Panthers Won't Concede Playoffs

Three games into the 2010 season, the Carolina Panthers' chances of reaching the playoffs look extremely thin.

The Panthers (0-3) face a backs-to-the-wall situation and the wall is pushing hard.

Since the NFL changed to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, 102 teams have begun the season 0-3 but only three have made the playoffs. That's less than three percent, for those keeping track.

"The thing is somebody is always breaking history," safety Charles Godfrey said. "You can't look at that. You have to stay positive and keep pushing forward. I still feel that we have a great team. We just all have to come together at one time, meaning all three phases -- special teams, defense and offense -- and we'll be fine."

To make matters worse, the Panthers travel to New Orleans on Sunday to face the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, who are coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

But linebacker Dan Connor said it's way too early to write the epitaph on the Panthers' season.

"Now is not the time to get down in the dumps and start feeling sorry for yourself," Connor said. "We have to fight and get better and it starts this week in practice."

When asked if coach John Fox has been harder on the players this year, Connor said, "It's hard to say."

Connor said nobody feels worse about being 0-3 than the players.

"We take this hard. We take this quite seriously," Connor said. "You lose a game and you feel like you let down a city and a coach and coaching staff that you really respect and that's hard in itself. You come in Monday and you have to rehash it (watching game film) and it's not easy. But you have to do it to improve. We really have to come out this next week with a new energy."

A year ago, the Panthers started the season 0-3, but bounced back to win two straight and eventually finished the season at 8-8.

Fox would like to see a similar turnaround this year.

"That would be my hope," Fox said. "Again, we take them one at a time and we have a hefty challenge going to New Orleans to play the defending world champs. I don't think our full body of work is completed at this point. We're just trying to get a 'W.'"

SERIES HISTORY: 31st regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 17-13. In the last meeting at the Louisiana Superdome, Drew Brees threw for 330 yards and a touchdown and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove recovered a late fumble in the end zone to lift the Saints to a 30-20 win. The Panthers beat the Saints in the season finale, but the Saints were resting most of their top players as they prepared for a playoff run.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Carolina's offense ranks 31st in the league after three games, ahead of only the Buffalo Bills.

One of the reasons for the offensive struggles is the lackluster play of the offensive line, although coach John Fox refused to point the finger at any one unit.

"Unlike the media, I don't look at individual areas," Fox said. "Just as an (offensive) unit we have not been consistent enough. That would be my assessment at this point rather than individual positions. I think it's fair to say, and I would agree, that we have been inconsistent overall, not just in a particular area."

--Running back Jonathan Stewart's fourth-quarter fumble was a momentum turner last Sunday.

With Carolina trailing 13-7, they seemed to have the momentum and were driving when Stewart had the ball poked out of his hand. The Bengals scored four plays later to put the game out of reach. Stewart said he didn't want to talk to the media after the game, but Fox addressed the fumble on Monday.

"The guy put his helmet right on the ball," Fox said. "We've got to hold on to it, but it was a good play on their part. I don't know that I can say that for the other fumbles we had."

--S Charles Godfrey's three interceptions are the most in the NFL through three games, but he's not even thought much about it.

"Right now that's not important," Godfrey said. "My team isn't winning. I want us to help the team. I want us to do well. I'm in here trying to get better so that we can win."

--The Panthers watched film together as a team on Monday -- the offense and defense in the same room -- to help the self-scouting process.

"It's a different situation because you get to see not only the defense, but the offense and it makes you accountable to each other," said linebacker James Anderson.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7-1 -- The Panthers record the past eight seasons when playing the Saints in Louisiana (Six games at the Louisiana Superdome and one at Tigers Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., because of Hurricane Katrina).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "In training camp I was going with different centers. But Ryan Kalil is a real good center, a Pro Bowl center. The first one was a wet ball, and the second one I just pulled out too early. But he's getting the ball back there fine. Those two are on me." -- Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen on dealing with problems handling the snap.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Jimmy Clausen gets the start Sunday.

--DT Louis Leonard, who has battled through an injury-plagued offseason, was released on Tuesday.

--C Chris Morris was brought in on Wednesday to give the Panthers another body up front. The Panthers have been going with just seven healthy offensive linemen.

--LB Jamar Williams (neck) did not practice Wednesday. The Panthers brought in two linebackers to work out on Tuesday in case the injury is serious.

--WR David Gettis has started the last two games, but Brandon LaFell is starting to feel better after sitting out Week 2 with a hamstring injury. It will be interesting to see who starts against New Orleans, but odds are Gettis will get the nod.

--DE Greg Hardy (foot) didn't practice Wednesday but said he will play Sunday. He hurt his foot coming off the edge on a rush.

GAME PLAN: The Panthers' strength is running the football, but so far they've averaged less than 100 yards per game on the ground. To put that in perspective, they averaged 156.1 rushing yards per game last season.

Naturally, they'll need to establish the run early on if they want to keep Saints quarterback Drew Brees off the field.

Defensively, the Panthers have to find a way to get pressure on Brees, but they have just two sacks in three games.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen vs. Saints defense --

Clausen turned the ball over three times in his first NFL start last week against Cincinnati. He doesn't have many weapons to work with and this week faces the defending champions on the road in what should be a loud environment. It's a tough task for Clausen all around.

Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart vs. Saints front seven --

Neither Williams nor Stewart has come close to reaching 100 yards on the ground this season. They face a Saints defense that is allowing 145 yards per game on the ground, so they will get their chances.

Panthers defensive line vs. Saints QB Drew Brees --

The Panthers have managed just two sacks this season but they'll have to pressure Brees if they want to make an impact and save their season. So far, Carolina's only two sacks have gone to defensive end Charles Johnson and linebacker Dan Connor.

INJURY IMPACT: Right tackle Jeff Otah (knee), linebacker Jamar Williams and defensive ends Greg Hardy (foot) and Tyler Brayton (ankle) missed practice Wednesday. Otah and Williams probably won't play, but Hardy said he will be ready for New Orleans.

Both of Carolina's starting guards, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Travelle Wharton, were limited in practice Wednesday, but should be ready for Sunday.



What matchups will you be watching on Sunday? Discuss in the message boards.





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