November 17, 2013

New, improved Panthers still have much to prove

A win over the Pats would vindicate them as contenders.

The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The importance of Monday night’s game against the New England Patriots is not lost on Cam Newton.

MONDAY’S GAME

WHO: New England Patriots (7-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-3)

WHEN: 8:40 p.m.TELEVISION: ESPN

SERIES RECORD: Tied, 2-2

LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Panthers 20-10, Dec. 13, 2009

LAST WEEK: Patriots had bye; Panthers beat 49ers, 10-9

Carolina (6-3) has won five straight behind the third-year quarterback and is relevant for the first time since winning the NFC South in 2008.

“We need this more than anything,” Newton said. “The Carolinas need this more than anything.”

The city of Charlotte is bristling with excitement over its NFL team’s recent success, particularly after a 10-9 win last Sunday against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. So it sets up for an electric atmosphere when Tom Brady comes to town.

The Panthers haven’t won a postseason game since 2005 and playoff-starved fans sense this is the year to turn it around.

“Everyone has been (hoping) for a magical season,” Newton said. “No one wants to be affiliated with mediocrity, or something that’s just bland, so to speak. For the past couple of years, we know it, the Carolina Panthers haven’t been the hot topic or the hot thing in the league.”

This game could change all of that.

Although the Panthers are gaining some respect nationally – they rank sixth in the AP Pro32 poll, two spots behind the Patriots – they still trail the New Orleans Saints by a game in the NFC South standings after rebounding from a 1-3 start.

“This (high) we’re on right now, no one in that locker room wants to come down from it,” Newton said. “In that locker room after that (San Francisco) game, you would have thought doggone Jesus came back. Honestly. It was that type of feeling. It was a great feeling and we want to continue having that type feeling.”

Newton said now is not the time to relish a five-game winning streak, but rather to push forward to something greater.

“We can’t just stop and say, ‘Hey, let’s pop bottles. Let’s do this and let’s do that. Let’s celebrate, order some hot wings and pizza,’” Newton said.

The need to win isn’t quite as pressing for the Patriots (7-2), who hold a two-game lead over the New York Jets in the AFC East.

Still, Brady and the Patriots seem to thrive in the spotlight. Brady is 13-4 in Monday night games with 41 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.

“It will be fun,” said Brady, now in his 13th season. “These games are getting later and later in the year and they are getting more and more important.”

Five things to watch in the Patriots-Panthers game:

BRADY’S BIGGEST TEST: Brady torched the Steelers for 432 yards and four touchdowns before the bye week, but he hasn’t seen a defense quite like the Panthers this year. Carolina comes in allowing the second-fewest points and yards in the league.

“They play great team defense and they have every stat – third down, red zone area, sacks and turnovers. They got it all,” Brady said. “We have to play really well and our execution has to be right on.”

FAST STARTS: New England Coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots must bring intensity right from the start. The Panthers have yet to allow a touchdown in the first quarter and have led every game at halftime except last week at San Francisco, when they trailed 9-7. “Us being able to be ready to go and being able to match that – the intensity and the execution that they have – will be a key part of this game,” Belichick said.

(Continued on page 2)

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