CHARLOTTE - As Georgia natives and former University of Georgia standouts, linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive end Charles Johnson have heard deafening cheers directed toward them in the Georgia Dome through the years.
Sunday, they hope to hear the sweet sound of silence.
"I have no doubt we can win this game and have a strong defensive performance," Davis said. "I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Davis and Johnson are proud of their Georgia upbringing and have been known to wear that sentiment on their sleeve – and elsewhere.
Davis annually wheels around training camp in a custom-made, black-and-red motorized vehicle featuring his beloved Bulldogs. On the Saturdays of Panthers road trips, Davis and Johnson won't hesitate to razz teammates from other Southeastern Conference schools if the Bulldogs beat them "between the hedges" in Athens.
Both are hungry to beat the Atlanta Falcons in their back yard. The Panthers' last victory in the Georgia Dome was in 2007.
Johnson was a rookie and didn't even play in that game. Davis played in it, but because of his string of knee injuries, he hasn't played in a game at the dome since 2009.
"It's going to be a special moment after all I've been through to be able to go back home," Davis said. "With me being a Georgia guy and a lot of the Atlanta fans being Georgia fans, they usually cheer for me when I make a play. I hope that's still the same."
While the Panthers actually won at Atlanta in each of Davis' first three NFL seasons, Johnson last played in a victory at the Georgia Dome in 2006. He played his final college game and his final high school game there, beating Virginia Tech in the 2006 Chick-fil-A Bowl and bringing a state championship to Hawkinsville High School in 2003.
"The dome is a good atmosphere. I know it pretty well, and I love going home and playing there," Johnson said. "There's so much intensity in that building. Atlanta people are really rallying around the Falcons, so there's a lot of emotion, a lot of screaming and yelling. But it actually helps us be ready to play."
Davis and Johnson know the Panthers defense will have to be ready. The Falcons, one of three remaining unbeatens, are tied for second in the NFL in scoring.
"They're riding high," Johnson said. "They've got a high-powered offense. We're going to have to step our game up, have our best game of the year."
Davis believes that's exactly what will happen. He loves playing in Atlanta in part because he gets to visit with family, but at the end of the day he wants his football family to head home with a crucial victory in hand.
"We're looking forward to going out against a dynamic offense this week and putting it all together," Davis said. "We have guys up front that can definitely get the job done, and guys at linebacker and in the secondary. It's just all about going out and putting it all together.
"We haven't played like we're capable of playing, but it's still early in the season. We still have time to get it going."
There's no better time than the present, in front of the home folks.