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Strickly Panthers: Defense avoids sequel

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CHARLOTTE - In the back of his mind, Panthers safety Sherrod Martin had to be cringing about how the play would play out in film review.

Just when it looked like Carolina had retaken control of its game Sunday at Indianapolis, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne scored on a 56-yard pass, leaving Martin in his wake around the 20-yard line.

"On that play, there are no excuses. I've got no explanation," Martin said. "I'm glad that wasn't my last play on film because I knew I was better than that.

"We're better than that as a defense, and we were all able to bounce back together and finish with a win."

Martin will still have to endure some grief in film review for his whiff, but he'll enjoy the last laugh and his teammates will enjoy it with him after his final-minute interception in the end zone preserved the Panthers' 27-19 victory.

"One of the things we preached all week was, 'Get to the ball and capitalize on turnover opportunities,'" said Martin, who credited an offensive teammate for helping him keep his feet inbounds on the interception. "I've been watching Steve (Smith). I've been trying to work on my footwork."

!On the drive before Martin's interception, facing similar pressure from a hungry Indianapolis team seeking to tie the game late, cornerback Chris Gamble came up with an interception in the end zone as well, this one on a pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon from the 33-yard line.

It was the second huge defensive play of the half for Gamble, who protected the lead late in the third quarter when he blew up a quick lateral to Garcon on third-and-4 from the 7 for a 6-yard loss.

"I just feel good, just having fun like I did when I first got here," Gamble said. "I wish our record was the other way around, but it feels good."

Surely this week's film review will be more pleasant than the horror show the defense had to relive last week.

In last Sunday's 49-35 loss at the Detroit Lions, the defense yielded the most yards, most first downs and third-most points in franchise history.

It made for an interesting week around the building and led linebacker Dan Connor to give credit to a Panther who didn't step foot on the field.

"Coach (Sean) McDermott did a great job the night before of getting us on the same page. We were fired up and ready to go," Connor said of the Panthers' defensive coordinator. "The message was that the defense has to start performing. We want to be at same level our offense is on. We rallied behind him and did a great job."

Sunday, in helping the Panthers break their 12-game road losing streak, the defense allowed the fewest points in a road game since Week 4 of last season, a 16-14 loss at New Orleans.

"We stayed after it," said safety Charles Godfrey, who tipped the ball to set up Martin's clinching interception. "Our defense had to step up. We have to make plays like that and keep on going.

"There's going to be some ups and downs, but we have to keep going and not give up."

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