Stage is set for crucial MNF game

And so the stage is set. The Carolina Panthers' dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers sets up a classic NFC South showdown next Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium in a game that will go a long way toward determining the division title.

Both teams are 9-3.

Although the Bucs defeated the Panthers 27-3 at Raymond James Stadium earlier this year, Carolina is 6-0 at home this season.

"We both have a chance to gain control of the division and these are the types of games you love to play in as a player," said wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. "The script couldn't have been written any better for a Monday Night Football game."

Carolina's offense is just starting to click.

They've scored 60 points in the last six quarters against Atlanta and Green Bay. On Sunday, the Panthers made five trips inside the red zone and scored touchdowns on all five.

"We've done well at home, but we've been below average on the road," said quarterback Jake Delhomme. "But we came into a tough place and we scored some points. We had 28 points last week (against Atlanta) and 35 this week. We're scoring a little bit of points."

The problem for the Panthers right now is their defense.

They allowed the Packers to put up 31 points and 438 yards and, like the Atlanta game, couldn't get off the field. The Panthers allowed drives of 51, 66, 95, 76 and 79 yards.

Last week, they allowed Atlanta's offense to score 38 points in a 45-28 loss.

Still, coach John Fox was pleased they stepped up and made plays when they needed them in the final two minutes, holding the Packers to a field goal and then intercepting Aaron Rodgers on a desperation heave.

"This game is full of ebbs and tides," Fox said. "But we made stops when we needed to. That's the difference in records this time of the year -- being able to win those type of games and not."

After a series of slow starts in recent weeks, Carolina's offense got started quickly on Sunday with a 45-yard flea-flicker from Delhomme to Muhammad on the first play from scrimmage. Although the play ended in a fumble, it didn't cost the Panthers.

More important, it set a tone -- the Panthers were going to be aggressive.

Carolina reached the red zone five times on Sunday and came away with a touchdown every time.

For the Panthers, the win assures them of a winning record for the third time in seven seasons under Fox. The other two times the Panthers finished with winning records they went on to make the playoffs and reach the NFC championship game.

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