Carolina Panthers

Panthers' 'D' doesn't plan on Bucs getting repeat performance

Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas makes a tackle on Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings last weekend in Green Bay.
Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas makes a tackle on Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings last weekend in Green Bay.

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers got back to work Wednesday in preparation for Monday's showdown with Tampa Bay.

They worked a bit on the Buccaneers, but the one thing they'll need no help with is motivation.

After absorbing a 27-3 thrashing in Tampa in October, this week's game has been circled for more than a month. It was the worst beating administered by either team since they linked up in the NFC South division in 2002, and something the Panthers haven't forgotten.

"They put a pounding on us the last time we played them," safety Chris Harris said Wednesday. "So I don't expect it to be that type of game."

You'd think the Panthers would want to file that game somewhere and never think about it again. An early punt block for a touchdown started the snowball rolling downhill, and they never recovered. Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw three interceptions, the defense allowed their first individual 100-yard rusher of the season (Warrick Dunn), giving them no phases of the game in which they could point to success.

Coach John Fox let out a little laugh when asked what his team needed to do differently this time, saying: "Just about everything."

That was reminiscent of the post-game reaction after the game, in which the Panthers' locker room was in a state of subdued disbelief, not quite sure what occurred or how.

"Everything that could have happened did happen," left tackle Jordan Gross said that afternoon. "And everybody took their turns making bad plays."

Mostly, that game exposed some of the flaws in the Panthers' game, pointing to some of the things that would become problems later in the year.

The punt block was last of three so far this season, but other teams have hounded Delhomme into mistakes, and the Panthers' run defense has sprung leaks lately. Also, that recent problem with slow starts first reared its head there and turned around last week after a three-weeks stretch of somnambulism.

But if there's any problem being geared up to fix it, this week should provide the wake-up call.

With both teams tied at 9-3 atop the division, this one's a de facto title game, and considering the sorry state of the NFC's North and West Divisions (led by 7-5 Minnesota and Arizona), the winner's going to have the inside track toward one of the byes in the NFC playoffs.

"Whether that happened last game or not, we're both 9-3 and on Monday night," Harris said. "Twelve games into the season, you can't ask for much better than 9-3, to play another 9-3 team. This is a playoff atmosphere and has playoff implications. The winner of our division will get a first-round bye in the playoffs, so that's what we're playing for.

"Whether we lost 30-3 or 31-30, that has nothing to do with anything. This is a division game, and it's on Monday night and we're both 9-3 and it'll give us the lead in the division. Guys will be jacked up regardless how we got beat or not.

Still, that beat-down won't just be in the back of their minds as they prepare, even though the implications outweigh simple revenge.

"It's definitely one of those games you look at, especially with them in first place right now," linebacker Jon Beason said. "Tampa is always a tough game. They enjoy playing, and we love playing it, too. It's a big stage, two good teams. They've got a great defense, (quarterback) Jeff Garcia's playing best he has his whole career.

"It's going to be a tough game, but these are the ones you live for."

Asked if that motivation came easier because of the circumstances, Beason grinned as he walked away.

"Oh, absolutely," Beason said. "But they know that, too."

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