CHARLOTTE – If the Panthers and Titans were suddenly shifted into the same division, Carolina could mathematically eliminate Tennessee from contention for the division title with a victory Sunday in Nashville.
But Carolina in no way intends to take Tennessee lightly – both because of who the Panthers are and because of who the Titans are.
The Titans are 2-6, but they put up 76 points while beating NFC South foes New Orleans and Tampa Bay and nearly knocked off Atlanta even with quarterback Marcus Mariota out with an injury.
"We're facing a team that just beat a division opponent because of their resiliency," quarterback Cam Newton said of the Titans, who rallied to beat the Saints 34-28 in New Orleans last Sunday. "In a hostile environment, they showed great determination and will. We have to get ready to attack them early and often."
"Them going to New Orleans and beating them should raise a flag," defensive tackle Dwan Edwards added. "If we're not on top of our stuff, we can get beaten."
The Titans opened the season with an impressive victory over the Buccaneers but then dropped six consecutive games before beating the Saints last week. Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in the most recent NFL Draft, was knocked out of a loss to Miami in the middle of the skid with a knee injury and missed the next two games. Before the injury, the Titans lost to Indianapolis and Buffalo by a total of three points.
"Their record does not indicate how good of a team they are," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "They're 2-6 right now, but you have to look at the fact that they played two games without their starting quarterback. Those two games, if he would have played, I think they probably would have won those football games.
"They're a much better team than their record indicates, and we can't take them lightly. We've got to be ready to play football. If we don't, it's not going to end well for us."
Yes, there are reasons for the Panthers to take the Titans seriously. But more importantly, this Panthers team is programmed to take every opponent seriously. At 8-0, an unprecedented record for this franchise, Carolina is determined to not become a victim of its own success.
"The good thing about our guys is that we consider all of those wins to be behind us, so we just move onto getting the next win," left tackle Michael Oher said. "It's the character of these guys to not get too high, not get too low but just stay humble and keep their hard hats on."
Newton said that nothing has changed in light of Carolina's recent success. If anything has changed, it's the way opponents view the Panthers.
"Of course we have a big target on us now – everyone wants to be the team that beats the Carolina Panthers – but that's how we want it," Newton said. "None of that will change our approach to the game. We're still going to play hard-nosed, protecting the football, running the football, tackling, getting good field position from special teams. Everybody is doing their job, and that's what it's all about."
So far, the Panthers have done their jobs well enough to win every game. Their focus, however, remains on the job at hand.
"We're taking each week as it comes, and we've said that since we were 1-0. That's not going to change," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We haven't accomplished anything. We've gone to 1-0 eight times, and we're going to try to get to 1-0 for a ninth time."
Week 10: Panthers vs. Titans