Defense determined to bounce back from uncharacteristic showing

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CHARLOTTE – Defensive coordinator Eric Washington typically addresses the media the day after the Panthers play. So when he talked Tuesday, five days after his defense was dinged in Pittsburgh, it was old news to him.

“Whether you succeed or fall short, what you have to do is move forward to the next thing,” Washington said. “We have a 16-game schedule and hopefully a lot more games than that.

“Our belief is strong. We believe in who we are and what we’re all about, and we’ll continue to pursue that.”

That belief could have taken a hard hit on Thursday Night Football when the Steelers racked up 45 points against the defense in a 52-21 victory – tied for the third most ever against a Panthers defense. The most “credited” to a Carolina defense was 49 points in 2011, the year that Washington arrived as defensive line coach along with head coach Ron Rivera. On that day, Matthew Stafford threw five touchdown passes to lead the Lions to a 49-35 victory.

The Panthers visit the Lions on Sunday.

“We did not give ourselves a chance to win the football game,” Washington said of his defense’s outing five days ago. “That’s where we were. Where we are right now is that we just had an excellent practice and had really good meetings this morning.

“We understand as a staff and a defense what we need to do this week, and we’re excited to move on, move forward.”

Washington isn’t trying to sweep the loss and the defensive issues under the rug. He addressed it head-on with his players during a defensive meeting Tuesday after the team first congregated following a long weekend.

“We needed it. We couldn’t just throw what happened last week out the window,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “We went over the mistakes and everybody took accountability for what they did wrong. We put it behind us and practiced the way we need to.”

How exactly do the Panthers need to practice this week and then play Sunday at Detroit?

“We need consistency in all areas,” Washington said. “Calls. Leverage. Gap responsibility. Things we have to do in terms of our assignment. We did not get that done. But that was then.

“We’re going to utilize what we learned from a tough situation and we’re going to put that to work as we get ready for Detroit.”

Sure, the Panthers would like to forget Week 10, when they certainly didn’t look like one of the best defenses in the league. At the same time, they shouldn’t forget those moments over the first eight games when they did look like a top-shelf unit.

Put it all together, and Carolina currently ranks in the middle of the pack - 15th in the league in total defense. Not bad, but not where the Panthers ultimately want to be.

“It’s a little bit of a balance,” defensive end Wes Horton said, “of being reminded that we didn’t get the job done the other night with along knowing that we’re a good defense. We’ve put it on tape for a lot of games this season.

“We just need to be reminded of our identity, of the talent we have in our room, and just get back on the practice field with a little bit more urgency and just tighten up the bolts.”

The process of staying true to the defense’s strengths while also hitting the reset button began Tuesday.

“We have a great team of leaders who are going to help the coaches get this thing back rolling,” rookie cornerback Donte Jackson said. “There was a great vibe today. Everybody was flying around, glad to be back after a long weekend. We’re ready to get this things back rolling, get back to our winning ways.”

The Panthers were ranked 13th in the league in total defense two weeks ago. Are they the unit that moved up to 11th after facing Tampa Bay, the total offense leader, or are they the unit that dipped to 15th after taking it on the chin against the Steelers?

"We can’t panic and think this season is over just because of what happened to us last week," Short said. "A good football team is made for bouncing back off those type of losses."

“We have a high opinion of where we should be every time we step on the football field,” Washington added. “That did not happen the other night. I’d like to think and I believe that that was an anomaly and that we will rectify what happened.”

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