Carolina doesn#039;t want repeated performance

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2004

PHILADELPHIA - The one ugly stretch of football for the Carolina Panthers this season was punctuated by a sloppy loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

If the Panthers come up with anything close to that abomination on Sunday in the NFC championship game, they can forget about the Super Bowl.

Carolina lost 25-16 at home, the middle defeat in a three-game slide. The Panthers have since recovered, winning five straight to get to this point, a place they haven't been since 1996, their second season.

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But the memory of that loss to Philadelphia remains fresh.

''After that last Philly game, everyone felt like, 'Man I wish we could get an opportunity to play that game over.' And now we get an opportunity to do that,'' wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said.

''I don't think we played well at all the first game,'' defensive end Julius Pepper said. ''I think if we go out and play to our capabilities, I think we have got a great shot at winning.''

After ending the Rams' 14-game home winning streak last Saturday, there's no reason for the Panthers (13-5) to fear playing at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles (13-4) are not that dynamic at home and were outplayed for much of last Sunday's 20-17 overtime victory against Green Bay.

Still, anything resembling the Nov. 30 performance at Ericsson Stadium won't do.

Carolina had nine penalties for 70 yards; got only three points in three trips to the red zone; saw usually reliable John Kasay miss three field goals and an extra point. They wasted a 115-yard rushing effort by Stephen Davis, who's questionable for Sunday with a quadriceps injury.

The final mistake was a fourth-quarter fumble by Jake Delhomme when he was blind-sided by Nate Wayne. It set up Donovan McNabb's 10-yard touchdown pass to James Thrash, putting Philadelphia out of reach.

''They certainly beat us,'' Delhomme said, ''but we have some recall from the first time. We need to be more efficient in the red zone. They stopped us a couple of times there. We need to do better on offense, but that's a lot easier said than done.''

To a man, though, the Panthers were eager for a rematch with Philadelphia, even if it is on the road, possibly in frigid conditions.

''I wanted to play Philly again to get another shot at them, because last time we got it handed to us,'' All-Pro defensive tackle Kerry Jenkins admitted.

''The thing is we played them the first time and it was a tough loss,'' safety Mike Minter added, ''and we felt like we wanted the opportunity to play them again just like we wanted the opportunity to play Dallas again. Now we have that opportunity.''