Carolina Panthers fans, you know you’re guilty. All season, we’ve seen our team winning consistently. Comeback wins. An 8-2 start. The revival of Jake Delhomme. The return of Muhsin Muhammad.
Thinking of 2003? Probably.
There was a painful stretch five years ago when the team went on a three-game losing streak after starting with an identical 8-2 mark. Sure, they wound up in Super Bowl XXXVIII but that run of losses was painful to watch.
If we are all guilty – guilty of dreaming of 2003 – we must also be hoping this year’s team can avoid a stretch similar to that one. We’ll know this Sunday. Will Black Friday be followed by Black Sunday? Here are five ways the Panthers can avoid losing two in a row for the first time in ’08 and putting all of us in a funk:
1. Run the Ball. Everytime we do one of these, this is one of the five points. We’re talking about a John Fox team, after all. And, while Green Bay was getting torched Monday night by New Orleans through the air, it’s actually their run defense that’s the chink in their armour. With all five starters healthy for the second straight week up front, there are no excuses. Maybe before but no longer. DeAngelo Williams. Jonathan Stewart. It doesn’t matter. Pound the rock and, in the words of our hero Sam Mills, “Keep Pounding!”
2. Make Aaron Rodgers beat you. Will there be some who tell me how insane I am here? Sure, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are an imposing pair of wideouts but Rodgers is no Brett Favre – yet. He has shown a penchant for throwing interceptions at crucial times (see Monday night) and is not a consistently solid quaterback. Make him prove he’s the man. Shut down Ryan Grant and make the Packers beat you by throwing.
3. Embrace the Chill. There is always a chance of snow in Wisconsin this time of year. It’s no surprise that the weatherman is calling for the white stuff. Fine. Let’s play in the snow and be the more physical team. Hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em often. Body shot after body shot and they’ll wear down. It hurts more to keep getting hit like that when it’s cold out.
4. Start fast! What’s been wrong with this bunch in recent weeks? They should be primed for a showdown the minute they get off the bus. Play loose and play hard. Enjoy yourselves. Start this game like you finished the Chicago game, like you played in the third quarter in Atlanta. Just stop sleep walking through the first quarter.
5. Eliminate the Lambeau leap. It’s a warm fuzzy for the fans in Green Bay. The Panthers have played a bend-but-don’t-break defense all season. Any scoring opportunities should be held to three and not six. Shoot, forget that. Just don’t bend. Play like your lives depend on it, shut them down and take the crowd out of the game early. When the air is sucked out of the stadium, the Packers will deflate.