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"We're still here," Peppers said. "We are still together. We just put ourselves in a bad position. It's hard knowing you have (the division title) right there but you just can't grab it."

A win and they're in.

It's that simple for the Carolina Panthers (8-5), who despite losing three straight games need only one win against the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions or the New York Giants in the final three weeks to clinch their first division title since 1996.

Of course, the Panthers know the importance of finishing strong, even if it is against three bad teams. Traditionally, teams that back into the playoffs with a number of losses in December don't fare well in the playoffs.

"We do not want to be that team," Panthers strong safety Mike Minter said. "I think what we've got to understand is that we want to do more than just to go the playoffs.

"That is the big thing right there. Get it in your head that we want to do more than just to make it to the playoffs and be happy with that. We want to go do something in the playoffs. That is why it's important that we get some momentum right now."

The Panthers hope to put an end to their three-game losing streak this Sunday when they face the Cardinals, who lost 50-14 last week to the San Francisco 49ers.

"I think what we're looking for now is just a win," Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said.

Carolina's latest loss came at the hands of the 3-10 Falcons, a team that found some life with the return of Michael Vick. But despite the way Vick ran over, through and around the Carolina defense, Fox was more upset over the team's ineffectiveness on offense following the team's 20-14 overtime loss.

Fox said he was disappointed with the team's pass protection, the play of quarterback Jake Delhomme and Muhammad's mental error in overtime. As Fox pointed out, the Panthers scored just 14 points and totaled 231 yards against the league's 32nd ranked defense.

"I think our passing game and our protection, and even our quarterback reads, weren't executed well enough to get them off of us," Fox said. "I thought that was the difference in the game.

"I thought going in that was going to be the key. A lot was made of Michael Vick and their offense. ... I thought it was going to come down to how well our offense executed and we didn't execute well enough for us to win. Holding them to 14 points on defense -- that should be enough for us to win."

Fox added that Delhomme "didn't play one of his better games" and that Muhammad "made a mistake" when he stopped running his route in overtime, leading to cornerback Kevin Mathis' interception and game-winning 32-yard touchdown return.

A win this week against the Cardinals will help smooth things over and give the Panthers (8-5) their first division title since 1996, when they won the NFC West and went to the NFC Championship game.

It will also do wonders for the team's emotional state following losses to Dallas, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

However, the Panthers have all but played their way out of a chance to capture that all-important first-round bye. Philadelphia and St. Louis are both 10-3, two games ahead of the Panthers.

If the season ended today, the Panthers would be the third seed in the NFC playoffs and would have to play the first week of the playoffs against either the Seattle Seahawks or Dallas Cowboys.

On Monday, Fox was asked if he was worried about his team's psyche.

"Right now after three losses you're not riding high but we lost eight in a row last year and came back and won four of the last five," Fox said. "It's what you're willing to commit to now to get the job done. We've had three close games and came out on the short end. We need to get that turned around quickly."

Defensive end Julius Peppers isn't worried about the Panthers coming unglued. "We're still here," Peppers said. "We are still together. We just put ourselves in a bad position. It's hard knowing you have (the division title) right there but you just can't grab it."

SERIES HISTORY: 4th meeting. Cardinals lead series 2-1. Last year the Panthers beat the Panthers 16-13 at Ericsson Stadium on 50-yard field goal by Bill Gramatica with 16 seconds remaining in the game.

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