"We were first in our division and now we're second," cornerback Ken Lucas said. "We're a wild-card team. That is so disappointing and kind of embarrassing. If you're ashamed of something, you have to do something about it."
Although both Carolina and Tampa Bay are 9-4, the Bucs have a better
division record at 3-1 (Carolina is 2-2) and can seal the division by
winning their final three games -- at New England, and then at home against
Atlanta and New Orleans.
"We lost our wiggle room," safety Mike Minter said.
And more than that.
The Panthers also may have lost a great shot at getting a first-round bye
and hosting a playoff game, too.
Carolina's 20-10 loss to Tampa Bay -- and the game was not nearly as
close as it sounds -- was amazing considering how well the Panthers played
the week before against Atlanta.
It now seems this team is a little schizophrenic, not unlike the Saints
in the past. Quite frankly, you never know what you're going to get when
they step on the field.
The big problem for the Panthers on Sunday was a familiar one -- third
Last season's common problem re-emerged when the Bucs converted 10 of 17
third-down opportunities, most of them on short passes by Chris Simms. The
Panthers will try to tell you they were third-and-short conversions, but
they weren't. The Bucs' average third-down play was a third-and-8.
Meanwhile, Carolina's offense converted just two of 11 third-down
You would think the Panthers should be able to bounce back Sunday against
the Saints in Baton Rouge, La., but you never really know. The Panthers
lost to the Saints at home in the season opener and have always had a tough
time with them.
The Panthers follow that game up with a tough home against Dallas on
Christmas Eve, but in all likelihood their postseason hopes will come down
to a the season finale at Atlanta, a place they've struggled terribly in the
past. The Falcons will be looking for revenge after a 24-6 loss to the
Panthers on Dec. 4.
The Panthers did their best to try to downplay the importance of Sunday's
"Let's remember, we're 9-4," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "Don't lose
sight of that. We didn't play a good game. We played against a good team
who played well today. We need to get back to work. That happens in this
But in reality, good teams win games like Sunday's; they don't get blown
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