Skip to main content

Official website of the New England Patriots

Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Apr 16 - 02:00 PM | Thu Apr 18 - 11:55 AM

Panthers succeed playing it close; Notes

With a 7-0 mark in games decided by three points or less, Carolina has thrived in tight contests this season.

Good teams win close games and there is little question that the 2003 NFC champions are a good football team. Seven of the Panthers 11 regular season wins this season came in games decided by three points or less. In fact the team was a perfect 7-0 in those games.

Those numbers are a dramatic turnaround for a team that went 1-4 in three-point games on its way to a 7-9 record in 2002 and 0-6 in such games on the way to a 1-15 season in 2001. Winning the tight games is the main reason Carolina is in the position it is today, but the team's success in those close contests has its foundation in the struggles of the previous two seasons.

"It happened when we were 1-15 and it happened when we were 7-9," defensive end Mike Rucker said of how the team learned to win close games. "We lost those games that we won this year. So we've learned from those mistakes. We've learned how to finish a game. You have to team up. They are trying to score to win the game and we know how to finish that team, to not let them get that. Before, we were letting them get that. So that's definitely helped us coming into this year. We are winning those games. So if it comes to a close game, if we have to go six quarters, we have no sweat. We have been there before. We know how to finish it."

Panthers Head Coach John Fox believes that winning those close games is the difference between the playoff teams and the rest of the pack in the NFL.

"First of all if you really research it and go through the league the difference between 7-9 and 10-6 is wining those three point games," Fox said. "That's not just new this season. I think it's a mindset. It's an attitude. Obviously when you have been in those close games, in particular early in the season, and you have success, just like anything winning breeds confidence and you build on that. The guys have been there. They expect to pull it out. You get on a roll that way and that's really what separates these two teams that are playing from the rest of the teams in the league."

Experiencing the highs and the lows

While people generally give the Patriots the edge in Super Bowl experience by virtue of the team's trip in 2001, that doesn't mean the Panthers haven't been well schooled on the magnitude of the game. Defensive linemen Brentson Buckner (1995 Steelers) and wide receiver Ricky Proehl (1999, 2001 Rams) are trying to relate their past Super Bowl experiences to their less-experienced teammates in order to prepare them for Sunday's big battle.

"We've worked so hard to get here," Proehl. "You never know if you are going to get back. I mean people talk about that all the time. There is so much truth to that. It's so hard to win in this league and to win repeatedly and get back here. You don't want to lose. I've won one and there is no better feeling in world than when a football team comes together and wins a championship. That's what it's all about. And when you lose, there is nothing worse. I mean they literally rope you off. They rope you off and they send you into the locker room. That's the worst feeling in the world. I try to just tell them we've worked so hard to get here, so do everything you can do this week to prepare so when Sunday comes you are ready for every situation."

"It's only fun when you win," Buckner. "If you lose this game here, you are nobody really. You are one of the other 31 teams. They only remember the champions. You don't want that feeling. That's one of the worst feelings I've ever had before in my life. You fight this hard to get to the game and lose and then it's like you were never there. They rope off the field and they send you on your way because everybody wants to party with the champions."

Successful change

One fact that hasn't gotten a lot of note this week leading up to the Super Bowl is that Carolina's potentially-dominating defense had great success this season under the guidance of a new offensive coordinator, Mike Trgovac. Trgovac spent the 2002 season as the defensive line coach for a Panthers defense that finished second in the NFL and then ascended to the coordinator position when Jack Del Rio took a head coaching job with the Jaguars last winter.

"I think he's a fantastic defensive line coach," Fox said of Trgovac. "He was a big part of what we accomplished a year ago. When Jack Del Rio got hired as the head football coach at Jacksonville I thought we had a good room. I thought we had a good feel for the players and I didn't really want to test the waters outside. So we stayed within and I think Mike Trgovac has done an outstanding job with our defense."

Notes and Quotes

The Panthers reported no injuries on Wednesday's injury report. … With all the success the Panthers have had this season you might expect that someone like Jake Delhomme or Julius Peppers might be the most popular athlete in the Charlotte area. Not so according to Rucker who said professional wrestler Ric Flair is still the most popular athlete in the area. "He's a fixture," Rucker said. "He's been there forever. He's been doing his thing a long time. Ric all the way." … While the Cowboys finished the regular season ranked first in the NFL in defense based on yards, Panthers offensive coordinator Dan Henning believes the Patriots are the league's top unit based on the fact that it gave up the fewest points this season. "Yards mean nothing," Henning said. "It's how many times you get the ball in the end zone and how many points you score. And New England is number one in that." … Rucker doesn't believe that Super Bowl ratings will be hurt with what is perceived as a lack of star power or big-play offenses in the game. "I guarantee that everybody will be watching regardless if they want to see two different teams or not," Rucker said. "What else is on?" … Delhomme sees some of the reasons why people are comparing the Panther quarterback with Patriots signal caller Tom Brady. "I guess people make that comparison because he came out of nowhere two years ago and I came out of nowhere I guess this year. There team was kind of, I don't know if you want to call it a Cinderella story or whatnot and ours people are kind of saying that same thing. But certainly he's a lot younger than I was. My road was a lot different. He was a draft pick and whatnot. I guess maybe we are similar in the ways that we both are on good football teams. I don't really know Tom but it seems like he puts the team first and I know that's what I do. We put the team first. We don't care about individual accolades as long as we can help our team win and do things for our teammates. So maybe that's where we are similar." … Troy Brown may not be putting up the 100-catch numbers he has in the past, but according to Panther safety Mike Minter he is still a guy that Carolina must be aware of. "I believe when they get in trouble, you had better believe that number 80 is going to get the ball," Minter said.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content


Latest News

Presented by

Trending Video


In Case You Missed It

Presented by