Sensing the season might be on the brink of falling apart, Panthers offensive lineman Mike Wahle called a players-only meeting for Wednesday to clear the air.
Wahle, who is not a team captain, didn't want to discuss what he planned to say, but it's obvious something needed to be done following last week's debacle against Tampa Bay. Carolina was dominated at home for the second straight time, losing 20-7 and prompting defensive tackle Kris Jenkins to say the Panthers are a team with "no heart and no passion."
"I think it's a good idea," said offensive tackle Jordan Gross during the open locker-room session a few hours before the players-only meeting. "There has been a lot that has gone on in the last week.
The Panthers travel to New Orleans and Arizona the next two weeks before having a bye and hosting Indianapolis at home.
Cornerback Ken Lucas said now is not the time for the team to become divided.
"We are all trying to put our heads together and make this thing work," Lucas said. "We can't start to point fingers and get our heads down."
The Panthers trail the Bucs by one game in the NFC South.
But it's not the record that is bothering the Panthers as much as it is how they're playing. They seem to be sleepwalking their way through the season and Jenkins seemed right on the money with his comments.
David Carr, who is expected to start this week against the Saints, said there are plenty of positives that can come out of a players-only meeting.
"When you get in there and hear it from a guy's heart and hear what they really feel about what is going on, that's good," Carr said. "I wouldn't say it makes you play better but it definitely makes you accountable to your guys. You want to step it (up) for them. You spend a lot of time with these guys and you don't understand how much it means to other guys that you play well. That is one of the things, be accountable."
"I think we have a good team and good players and now is the time to get on track," Gross said. "I don't think anybody wants to waste any more opportunities."
Tight end Christian Fauria, a 13-year NFL veteran, isn't a big fan of players-only meetings but said they can serve a purpose if players approach it with a team-first mentality.
"It all depends on the team," Fauria said. "Sometimes it's just people talking just to talk and sometimes people make some good points and everyone is on the same page. Maybe just people want to get out what they're feeling. All I know is you can only have it once. Once you do, you can't keep having team meetings because it loses its credibility."
25th meeting. Panthers lead the series, 13-11. They have won five straight on the road against the Saints. Carolina swept the season series against the NFC South champs last year, giving them seven wins in their last nine meetings overall. However, the win in the season finale was flawed because the Saints rested most of their starters after having already clinched the division title. In the last meeting, Jake Delhomme returned from a thumb injury and threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-21 win over the Saints. The win allowed the Panthers to finish the season 8-8, but they failed to make the playoffs for the third time in five years under coach John Fox. Earlier in the year, the Panthers caught the Saints coming off an emotional game in New Orleans vs. the Falcons.
When asked if he's concerned with the direction of the season, wide receiver Steve Smith, breaking his self-imposed one-week silence with the media, said, "Yes, but individually, everybody has to look at themselves and say how can they collectively improve the situation and make things better on the field.
"That may be watching film or whatever the case may be. Each individual has a task -- there are 11 spots on the field and everybody has to do their job. When one doesn't do their job, it's off. Everybody has to work in harmony, together, and if you don't, things like Sunday (a 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay) happen."
When asked about Kris Jenkins' comments, Smith said, "Everybody's entitled to their opinion, just like you guys are going to write what you're going to write. For me, I don't focus on it, not because I think what Kris said is right or wrong, but there's a football game that needs to go on, and in this locker room we have to keep each other close together. There's a lot of things going on, so to focus on one guy, whether he does a good job or makes a mistake, each week is a new week and a new opponent you've got to focus on. And that's how I look at it."
As for getting on the same page with David Carr, Smith said, "I was thinking a certain way, he was thinking a certain way, and we just not thinking about it, didn't realize, we haven't played together in a really long time. We've just got to get on the same page. Practice is totally different from the game. Different tendencies, the way teams play me. We have to get on the same page, talk things through. We had an in-depth conversation Monday, talked today, every day in practice we're talking about working with each other -- not because I think he's the future or not going to be the future, but the bottom line is, he's the guy that's in there right now.
"To not be professional would be to say, well, when Jake gets back I'll start focusing. My job is to catch the ball and get into position to make plays. If I don't talk to the quarterback who's in there at that moment, I'm not being efficient and I'm not doing the team any justice, or doing the offense the kind of job I need to do."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Maybe it's good to ruffle guys' feathers a little bit. We're all grown men and we can handle a little bit of criticism. I think there is a lot of validity to what he's saying. When you come out and get down 17-0 at halftime, obviously everyone is not doing their best. He's got a right to say it. He's a good player and I think he's frustrated." -- OT Jordan Gross, on Kris Jenkins' comments this past Sunday that the Panthers have no heart and no desire.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Despite the injury to quarterback Jake Delhomme, the Panthers have not brought in any free-agent quarterbacks to work out, according to general manager Marty Hurney.
That's not saying that they won't in the future, especially if looks like rehab is not working for Delhomme.
But as of right now, the team is trying to stay optimistic that Delhomme can make it back. Last week he was the team's emergency quarterback. The problem for the Panthers is if David Carr gets hurt, then the Panthers have to turn to Matt Moore. Who, you ask? Moore, an undrafted rookie, was claimed off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys after the final cuts.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
QB Jake Delhomme did not practice Wednesday, although he expressed some hope that he will throw soon.
FS Deke Cooper is back in the starting lineup, but he isn't really helping the team's effort much. Opponents are killing the Panthers with passes underneath the coverage. Part of that is the lack of a pass rush and part of that is the linebackers and secondary being out of place. Drew Brees could have a field day against this defense.
MLB Dan Morgan is not expected to play again this week due to a partially torn Achilles.
LB James Anderson is expected to start in the middle again this week with Morgan likely to miss the game with a partially torn Achilles tendon.
RB DeAngelo Williams could be returning kickoffs this week for the Panthers with Nick Goings coming off a concussion. It's at least Goings' second concussion of his career, with the other coming in Carolina's loss to Seattle in the 2005 NFC Championship Game.
Much of what the Panthers do will be depend upon whether or not David Carr starts and plays. Carr hasn't been on the same page with Steve Smith, but the two players need to find that chemistry -- and fast. Running back DeShaun Foster is likely to start despite two fumbles and two dropped passes last week against Tampa Bay.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Panthers DE Julius Pepper vs. Saints OT Jamaal Brown. Peppers has been invisible for the team's first four games, failing to record a sack. He's getting handled at the line of scrimmage like any average pass rusher would. Speculation is rampant as to why Peppers is struggling and there's some that feel the illness Peppers had during training camp is affecting his performance. Typically, he's not played well against the Saints, especially since Brown's arrival.
INJURY IMPACT Quarterback Jake Delhomme (elbow), linebacker Dan Morgan (Achilles) and running backs DeShaun Foster (team decision) and Nick Goings (concussion) did not practice Wednesday. Delhomme had said he might do some throwing in practice this week, but it looks like the team will wait and make certain the elbow is feeling better.
Delhomme, who was 2-1 as a starter and off to the best statistical start of his career, is hoping his elbow heals through rehab and he won't need surgery.
Morgan told reporters Monday that he has a partially torn Achilles heel, but said that while the injury is not season ending, it would need some time for the inflammation to subside. He has basically already said he won't play this week at New Orleans.