Carolina Panthers

Panthers try to win at home

CHARLOTTE -- The facts don't lie: The Carolina Panthers are better on the road than at home.

They're working to change that this week against Tampa Bay, hoping to follow another road win with a better effort here than last time.

The Panthers have won both road games this year, and have a 24-18 (.571) road mark in the regular season under John Fox.

At home, they're 22-19 (.537), and the last one underscored their frustrations. They grabbed an early 14-0 lead, but gave up 34 unanswered points to lose to Houston, their fourth straight loss in a home opener.

"Our fans deserve to have a good showing out of us," right tackle Jordan Gross said. "This is a huge game, obviously in the division and the conference, but just for us and the city of Charlotte it's important for us to put on a good showing.

"I feel like this game is really going to establish what we are as a team. Two wins in a row and 3-1's a lot better than 2-2."

It's a rare accomplishment, and Fox is one of four coaches in NFL history who's been better away from home.

But there's an extra sense of urgency against the Buccaneers, since the Panthers have two road games and a bye before returning to Bank of America Stadium on Oct. 28 to play Indianapolis.

Gross called the Panthers' malaise here "a mental toughness deal," and said the big lead they built up on the Texans might have given them a false sense of security.

"I was looking forward to more of the same," he said. "The bigger you are, the harder you fall. That holds true with a lead."

He didn't blame the local fans, even though BOA Stadium hasn't been the most passionate venue in the league.

"Our fans are great when we give them something to cheer about, and there wasn't a lot of that last time," Gross said. "Sometimes in a road game, you know you're up against the odds, and when you're at home, you feel comfortable. Especially like (the Houston game), you're up early, there might be a tendency to let your guard down a bit. Whether that happened or not, I don't know.

"I like being home, having my family here, and being able to go right home afterward. I prefer home games, we've just got to do it."

• PEPPERS FAN: Don't count Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden among those worried about Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who hasn't had a sack in three games and has just two pressures, causing much concern here.

"If they're criticizing Julius Peppers, I don't know what's going on with society," Gruden said. "He's still a really great player. He's playing all over the place. He's a roamer walking around in a nickel. He's on the left side, he's on the right side, he's covering tight ends and backs. What the hell is there to criticize?"

• EXTRA POINTS: The same four players were held out of practice Thursday: Quarterback Jake Delhomme (elbow), linebackers Dan Morgan (ankle) and Adam Seward (calf) and right guard Jeremy Bridges (toe) ... Defensive end Mike Rucker and left tackle Travelle Wharton (both toe injuries) returned to full participation in practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday.

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