NFL Preview: Panthers at Indianapolis

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2011

By Michael Marot
Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS ó Carolina coach Ron Rivera looks at the Indianapolis Colts and sees more than a winless team. He worries about potential problems.
Whether itís receivers Reggie Wayne or Pierre Garcon or young quarterback Curtis Painter, Rivera believes Indianapolisí offense can still create havoc for his defense, even if that hasnít been the case with anybody else.
ěThey can throw it down the field and score points, and you look defensively at Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney and theyíre rushing as hard as ever,î Rivera said. ěSo weíre not approaching anybody lightly.î
It might seem odd to hear Rivera guarding against overconfidence, given the circumstances. At 2-8, the Panthers are not exactly in the playoff mix, and are trying to rebound after a major collapse last weekend in Detroit.
But this is what happens when a young, struggling team faces another that is reeling.
The numbers tell the Coltsí tale:
Indyís offense hasnít scored a touchdown since Oct. 30 and is ranked No. 31 in the league, while the defense has yielded a league-high 30 points per game.
The Colts have been outscored 137-27 over the past four games and havenít lost by fewer than 10 points since Oct. 9.
After enduring only one streak of more than three straight losses between 1998 and 2010, Indianapolis has now lost 11 straight counting last seasonís playoff loss to the Jets and will go into Sundayís game looking to end a 328-day winless drought. Indyís last win, Jan. 2 over Tennessee, clinched its seventh AFC South title in eight years.
Indianapolis has already been eliminated from the AFC South title chase and could be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs this weekend.
Plus, the Colts arenít just 0-10, they hold a two-game lead over their nearest competitor for the No. 1 draft pick.
The bye week gave Indianapolis a chance to forget about all the losing for a while, to regroup and refocus on how they could start winning.
They needed it.
ěItís been a long time coming, and we needed this bye week,î linebacker Ernie Sims said. ěWe can get a fresh start, a brand new start and start all over again. Now we can get back on the same page.î
It wonít be easy.
On Wednesday, coach Jim Caldwell announced Painter would continue to start despite posting quarterback ratings below 51.0 over each of the past four games. Tight end Dallas Clark (left fibula) has already been ruled out of Sundayís game, and although injured running back Joseph Addai (hamstring) has practiced this week, thereís no guarantee heíll start against the Panthers.
And now, they have to face Cam Newton, who has already rushed for nine touchdowns, a rookie record for a quarterback, and has thrown for nearly 600 yards more than Peyton Manning did in his first 10 games in the NFL.
Newton already sounds like a veteran.
ěWe ainít looking past nobody right now. We need as many moral victories as we can get, and I think you need to be asking the Colts donít be looking past us, right?î Newton said. ěI think weíre in a situation where weíre a team full of questions and we have to try to find an exclamation point somewhere.î
Carolina has run into its own bad luck. After starting 1-2, the Panthers have lost six of seven including three straight.
The difference: Carolina has plenty of offensive firepower. Newton has the Panthers ranked among the top 10 in total yards, yards passing and yards rushing, Steve Smith is eight yards from another 1,000-yard season, and Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have Carolina averaging 5.0 yards per carry (No. 3 in the NFL).
The problem is that defensively, the Panthersí continued struggles have caused consternation for Rivera.
ěThe thing that weíve got to learn as a young football team is that youíve got to overcome mistakes, youíve got to overcome bad things, maintain your poise and composure and then go out and do it,î Rivera said.
All the Colts want to do is learn how to win again.
ěI certainly hope we can score some points,î Painter said. ěWe certainly hope that we can attack some of the things that theyíre doing, and again, just having an extra week here to hopefully correct some things and be able to be successful.î
But as both teams know, there are no guarantees in the NFL ó even for two teams in desperate need of a win.
ěShoot, with their potential and ability, who knows?î Rivera said. ěYou can get behind early, and if that defense gets rolling, it could be a tough day. So weíre not approaching it lightly, and as far as Iím concerned this is the NFL. Anybody can beat anybody. It doesnít matter who is playing.î
The Associated Press
11/25/11 12:55