INSIDE SLANT

On paper, Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints is beginning to look like a pretty easy win for the unbeaten Carolina Panthers. "We aren't going to fall into that trap, oh no," said Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker. "They're going to be like a wounded animal coming in here. Those guys will come in here ready to play."

   On paper, Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints is beginning to look like a pretty easy win for the unbeaten Carolina Panthers.

   The Panthers are 3-0 and playing as well as any team in the NFL right now, while the Saints are coming off a 55-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and will likely be without nine players due to injury, including six starters and Pro Bowl kick returner Michael Lewis.

   "We aren't going to fall into that trap, oh no," said Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker. "They're going to be like a wounded animal coming in here. Those guys will come in here ready to play."

   Quarterback Jake Delhomme, who spent the last four seasons with the Saints before joining the Panthers, said he's already talked with several teammates about not overlooking the Saints.

   "I know they're hurt, but I'm not buying into that fact," Delhomme said. They've still got some good players and I know they will be ready to play."

   This is a special game for Delhomme and, if he does well, it will almost certainly drive the Saints fans wild. They haven't forgotten him.

   Even during last week's blowout loss to the Colts, Saints began chanting, "We want Jake! We want Jake!"

   While it's clear many Saints fans aren't real happy with their quarterback situation, the Panthers couldn't be happier.

   Delhomme limited his mistakes in last week's 23-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons and guys around him played a solid all-around game.

   The Panthers rank third in the NFL in rushing -- the highest ever in the team's nine-year franchise history -- behind Stephen Davis. Despite missing one game because of a bye week, Davis is the NFC's leading rusher with 406 yards in three games.

   But the Panthers might rely more on Delhomme this week, especially after Peyton Manning lit up the Saints secondary with six touchdown passes on Sunday night. Delhomme has four touchdown throws in 10 quarters this season for the Panthers.

   Defensively, the Panthers should be able to get pressure on the Saints, especially with left tackle Wayne Gandy sidelined with a knee injury.

   SERIES HISTORY: 17th meeting. Saints lead series 9-7. The Panthers knocked the Saints out of the playoff race with a 10-6 victory over New Orleans in last year's season finale. By virtue of that win, Atlanta made the playoffs instead of New Orleans.

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