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Carolina Panthers

Panthers embrace underdog role


CHARLOTTE – While the Carolina Panthers have nothing left to play for, the Atlanta Falcons have everything to play for.

Combine that with the decided gap between the teams in the NFC South standings, and the Panthers have no chance Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

That type of talk is running rampant outside the Panthers locker room, but it's just the opposite inside the locker room.

"I think every game is winnable, if you play your best," Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "You saw that last night when Minnesota beat the Eagles; you might have thought they didn't have a chance at all.

"It's going to be loud and rowdy. It's a big game for them, but we're going in with nothing to lose. We need to play our 'A game' and see what happens."

On paper, it seems like the Panthers (2-13) would have a better chance of knocking off the Falcons (12-3) had Atlanta sewn up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with a victory over New Orleans on Monday. That would have opened the door for the Falcons to rest their starters, but now they need to win Sunday to assure themselves of the No. 1 spot and all the perks (first-round bye, homefield advantage) that come with it.

A Falcons victory might have given the Panthers a better shot at victory, but it probably wouldn't have been as satisfying a victory.

"I'm just happy that it's going to be a game," Carolina running back Mike Goodson said. "If they had won that last game, they probably would have brought their jayvees out or something like that. We wouldn't want that. We're happy that it's going to be a competition."

It's been a long year for the Panthers, but it officially will be a new year when they visit Atlanta on Sunday (Jan. 2). The result will count in the 2010 record of course, but the Panthers believe a victory could have carryover into the 2011 season.

"It would be excellent to knock them guys down and start out 2011 right," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "Last year we won the last game against New Orleans, and my offseason went pretty well. Hopefully, we can win this game and my offseason will go well again.

"We know how it feels to lose. We don't want that nasty taste in our mouth."

Not many current Panthers know what it's like to lose a regular season finale. Carolina is 7-1 in finales under head coach John Fox, including five consecutive victories.

The Panthers - who lost to Atlanta 31-10 in Week 14 - have never been this big an underdog for the finale, but they're embracing the challenge.

"They're not expecting us," rookie defensive end Greg Hardy said. "We've already played them and know their personnel and what they're going to be coming with.

"We've had their best shot, and we've got more to give."

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