Can the Panthers win in the cold?

The Panthers have shown they can win close games, they can blow teams out and they even can beat division opponents on the road this season. Now they must prove they can win in the cold.

The Panthers are riding a six-game winning streak and are tied with Seattle for the best record in the NFC at 7-2, but they face two tough games in cold weather sites, beginning this Sunday when they face the Chicago Bears at windy Soldier Field. The Panthers travel the following week to Buffalo to face the Bills.

The Panthers haven't had many cold weather games since the 2003 season.

But they did have a big one, and they won it, beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2004.

However, the Panthers in 11 seasons are 1-4 in games when the temperature is below 32 at kickoff.

This week, however, a more pressing concern is the wind at Soldier Field. After watching film of last week's game between the Bears and the visiting San Francisco 49ers, in which winds whipped around at up to 47 mph, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme called the game "comical."

Throwing the ball was nearly impossible, catching it perhaps even tougher.

The problem for the Panthers is if the wind decides to swirl again, that might render Carolina's best offensive weapon, Steve Smith, useless and force the team to rely on its running game.

And that could mean problems.

The Panthers are averaging an anemic 3 yards per carry this season, worst in the NFL. They have not had a dominant drive all season where they simply ran the ball down an opponent's throat.

Yes, Stephen Davis has scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, but the Panthers have just one run of more than 20 yards in 279 attempts this season and only 13 runs of more than 10 yards.

"I don't think we've arrived yet. But I don't think there are many head coaches sitting around today thinking they have either," said coach John Fox.

The Panthers have only run for 100 yards in a game as a team four times this season, and they have not had an individual 100-yard rusher. Davis matched his season high on Sunday against the Jets with 81 yards on 27 carries.

"We were not ineffective running the ball (against the Jets)," Fox said. "But there is room for improvement in that area. ... I would like to see our yards per carry improve."

Making matters worse, the Panthers face a Bears defense that now ranks first in overall offense.

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