INSIDE SLANT

"It's a new season and we're trying not to dwell on the game film from last year," Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker said.

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   No matter how hard they try, the Carolina Panthers cannot escape the numbers 71 and 0 this week.

   That was the outcome of two games last season against the Atlanta Falcons, who whipped up on the Panthers 30-0 and later 41-0 in 2002.

   "It's reality. You can't run from it. They pretty much owned us last year," defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said. "We didn't score a point and we didn't stop them from scoring. You are going to hear about it until you have a chance to do something about it."

   They get that chance this Sunday.

   The Panthers (2-0) host the Falcons (1-2) at Ericsson Stadium and hope to put an end to a six-game losing streak against their divisional foes.

   This year, it would appear the Panthers have the edge, especially coming off a bye this past weekend. The Falcons, meanwhile, were crushed by Tampa Bay; the same team the Panthers beat 12-9 in Week 2.

   "It's a new season and we're trying not to dwell on the game film from last year," Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker said.

   That sentiment was echoed throughout the Panthers locker room this week.

   "We can't worry about last year. I think everyone on this team as individuals got better," safety Deon Grant said. "We trust one another and trust in our coaches more. We're playing together well this year. We're going to try to keep on doing that and try to capitalize on the mistakes we made the first two weeks."

   The Panthers won't have to face the electric Michael Vick, who remains sidelined with a broken leg and that in itself could be the difference in the game. Vick blistered the Panthers in every way imaginable last season, even completing a pass to himself for a first down in one game.

   "They aren't much different without Vick, you just don't have that running threat from the quarterback position," Buckner said. "But they run their offense. When a play broke down Vick could make a play with his feet where as Doug Johnson will sit there and read the reads and make his throws."

   Safety Mike Minter said the difference with Johnson is they won't have to send a spy to watch the quarterback. Minter said this time around he's hoping the Panthers have more luck against the Falcons.

   "It's very embarrassing," Minter said of last year's two losses to the Falcons. "I mean, we didn't score AND we gave up 71 points. That's tough to do, especially when we pride ourselves on our defense. We pride ourselves on stopping people, and we didn't do it either game against them.

   "That's something that we've got stuck in the back of our minds. We know we're better than that."

   SERIES HISTORY: 17th meeting. Falcons lead series 11-5. The Falcons crushed the Panthers by a combined score of 71-0 last season, dominating in every aspect of both games. Things were so bad that Michael Vick didn't even play in the fourth quarter of either game.


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