A week before showdown with New England, Colts must beat Panthers on short week Print
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Thursday, 25 October 2007 12:11
NFL Headline News

 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -It's being billed as one of the NFL's biggest regular-season matchups. It's been breathlessly analyzed for days under suffocating hype.
Too bad that game's not until next week.
Before the Indianapolis Colts (6-0) face the New England Patriots in what's expected to be a clash of unbeatens, the Super Bowl champions have to beat another division leader, the Carolina Panthers (4-2), on Sunday.
``It's like we're just in the way,'' Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas said. ``You don't want someone to look at you like you're a bump in the road. You've got to take offense to that and do something about it.''
While Indianapolis is still favored to beat Carolina and become the first team since the 1929-31 Green Bay Packers to start three straight seasons 7-0, the schedule maker did the Colts no favors.
They face a short week and another road game. They didn't return to Indianapolis until 4:15 a.m. Tuesday after beating Jacksonville 29-7. The Panthers, meanwhile, had a bye last week.
``I definitely think the league should address scheduling something like that,'' Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. ``We had a Monday night game and less time to prepare for a team that had two weeks to prepare for us. I think it's important that each team has a fair chance of preparation.''
Maybe it just makes it fair for the Panthers, although coach Tony Dungy has already reminded his players of a similar scenario four years ago.
``We won an emotional Monday night game to go to 5-0,'' Dungy said of the Colts' overtime win at Tampa Bay. ``We had had to come back on the short week and play Carolina. We got out to a lead and they really overwhelmed us in the second half and won the game. We have a few guys left from that team that understand every week is a different challenge.''
The overtime loss dropped Peyton Manning to 0-2 against Carolina, the only team he hasn't beaten. He can end that distinction and break Johnny Unitas' team record of 287 touchdown passes with two against the Panthers, who aren't nearly as strong on defense as the 2003 team that ended up losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Yet the Panthers have found a way to lead the NFC South, despite having as many wins as they have sacks and quarterbacks used.
Those wins, though, have come against teams that are a combined 6-21. They won't be facing Tim Rattay this week.
If Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins and the defensive line can't generate pressure Sunday, the Panthers know it won't matter that Manning is a little sleepy or has one eye on his faceoff with Tom Brady in a week.
``You have to put a little more film in, practice harder, try to be more precise and not make any mistakes,'' Panthers linebacker Jon Beason said. ``Because you know if you make one, he'll find it.''
While Manning will make his 151st straight start, the Panthers' quarterback situation is unsettled.
David Carr, who took over when Jake Delhomme suffered a season-ending elbow injury, hopes to return from a back injury after missing Carolina's win in Arizona. That's when 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde, four days after signing with the team, turned in a nearly flawless performance.
But for those who remember the last time the Colts lost a game - it was 308 days ago - Carr was the quarterback when Houston stunned them 27-24.
``We ran the football. We made some plays in the passing game, but it wasn't anything special,'' Carr recalled. ``Just taking what they give us. They're going to give you open guys, you've just got to find a way to be patient.''
Long overshadowed by Manning and the offense, the Colts' defense has starred. Indy ranks third in the league and held the Jaguars to 226 yards, forced three turnovers and took away their running game.
``That's what the defense is set up, to take that away and make you one dimensional,'' Carr said. ``Then they let their front four feed on you. I've been in that situation, too. Up there, playing in Indy, it can get nasty. But, thank God we've got them here and hopefully our fans can get fired up for this game.''
Maybe that isn't a good thing. The Panthers are 4-0 on the road and 0-2 at home. They've lost four straight in Charlotte dating to last season.
But they'll certainly be rested, while the Colts may be bleary-eyed, distracted or both after the Jacksonville trip and the showdown with New England on the horizon.
``If we go out here and lay an egg, guess what - next week's game is not as important. Or it won't be what everybody wanted it to be,'' Freeney said. ``It's very important that we continue to win, not because of the undefeated record, but because our focus is on playing better each week and gaining momentum into the playoffs.''

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