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Notes: Electric atmosphere anticipated for Patriots

CHARLOTTE – Super Bowl XXXVIII has been on the minds of many Panthers fans this week with the New England Patriots coming to town for Monday Night Football.

"Our fans remember the Super Bowl more so than the players in here do," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "A lot of the guys were not even interested in football when we played that game."

Gross and wide receiver Steve Smith are the only players remaining on the Carolina roster from that 2003 Super Bowl team. Gross was just a rookie, and Smith was in his third season.

Playing the Patriots will always conjure up memories of the Super Bowl, and Gross expects a raucous environment at Bank of America Stadium on Monday night.

"That (Super Bowl) was the biggest game I've ever played in," Gross said. "I don't think there's any type of a payback or anything ten seasons later, but that's a game that sticks out in my mind and one I'll remember for a long time.

"There is history with this team. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

CHANDLER SETTLES NERVES: As game day in San Francisco neared, right guard Nate Chandler's nerves began to increase in anticipation for his first career start.

"It's hard to describe," Chandler said. "Going into the game that week, I wasn't as nervous as I was the day before and day of."

Chandler – who made his first start since converting from defensive line to offensive line – knew he had a target on his back the moment he stepped on the field at Candlestick Park.

"I knew those guys were going to be gunning for me," Chandler said. "Just like if I was a vet and I was going to go up against a guy just moving to offense, first time playing a position. I would try to take advantage."

That contributed to the increased nerves. But those nerves quickly settled, and it was Chandler who provided the key block to spring running back DeAngelo Williams for a 27-yard touchdown run – the game's lone touchdown.

"Once we got in there and got going, I felt like, 'Here I am. I belong here,'" Chandler said. "Watching it on film, it kind of struck home. I'm here. Playing in California, my whole family was there. It was surreal almost that it happened the way it did.

"I feel like I'll be more confident going in (this week)," he added. "I plan on executing even better than I did last week. That's the goal."

BLACKBURN BLUES: A foot injury limited linebacker Chase Blackburn to special teams duty last week at San Francisco. He may be fortunate to even have that role this week, indicating that he is highly unlikely to play against the Patriots.

"It's tough to swallow, especially with last week being a primetime kind of game and now with Monday Night Football," Blackburn said. "It's tough not being out there. We watch film together, and I even diagramed some plays just to help out so that I felt like I was doing something."

Blackburn has been a big part of the Panthers defense, starting six consecutive games before being limited against the 49ers. If Blackburn doesn't play Monday, head coach Ron Rivera said rookie A.J. Klein would start his second consecutive game on the weak side and recently signed veteran Dan Connor would be active.

Blackburn said the injury originally developed as tendinitis that progressively got worse. Then he aggravated it further against the 49ers while covering a punt and didn't return.

Tight end Ben Hartsock suffered a knee injury versus the 49ers that kept him out of practice Thursday and Friday. Rivera said that rookie Brandon Williams would see action if Hartsock isn't ready.

"He finished the game, and now it's pretty sore," Rivera said. "We're doing everything we can to make it feel better and better and better. We'll see about him moving forward and hope he'll have a shot."

Staff writer Max Henson and senior writer Bryan Strickland contributed to this report.

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