about Newton's status this week. Some players return within a few days of suffering a concussion. Others, like linebacker Luke Kuechly last year, are held out an entire month.
Concussions are truly the most day-to-day NFL injury, and now that they're again in an early season hole, the Panthers are very much week to week.
"I can't say that people here are happy, but we're definitely not out. We have a ton more games," guard Trai Turner said. "We could finish 13-3, and we'll be sitting here having a different conversation at the end of the year."
They could also finish 3-13.
But whether it's Newton or Anderson under center, the Panthers can change the current conversation as soon as Monday night.
"When you're losing, your head starts sagging and you start getting down on yourself," receiver Kelvin Benjamin said.
"You always expect the best, but you've got to prepare for the worst. We're at our worst right now and we've just got to find out identity."