Panthers vs Saints: Overview

10 Seasons. 20 games. 10 wins apiece. This Sunday, the Panthers and Saints meet for the 21st time at Bank of America Stadium. The last time the two met, the Panthers had a shot at making the playoffs if they won, but the Saints played the spoiler and kept Carolina home for good. This time, the Saints come into Charlotte having not been home in two weeks due to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

"We obviously feel very bad about the situation down there and feel for those guys and what they and their families are going through," Panthers Guard Mike Wahle said, "but despite everything that's going on, we have to realize on Sunday that this is a football game and this is the first step in what we hope will become an extraordinary year. They're a very, very dangerous team, and we're going to look at them that way."

Panthers QB Jake Delhomme grew up in Louisiana, and has spent most of his life there. "The hurricane is a tragedy, and there's no doubt that is ongoing," Delhomme said. "Last Thursday before our preseason finale, I was in the hotel room all day long watching it. I know these areas you see on TV well. It hits you right in the heart. You do what you can. You give money or give clothes, things of that nature, to try to help these people. But if you look at it, we're just a small scope. We have to go play a football game."

"Hearing what some of their guys are saying about how they're visiting refugees who are displaced and how the refugees are telling them they will be watching them Sunday, these guys are going to come ready to play," said Delhomme. "We have to be ready to play, too. That's just how this world goes. Sometimes you don't understand why, but we have to go out and do our job. We have to go and play a child's game."

"It doesn't matter who we're playing, we have to go about our business and win a football game," said Saints WR Joe Horn. "I don't expect on Sunday for the Carolina Panthers to feel sorry for us. In their heart, I'm sure they will. But when that clock starts, I'm not going to run around and catch a ball and not expect for Julius Peppers to knock my head off. I have to prepare like the hurricane didn't even happen. What the Saints are going through on the football field is a cakewalk. There should be no problems for us. Nobody should complain."

The Panthers finished the preseason 2-2, and the Saints 1-3. As everyone knows, preseason records don't mean a lot other than how deep a team is. Saints Head Coach Jim Haslett enters his 6th season as the head coach, and could be looking for a job if the team doesn't at least make the playoffs this season. Despite having one of the most talented teams in the NFC South every year, the Saints have managed to make the playoffs only once, in Haslett's first season. Despite having offensive weapons like Deuce McAllister and Joe Horn, The Saints have hovered around .500 for the last four seasons.

Out of the 20 meetings between the Panthers and Saints, 10 of them have been decided by six points or less. Of those 10 games, the Panthers have won 4. Jim Haslett is 6-4 against Carolina as the head coach of the Saints, which includes a 4-1 record at Bank of America Stadium.

No Panther knows the Saints better than their former backup, Jake Delhomme. While their offense gets most of the attention, their defense is looking to rebound from being ranked worst in the NFL in 2004.

"The biggest thing is their front four," Delhomme said of the Saints defensive line, who notched 6 sacks, two forced fumbles and a blocked field goal the last time the two teams met. "It's close to being one of the better ones in the NFL. I think we have a great front four but I put these guys up on par with them. They're good. They're all first-round picks, pretty much, and as we saw last year, they can rush the passer. When you're down in a football game, that's an opposing defensive lineman's dream. They can pin their ears back and come after the quarterback, and they did that. They do it well. I have the utmost respect for a couple of their guys on that defensive front. I played with Charles Grant and Darren Howard. These guys come to work, and they will play to the whistle. That's all you can ask as a coach. Will Smith was added in there last year. They rush the passer very well."

The Panthers have made a major upgrade to their offensive line in the off-season, nabbing OG Mike Wahle; a player who some pundits claimed was the best player available in free agency, regardless of position. "He's our kind of guy," said Panthers Head Coach John Fox. "He's a tough guy. He brings his lunch pail to work everyday, and of course he's a gifted player. He's brought a lot to us, both in the locker room and on the field." Wahle's addition meant that Jordan Gross could slide over and fortify the right side of the line, and second-year player Travelle Wharton mans the left tackle position. The return of Stephen Davis and Deshaun Foster means that the Panthers offensive line should have a better time protecting the QB because of game situations. "A lot of (sack totals) has to do with the situations in the game," Wahle said. "If we're down, we're going to have to pass the ball 40-50 times and we've put ourselves in a bad spot. I think that's probably what happened last year. If we can control the clock, run the football and get our play-action going, we're going to have a lot more success than we did the last time around."

Opening the season against a division rival is tough, however. A loss means your team is down essentially two games in the race for the playoffs. "You have to be ready to play and come out firing," Panthers QB Jake Delhomme said. "It's a division game. It's a team that knocked us out of the playoffs. We all know that every team is undefeated going into this weekend. Everyone is expecting to have big years, and you want to get off on the right foot."

As for the predictions of the Panthers winning it all this year? "You have to go out on the field and prove it every Sunday," Said Delhomme. "That comes through preparation and hard work."

"We feel we're solid. But feeling is one thing. Going out and doing it is another. You can have a team that looks good on paper, but if you can't do it between those lines it does you no good."

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