The Carolina Panthers didn’t get too high on themselves during a six-game winning streak that sprung them to the top of the competitive NFC South. They’re also not letting a dismal showing in last Sunday’s loss to NFC North-leading Chicago get them too down.
“If we win, everything is going to be a moot point,” said Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme. “We lost so every (problem) is going to be glaring.
“We played a bad game on Sunday, no doubt. But we’re still 7-3 and that is the positive thing about it.”
Delhomme and the Panthers will try to bounce back from their first loss in nearly two months as they visit the Buffalo Bills.
Delhomme completed 22-of-38 passes for 235 yards last week against the Bears, but also threw two costly interceptions as the Panthers endured their worst offensive performance of the year in a 13-3 loss. Carolina had gone unbeaten since a 27-24 setback at Miami on Sept. 25, and was shaping up as the team to beat in the NFC.
It was also just the fourth time in team history that the Panthers were held to three or fewer points, and first since a 41-0 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 24, 2002.
Delhomme’s two first-quarter interceptions led to 10 points for the Bears, and the Panthers never seriously threatened against a stout Chicago defense. Delhomme was sacked eight times—the most allowed by the Panthers since their first game as an expansion team in 1995.
The defeat marked the first time in 18 road games that Delhomme failed to throw a touchdown pass.
“When you’re playing a good team at their place, you’re at a little bit of a disadvantage as it relates to pass protection,” said Panthers coach John Fox, whose team remains in a first-place tie in the South with surging Tampa Bay.
“To spot them 10 points and have to play catch-up from the first quarter on makes your job tougher for the day.”
Despite the poor showing, Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith continued his brilliant campaign with a club-record 14 catches for 169 yards. Smith has seven 100-yard games this year, and leads the NFL with 72 catches, 1,106 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Carolina averages only 3.0 yards per rush attempt, ranking 31st in the NFL. The Bears held the Panthers to only 55 yards on the ground.
The Panthers may also be missing their leading tackler Sunday as linebacker Dan Morgan is listed as doubtful with a sprained left ankle. He suffered the injury just five minutes into the game at Chicago.
The Bills enter off an embarrassing 48-10 loss at San Diego last weekend, falling to 0-5 away from home this season.
“It seemed like nothing was going our way,” said Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, who started in place of the injured Kelly Holcomb after coming off the bench to lead Buffalo to a 14-3 victory over Kansas City a week earlier.
“That’s just the way this game is. That’s what makes the wins so enjoyable, because you know how bad it feels to lose like this.”
Losman completed 20 of 36 passes for 168 yards and threw a three-yard scoring strike to Daimon Shelton. Holcomb is listed as probable for Sunday after sitting out with a concussion. Coach Mike Mularkey has already named Losman as this week’s starter.
Running back Willis McGahee was limited to 39 yards on 10 carries against the Chargers, but that was enough to reach the 2,000-yard plateau for his career. McGahee became the quickest Bills running back to reach the mark, doing so in 26 games.
The Bills, who boast a 4-1 record at home, are two games behind first-place New England in the AFC East.
“It comes down to the last six games and it’s not going to be easy,” Mularkey said. “We’ve put ourselves in this position. How hard are we going work to get out of it?”
Buffalo’s NFL-worst red zone defense will face a challenge in the Panthers’ second-ranked red zone offense. In 32 red zone opportunities this season, Carolina has 22 touchdowns and seven field goals. The Bills have allowed 19 touchdowns in 28 opponents’ chances inside the 20-yard line.