CHARLOTTE -- Panthers coach John Fox couldn't help but laugh, when asked about Tampa Bay's clearly stated plan to hold out players from this week's regular season finale.
"Well, we're resting some of our starters, too, and have been for some time," Fox said, alluding to the injuries that wiped out his quarterback in September, his season not long thereafter.
The Panthers are doing it because they have 11 players on injured reserve, including two quarterbacks (Jake Delhomme and Brett Basanez) and four of the five players elected captain at the beginning of the year (Delhomme, Julius Peppers, Dan Morgan and Nick Goings).
The Buccaneers are doing it because they've already clinched their playoff berth and seeding, knowing they'll host New York in next weekend's Wild Card round.
That makes this week's game an interesting challenge for players -- aside from the utter meaninglessness of it all.
"Like last year when we played New Orleans?" defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said of the game in which the Saints pulled most of their starters in the first half. "After last year when that happened I kind of got used to it. If it happens this year, it's not going to be something where it's going to make us play relaxed.
"We've still got a job to do. We still have things that we need to achieve in this locker room, even if it's just for one more Sunday this year. Regardless of whoever is on the field, it's a football game."
According to right tackle Jordan Gross, it's actually more complicated than it sounds.
"I hate playing against reserves, honestly," Gross said. "You can't watch film. We'll see guys Sunday I've never really seen before on film, so they can pull out any kind of trick move on me."
Fox said to combat that, they try to focus on preparing for Tampa Bay's regular game-plan, which won't change all that much depending on who's running it.
"There is some personnel stuff involved but most of it is scheme," Fox said. "They are going to do the same things they do whoever is in there, whether its offense, defense or the kicking game, just like we will."
• PERSPECTIVE: The Panthers aren't going to the playoffs, and they aren't able to spoil Tampa's chances.
All they really can look forward to is finishing 7-9 instead of 6-10, and there's more of a difference than is apparent.
"Nine losses is not good, but 10's a lot worse," Gross said, adding that avoiding double digits has been a point of emphasis this week.
It's also the finale for many of the guys who'll take the field, since there will be significant roster overhaul next year anyway.
"Everybody realizes this is the last time this group is going to be together," he said. "For me, it's a chance to go into the offseason on a positive note. You want to play well even though you know nothing's at stake."
• EXTRA POINTS: Gross (ankle) returned to practice fully Thursday, after taking Wednesday off. The only two players held out of the next-to-last practice of the year were safety Chris Harris (neck) and quarterback Vinny Testaverde (age). ...