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Panthers ready to return home in a big way

CHARLOTTE – After the Panthers shut out the New York Giants, guard Travelle Wharton commented that it had been awhile since he'd heard the victory tune "Sweet Caroline" cascade through Bank of America Stadium.

When the St. Louis Rams visit Sunday, Wharton wants to hear the sweet song again for the first time in nearly a month. That's how long it's been since the Panthers have played at home.

"You have the fans' support behind you getting the juices flowing, so for us it's very important to win at home," Wharton said. "You want this to be a tough place to play."

Wharton hadn't heard the song for so long in part because he spent the 2012 season with the Cincinnati Bengals. But even had he been with the Panthers, he would have only heard it three times.

The last time the Panthers won at least half their home games was 2009, which also happens to be the last year they finished with a .500 or better overall record.

"You have to win at home. That's half of your battle," Wharton said. "If you can win your home games, you've got a great chance."

Wharton was referring to a chance at making the playoffs. Not surprisingly, all four of the Panthers' playoff berths have come in seasons when they were above .500 at home.

In recent times, however, the Panthers haven't truly established a homefield advantage. Since hiring head coach Ron Rivera and drafting quarterback Cam Newton in 2011, the Panthers are 7-11 at home compared to 8-11 on the road.

Newton wants to improve both records but wants to start this week at home, where the Panthers have a 1-1 mark in 2013.


"Playing in front of our fans is our edge," Newton said. "Any team in the NFL that doesn't feel that way, you're obviously in trouble.

"I feel like we have some of the best fans. When it's third down and you hear the crowd screaming and the quarterback panicking while trying to get audibles out, that's an edge for us. And when we get on a roll on offense – first down after first down – and the momentum from the crowd gives us energy to keep going, that's an edge for us."

The Rams haven't exactly been road warriors of late – they're 5-13-1 away from St. Louis since the beginning of the 2011 season – but they are coming off an impressive 38-13 victory at the Houston Texans.

"We know our hands are going to be full against a team that's also coming off a big win, but if we get a lot of help from our fans and execute up to our capabilities, we'll be OK," Newton said. "We're all excited about getting the opportunity to play at BOA. It feels like it's been a long time, but at the same time we're coming in with a little bit of momentum. That's what you want."

For the Panthers, fresh off a 35-10 victory at the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday's game will mark the seventh time in franchise history – the third time since 2009 – they've gone four weeks between home games. They're 2-4 in such situations, but when a bye week is a part of the four-week stretch as it is in this case, they're 1-1.

The past, however, won't matter come Sunday. What will matter is the Panthers' determination to forge a future filled with the sweet sound of victory at home.

"It's time to start protecting our house," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "If we want to get where we want to go, we've got to win at home.

"Look at what Seattle has been able to do since Russell Wilson has been their starting quarterback – 11-0, which is crazy. That's what we have to start doing around here."

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