CHARLOTTE -- With a rebuilt defensive line, the Carolina Panthers knew coming into the season they were going to rely on their secondary.
So while they're encouraged by the recent production up front (16 sacks the last five games), it's the leaks they're springing in the back that concern them. The Panthers have allowed 591 passing yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks, and seven pass plays of 20 yards or more. Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Bryant (out of football last year) lit them up for 200 yards Monday, the lone smudge on the Panthers' 38-23 victory.
Cornerbacks Ken Lucas and Richard Marshall have each given up big plays lately, and there have been communication issues in the secondary with rookie safety Charles Godfrey. So while there's a general sense the defense is beginning to turn around, Lucas said his group has to get better quickly.
This week's opponent, Denver, remains the league's third-ranked passing offense at 280.5 yards per game.
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"Cover. Cover. Don't allow the big play," Lucas said when asked what he needs to improve. "We have shown we can do it in the past, and we've just got to get back to doing it the way we did it the old way.
"We haven't been covering as well as we have in the past. But we have been coming out with the win. That's the epitome of this team, it might not be a pretty win as some people say, but we have been finding ways to win."
Panthers coach John Fox declined a chance to evaluate Lucas' recent play, using his familiar overall reasoning: "I think our defense has been a big reason why we're 10-3, and I think it was Monday night, too."
But Lucas admitted he had struggled, which has become obvious after a stronger start this year.
"To be honest, I really don't have any answers for you," he said. "All I can say is we have to cover better, that's all. I don't know what you all are trying to get out of me, want me to say right now, we just have to cover better. We've shown that in the past, and we just have to get back to it.
"I know we will. We all are hungry guys back there, and we want people to talk good about us rather than say we're the weak link back there. We're going to do everything in our power to try to fix that."
NEW NICKNAME: Since there seems to be some confusion as to who should be "Smash and Dash" -- both Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and Tennessee's Chris Johnson and LenDale White have used it at different times -- wide receiver Steve Smith announced an alternative.
"It's not 'Smash and Dash' any more," Smith said with a mischievous grin. "The offensive line did a poll, with the receivers, the quarterbacks, the training room staff. It's 'Razzle and Dazzle' now."
Smith clarified that Williams was "Razzle" and Stewart "Dazzle."
Not everyone was so sure of the new tag.
"I don't know," fullback Brad Hoover said. "It sounds a little more feminine."
If they base it on yards, the Panthers duo could lay claim, as they now lead the league in combined yards by teammates with 1,840. The twin Titans are second with 1,768.
BRIDGES BACK: Reserve tackle Jeremy Bridges was back on the practice field Wednesday after being deactivated Monday night. He was arrested Sunday on two counts of misdemeanor assault and one charge of communicating threats after an incident at a Ballantyne restaurant Saturday night.
He didn't talk to reporters Wednesday, and team officials said they were still in an "information gathering" mode. Fox said he deactivated Bridges to eliminate a distraction Monday. "I think we're kind of back to business as usual," Fox said. "We'll keep you posted. But the last time I looked, you're innocent until proven guilty."
"I saw him this morning, and it was like normal," quarterback Jake Delhomme said of Bridges. "It's unfortunate, but we don't know all of the details. He's a great teammate. He really is, (with) the role he has embraced. He plays all over the line and he's a cheerleader sometimes. But he comes to work every day. I think we need to let everything run its course. Things happen."
EXTRA POINTS: Williams was named NFC offensive player of the week Wednesday after his 186-yard outburst against Tampa. He's the fourth Panther this year to win weekly honors, joining Delhomme, defensive end Julius Peppers and return man Mark Jones.
The Panthers injury report continues to be a short one. Linebacker Adam Seward (ankle) and defensive end Hilee Taylor (calf) are out, and everyone else was practicing fully. Godfrey was missing Wednesday, but Fox said he was excused to deal with a family illness.