CHARLOTTE – As the group charged with setting the defense and filling the gaps, the Carolina linebackers took last week's loss to Pittsburgh to heart.
"We took it personal," linebacker Chase Blackburn said. "We've challenged ourselves. It's about us trying to redeem ourselves."
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said you often learn more from losses than you do from wins, and the linebackers agreed. The humbling nature of that 37-19 defeat in which Carolina allowed 264 rushing yards was alarming.
"You're exposed, you feel exposed as a defense," linebacker A.J. Klein said. "We didn't play up to par. We learned a lot about what we can improve on."
Added Blackburn: "Sometimes those games are easier to learn from than a close game where you feel like you can kind of brush things off. When you get your butt whooped like that, you have to figure out what to fix."
This week the linebackers turn their attention to the Baltimore Ravens, but the group may not be at full strength. Thomas Davis is battling a hip injury and a hamstring injury suffered during last week's game. He missed practice Wednesday and was limited Thursday.
"Just really trying to get through this hamstring thing; working through the soreness," Davis said. "I'm looking forward to trying to get there. That's my main goal – trying to get to Sunday and trying to make sure I'm healthy enough to do it."
Davis played through pain against the Steelers but wasn't his typically explosive self. However, that discomfort wasn't going to keep him off the field.
"As a player, sometimes you have to deal with stuff," Davis said. "I had to play through it. I was dealing with something – but nothing that any other player wouldn't try to play through."
If Davis can't play, the Panthers have the luxury of turning to Chase Blackburn, who has started 43 games in his career. And Klein – the Panthers' third starting linebacker when they open in a base set – is capable of performing in an expanded role if needed.
"Chase and A.J have both played and started," Luke Kuechly said. "Chase has been around for a while, and he really doesn't even need a lot of reps in practice to be ready for games. Thomas is going to be out there if he can. If he can't, the other guys will step up and be good, too."
Said Blackburn: "We have a standard for the position, and it's the same for everybody in the room. If (Thomas is out) we'll have guys that are ready to play."
Blackburn stepped up vocally on the sideline toward the end of last week's defeat. With his defensive teammates looking a bit dejected, Blackburn went up to each member of the defense and energetically shared a few encouraging words.
"It's never a smooth ride all the way through – I just wanted everyone to realize that," Blackburn said. "The character of a team is really what determines your season. It's about finishing the game, showing your pride and letting everyone know that you are here for the long haul, not just the good times."
The Panthers are hoping there are good times to come in Baltimore on Sunday.
"I think guys will rise up," Blackburn said.