Panthers defense focused on nemesis

The talk this week in Carolina surrounds one man - Michael Vick. While everyone around the country has seen how Vick can alter a game, perhaps no team knows it better than his division rival. Vick has been a Panther killer since coming into the league.

He's 5-0 as a starter against Carolina, leading a sweep of the season series last year.

"He kind of turns it up a little bit when he plays us," said Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac.

Kind of?

Vick's numbers through the air in those five games aren't all that impressive - he's averaged less than 200 yards passing with a combined total of four touchdowns with three interceptions - but he's Vick-timized the Panthers with 335 yards on the ground on 40 carries - a whopping 8.8 yards per carry. He's also scored three rushing touchdowns.

The biggest came in their last meeting in December.

Leading by 7, the Panthers had the Falcons down to their final play - a fourth-and-goal at the Carolina 12.

That's when Vick did what he does best, breaking the pocket, avoiding two tackles and diving headfirst from the 5-yard line and gliding just inches off the ground into the end zone for a touchdown.

The Falcons went on to win in overtime, dealing a huge blow to Carolina's playoff hopes.

After the game, safety Mike Minter called him "Superman."

When asked if that play will be in the back of his mind on Sunday, Minter replied, "No, it's in the front of my mind. I have seen it. I have seen the guy fly about five inches off the ground for about five yards. And that beat us. That is something that is tough to live with."

It's a play that Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. has come to expect from his quarterback.

"He's like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Wayne Gretzky in that he creates some moments that are unforgettable, that you don1t see on a routine basis," Mora said. "That's why people pay to see him play.

"That's why people pay to see Julius Peppers play, or used to pay to watch Barry Sanders play. They create these moments that are like, 'Wow, oh, my God did you see that?' If you are watching on replay and your buddy is getting a beer you say, 'Get in here, get in here, you have to see this!' That's what Mike does."

Clearly, the talk of Michael Vick's success against Carolina doesn't exactly sit well in the Panthers proud locker room.

When asked whether Vick is inside the heads of Carolina's defenders, tackle Brentson Buckner snarled and said, "I'm not going to answer that question. I'm a grown man. Nobody is going to get in my head. ... Allow another man inside my head. Are you serious?"

OK, so maybe Vick isn't inside the head of the Panther defenders.

It just seems that way.

On Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers get another shot at the man Buckner, of all people, described earlier this season as "our kryptonite" in a critical NFC South showdown.

Vick offered no explanation as to his dominance over Carolina, but added, "If we can use that to our psyche a little bit ... that I intimidate them, then that's on them."

Trgovac said his players don't have a mental block when it comes to beating Vick and the Falcons.

"No, I don't think so," Trgovac said. "Like I've said, we've had great games with them and we've put a lot of good hits on him. He makes plays. When you watch the tapes, it's not just us that he's making plays on. He makes plays on everybody. It's like last year when he made the great play at the end. We were in good position, but he made a great play. Hopefully you make more plays than he does, but he's going to make some plays. You can't stop a guy like that every play. He's too talented."

Nobody can help Carolina's defense this Sunday much as quarterback Jake Delhomme. In the past four games against the Falcons, Delhomme and the offense have turned the ball over 11 times to Atlanta's 7.

Minter said if the offense can avoid turnovers and put together some 10-minute drives like they did last week against Buffalo, then that would greatly increase Carolina's chances of further distancing themselves from the Falcons, who are one game behind the Panthers in the NFC South standings at 7-4.

"That would be great for us to get some rest so we don't have to chase No. 7 around all day long," Minter said.

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