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 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Two years ago in the NFC championship game, the pass-dominated Carolina Panthers met the run-oriented Seattle Seahawks in a matchup of what many believed were two emerging powers.
As the teams prepare to meet Sunday for the first time since, so much has changed.
The Seahawks (9-4) now focus on the pass, but are still the class of the NFC West. The Panthers (5-8) can't run, pass or win in a two-year free fall that has put coach John Fox squarely on the hot seat.
``They've definitely done better than us since then,'' Panthers tackle Jordan Gross. ``They've been a lot more consistent.''
With quarterback Matt Hasselbeck having a career year and the Patrick Kerney-led defense coming on, Seattle has weapons that could make life miserable for the Panthers, who have lost six of seven and have been awful at home.
The Seahawks wrapped up their fourth straight division title last week by beating Arizona for their fifth straight win. While they trail Green Bay (11-2) by two games with three left in the race for a first-round bye in the playoffs, coach Mike Holmgren doesn't plan to rest starters over the final three weeks.
Bad news for the struggling Panthers.
``I think the regular-season games, every single one of them, are very important,'' Holmgren said. ``The guys' feeling after a win and how you use that in the next week, I don't think it can be discounted. That's a big deal, so we're going to go after it hard.''
Which will involve Hasselbeck throwing and throwing often. Since Shaun Alexander was sidelined with a knee injury, Holmgren turned to the pass with success. Hasselbeck has 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the winning streak.
``We are in a situation right now where we have won our last five games and are feeling pretty good about the rhythm that we've got going and the momentum we've built,'' Hasselbeck said.
The Seahawks have clearly adjusted to Alexander's decreased production since winning NFL MVP honors in 2005, which included a 132-yard, two-touchdown effort in Seattle's 34-14 win over Carolina that put the Seahawks in their only Super Bowl.
The Panthers were considered one-dimensional then, with Steve Smith leading the NFL in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns. But since he was shut down with double- and triple-teams by the Seahawks, the Panthers have lost their way.
They're 13-16, without a playoff appearance. Unlike the Seahawks, the Panthers haven't overcome injuries and poor seasons by key players.
The quarterback situation has been in disarray since Week 3, when Jake Delhomme clutched his right elbow while throwing a short pass. Since he's undergone reconstructive surgery, three quarterbacks have combined for eight touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.
``It's been trying, there's no doubt,'' Fox said. ``I think any time you lose your starting quarterback it's no day at the beach.''
Fox had to decide this week whether to use 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde, who was benched early in the fourth quarter of last week's 37-6 loss to Jacksonville, or undrafted rookie Matt Moore, who has a 21.1 passer rating.
The QB mess and the lack of a reliable No. 2 receiver has left Smith 31st in the NFL with 745 yards receiving. He hasn't caught a touchdown pass in two months, and will face more double teams Sunday.
``Now, again, Delhomme hasn't played in a long time. They're banged up a little bit, but yeah, you can't let him get started,'' Holmgren said. ``He's a good player, a very good player.''
A player surrounded by guys who haven't produced. The Panthers still can't run with consistency and DeShaun Foster lost his fifth fumble against Jacksonville. Defensive end Julius Peppers was again held without a sack and has only three all season.
``It's just one of those things,'' Peppers said of his subpar year. ``There's no explanation for it.''
Peppers' lack of production is even more pronounced as he prepares to face the Seahawks and Kerney, who has gotten three sacks three times in the past four games. He leads the NFL with 13 1/2 sacks.
Seattle's secondary has been dominant, too. Cornerback Marcus Trufant intercepted Kurt Warner three times last week and has seven picks on the season, second most in the NFL. They could pad their numbers against the 29th-ranked Carolina offense which has been held to seven or fewer points five times.
While Holmgren and the Seahawks are preparing for their eighth playoff game since 2004, Fox is facing an uncertain future and staring at another blowout loss at home, where the Panthers are 1-5.
``Pride's definitely got to be a big factor,'' Panthers guard Mike Wahle said. ``That's kind of what we're stressing right now.''

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