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NFL: Panthers no pushover with Cam

Associated Press
The NFL notebook …
LAKE FOREST, Ill. ó This one looked like a potential breather for the Chicago Bears when the NFL released the schedule.
Now? Maybe not.
The way Cam Newton is playing, Chicago could be in for a tough time against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The No. 1 draft pick is off to a record start, and the Bears are staggering after back-to-back losses to New Orleans and defending champion Green Bay.
ěThereís a lot of football left,î quarterback Jay Cutler said. ěThereís a lot of things that can happen. I donít think we need to start panicking quite yet.î
Even so, he realizes the Bears (1-2) are in a hole, with the Packers and Detroit tied for the NFC North lead at 3-0. A loss to Carolina (1-2) would be a big blow for a team trying to build on a run to the division title and conference championship game a year ago, and things arenít looking good after a dominant win over Atlanta in the opener.
The offense was out of sync again last week while the defense had little luck containing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
SAVING RYAN
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. ó Atlanta Falcons center Todd McClure hopes he doesnít have to offer another apology to quarterback Matt Ryan.
After Ryan was harassed repeatedly in last weekís 16-13 loss at Tampa Bay, McClure wanted him to know that the offensive line appreciates his toughness in the pocket.
Ryan has been hit 21 times, according to NFL statistics, and sacked 13 times ó third-most in the NFL.
McClure told Ryan on the plane ride home from Tampa that the line is working hard to improve.
ěI told him that last week on the plane,î McClure said Thursday. ěWe respect what he does, stepping in there time after time to throw the ball. Itís got to be a tough situation for him to be in, and heís handled it really well.î
HILLIS DEFENDS DECISION
BEREA, Ohio ó Peyton Hillis was too sick to play Sunday, and the Browns running back doesnít feel like he needs to provide a doctorís note to prove it.
Hillis spoke in detail Thursday for the first time since missing last weekís game against Miami with a case of strep throat and flu-like symptoms. After staying at the team hotel on Saturday night, Hillis went to Browns Stadium intending to play but was sent home two hours before kickoff.
Hillis defended the decision for him to miss the game, and said heís isnít concerned if others feel he should have played despite his illness.
ěThe people that really care about me and want the best for me would understand,î he said. ěAnd the people that donít, then they donít. But I canít control that. And Iím going to do whatís best for me at that point. If itís going to jeopardize my health in that situation, Iím going to take my own life in my own hands and do the best I can.î
Hillis said he lost ě10 to 12î pounds while he was ill, and that he has put some of the weight back on. He explained that after getting to the stadium he realized he hadnít recovered enough to dress for the game.
ěMy weight wasnít there. My energy wasnít there,î he said. ěëI knew it wasnít my time that day. Me and the doctors talked it over and they probably didnít think it was the best thing to go out there. It was very disheartening. I know Iím not 100 percent, then I know I canít give it my all. I didnít want to hurt the team.î
Second-year back Montario Hardesty made his first NFL start in Hillisí place and ran for 67 yards to help the Browns win 17-16.
Itís not known if Clevelandís coaches tried to convince Hillis to play, and the bruising back sidestepped that question.
ěI donít know if that took place or not,î he said. ěI think theyíre more in-tune with how I was feeling and what I was feeling and if I was sick or not.î
Browns running back coach Gary Brown has no doubt Hillis was too ill to play.
ěI know that heís a stand-up person and I know that he would die for this football team,î Brown said. ěHe was sick and couldnít go. Trust me, he was going to do everything he could to go.î
Hillis said he didnít see much of Clevelandís game on TV. The Browns had to rally in the fourth quarter after playing poorly most of the game.
ěI slept through the first three-and-a-half quarters,î he said, cracking a smile. ěI was just in time for the last drive. I guess that was the only part we needed to watch. It was great to pull out that win.î
Hillis, who pounded his way to 1,177 yards last season, said he dismisses any questions about his durability.
ěPeople just make suggestions and accusations just because they can,î he said. ěThey donít know me, they donít know my body. I go out there and play hard, but for me, I really think Iím very durable.î
The 25-year-old returned to practice on Wednesday and expects to play Sunday when the Browns host Tennessee.
ěIím 100 percent now,î he said. ěIím anxious and ready to get back out there.î
Hillis was again asked about ongoing contract negotiations between his agent and the Browns on an extension. The sides have given no indication if theyíre close to a deal.
The team has signed four other players to extensions in the past month.
ěI know other people may think differently, but itís really out of my mind,î Hillis said. ěI donít care. If the Browns wanted to extend me, they would. That really puts the ball in my court. Iíve got to go out there and produce. All I can do is what I can control. I can just go out there and play.î

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