Notes and Quotes, Panthers vs. Saints II

S Mike Minter said the Saints, who have won three straight, are a much-improved team since Dec. 5, when the Panthers beat them 32-21 in New Orleans.<br><br> "I see a confident football team and a team that is running the ball," Minter said. "When you are running it you are more confident. They are running it and controlling the clock. They are more balanced and running the ball."

--Head coach John Fox and his players harbor no ill feelings toward Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, who rested most of his key starters in a Monday night loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Had the Eagles won, the Rams would have been eliminated from the playoff picture and the Panthers would have only needed to beat New Orleans to get into the playoffs.

Instead, now the Panthers need outside help to get in.

"It's each team's job to make sure they don't get in the predicament we're in," defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said. "It's not Philly's fault that we started 1-7 and we're here having to fight to get in. And it's not Atlanta's fault, either. You don't expect any help from other teams."

Added safety Mike Minter: "It doesn't bother me. They have earned that. When you end up 13-1 you have the right to do what you want to do. I don't blame them at all."

Fox said he doesn't believe Reid has a competitive obligation to play his starters even though the game had tremendous playoff implications for other teams, particularly the Panthers and Seattle Seahawks.

"They earned that right," Fox said. "We knew the rules going on. There are seedings and rules going in place, and they're not a surprise. They've earned that right. They are there and we're not."

--The Panthers are trying to remain focused on their "playoff game" with the Saints despite what has been a distracting week at Bank of America Stadium.

Along with answering questions about the death of ex-Panther Reggie White and the outside games impacting the team's playoff chances, the Continental Tire Bowl is scheduled for Thursday at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers will try to take business as usual and remain on the same practice schedule, according to head coach John Fox.

"You know what, it is a lot of distractions," Panthers strong safety Mike Minter said. "It does mess up our routine a little bit. ... But we have to be able to focus and put that to the side and understand what is at stake.

"I think the older guys understand that. I think it's up to the older guys to say, 'C'mon, understand this is for real. The intensity is going up, let's go out and play a great game.' "

--P Todd Sauerbrun believes his DUI arrest might have cost him a shot at a fourth Pro Bowl. He was beaten out for the award by New Orleans' Mitch Berger, who ranks behind Sauerbrun in gross average but ahead of him in net average.

"It probably hurt me a little bit (in the voting)," Sauerbrun said. "But not completely. In my mind, I need to run away with the stats. I need to have more of a lead (in all punting categories) in my mind. Next year is another year, and that is what I plan on doing."

--S Mike Minter said the Saints, who have won three straight, are a much-improved team since Dec. 5, when the Panthers beat them 32-21 in New Orleans.

"I see a confident football team and a team that is running the ball," Minter said. "When you are running it you are more confident. They are running it and controlling the clock. They are more balanced and running the ball."

BY THE NUMBERS: Now in their second year of working together, QB Jake Delhomme and WR Muhsin Muhammad are the hottest tandem in the league. Over the last seven games, they've connected for 800 passing yards on 48 completions, nine for touchdowns.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When we were 1-7 we were pretty discouraged and knowing that it had never happened before, we knew we needed a miracle for us to get into the playoffs. And that miracle is here right now. We can be a part of history, and I think everyone here understands that. Everyone is here right now, and it will be a great playoff game Sunday." -- Panthers CB Artrell Hawkins

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