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Notes: Defense taking steps


CHARLOTTE – Four losses by a single possession is undeniably frustrating. 

"The (1-5) record, yeah, it's terrible. We hate it, trust me," Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura said.

But Nakamura believes the Panthers defense is exhibiting signs of progress.

"Nobody wants to point out the growth that we've had. We've had a lot of growth this year," Nakamura said. "At the beginning of the year, it's, 'Young this, young that.' We are young.

"But we give ourselves a chance to win. That's growth. I don't care what anybody else says, we are growing."

With the offense struggling, the defense has managed to keep the point totals down, keeping games within reach. Carolina allowed 16 points in the Week 5 loss to Seattle and 19 in the Week 7 loss to Dallas.

Linebacker Thomas Davis agrees with Nakamura's assessment.

"I definitely feel that we're taking steps," he said. "But we have to do more."

The Panthers defense hasn't yet taken the biggest step – consistently closing out victories in the fourth quarter.

"As players, we haven't done our job of holding up our end of the bargain and finishing these games," Davis said. "That's what this comes down to. It's a matter of finishing games in the fourth quarter. We haven't been able to do that, and until we are able to do that, people are going to continue to have doubts."

JOHNSON TWEAKS HIP: Defensive end Charles Johnson's name appeared on the injury report after he suffered a minor hip injury in practice Thursday.

Head coach Ron Rivera said Johnson's injury doesn't appear to be serious, and the medical staff limited him as a precaution.

"He should be fine," Rivera said.

Defensive ends Antwan Applewhite (thigh) and Thomas Keiser (elbow) did not participate for the second consecutive day. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (hand), tight end Ben Hartsock (calf) and Captain Munnerlyn (leg) were full participants.

ATMOSPHERE OF CHANGE: Rivera has said changes are in store, but he doesn't want to go into specifics with Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears fast approaching.

"There are some things that we plan to do with different players and with our play calling. Those things will be evident Sunday," Rivera said. "We have to do some things differently; we know we do."

Rivera suggested that some things will change in the running game but said it would be a gradual process.

One change he did discuss was the practice schedule. The Panthers moved the walk-through portion of practice inside Bank of America Stadium, then took a break before hitting the practice field.

"We just felt a change to the routine would help break some of the monotony up," Rivera said.

PRO BOWL BALLOTS: Fan voting for the 2013 Pro Bowl is under way.

Fans can view the ballot and place their votes at through Dec. 17. Pro Bowl rosters will be unveiled on Dec. 26 for the Jan. 27, 2013, game at Aloha Stadium.

The NFC and AFC squads are based on the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group's vote counts one-third toward determining the 43-man rosters.

Senior writer Bryan Strickland contributed to this report.

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