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Despite frustration, defensive leaders want to finish season strong

Derrick Brown

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Derrick Brown wasn't around to see the end of the 26-0 loss to the Jaguars Sunday, the next to last game of a disappointing season for the Panthers.

Ejected in the fourth quarter after a scuffle with Jaguars tackle Cam Robinson, Brown shook his head at his own lapse in judgment, the team's most consistent player making an uncharacteristic mistake.

"I mostly got hot at that moment myself," Brown said. "You know, things got out of whack, so I definitely should not have done it. Hurt the team."

But moments later, as he shook his head when asked about the near-end of a ridiculous year, he was resolute when asked if he wanted the season to be over already.

"I wish we could play more, to be honest," Brown said. "I feel like we've got a lot to show. You know, unfortunately, this season didn't go the way we wanted it to.

"I'll tell you what, man, there's a lot of great, great men here that fight; fought all year."

Brown's dust-up with Robinson was one of many signs of the outward frustration that came with the result. The shutout loss was just the fourth in franchise history and the first since 2002. And by falling to 2-14, it secured the first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft for the Bears, after the Panthers dealt that to Chicago in the deal for quarterback Bryce Young.

"I'm not concerned about the Bears first pick," interim coach Chris Tabor said after the game. "I'm really not. I'm focused in on what happened today and why did it go wrong? Now, what I'm going to do is, I have another opportunity to come back.

"There's the storylines that you want to write. I get all that, but I'm going to stay true to myself on the process, another opportunity and whatever is written is written. But I know that if I shortchange myself next week, then I've compromised. And what I have to do as a coach and leading this team at this moment is make sure that we're pros, be a pro, do things right and be on time and do those things and go through the process to give ourselves a chance.

"No question, did not play well today. I won't hide from that. I won't run from that. But what I will run to is, let's go next week, and let's play. And I still have confidence in those guys, and this is, as I've always said, coaching is about relationships. I am not going to shortchange those guys. And I think they'll do the same. So I'm excited for the opportunity next week."

Next week's finale is against the Buccaneers, who lost to the Saints Sunday to create a tie for the NFC South lead at 8-8.

So if nothing else, the ability to mess things up for former teammate Baker Mayfield and his new team is something. Outside linebacker Brian Burns has talked about wanting to spoil others' playoff chances late in the season when the Panthers don't have playoffs to think about, but echoed Brown's sentiments about having things to play for regardless.

He was playing with a sore knee after an early cut block and still tied Brown for the team-high with eight tackles. He also had a sack, two quarterback hits, and two tackles for loss. And as he considered teammate Frankie Luvu, who was bleeding from the nose after getting poked in the eye, he feels like he has a lot of company.

"He's a warrior," Burns said of Luvu.

So the fact they want to fight to the finish is perhaps unsurprising.

"No, man," Burns said when asked if he wished seasons were still 16 games. "I love playing with my guys. You feel me? (Playing spoiler), that's worth a lot. I told you, I'm trying to be the Grinch, so that's worth a lot."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17.

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