What to watch: Panthers at Rams

The Carolina Panthers finally got their first victory of the season last week.

They don't intend on waiting nearly as long for No. 2.

"There are a lot more happy faces, but our goal isn't to win one game," wide receiver David Gettis said. "We're working hard to make sure we win and keep the momentum going.

"We've got to prove it's not a fluke. You're only as good as your last game."

The Panthers were good enough to win their last game following an 0-5 start, rallying to edge the San Francisco 49ers, 23-20. If they want to follow their losing streak with a winning streak, they'll have to do it on the road, against the upstart St. Louis Rams.

Now that the goal of winning their first game has been accomplished, the Panthers can get back to the pursuit of a bigger goal – one that could well fall out of reach for good without a victory Sunday.

"The goal is to play more than 16 games, to go to the playoffs. It's still too early in the season to say we're out of it," linebacker James Anderson said. "To get that winning taste in your mouth, it's a positive and something to build on."

The playoffs are a long ways away, but a road victory might not be – if the Panthers can come through in several pivotal areas.

KEEP MOVING THE CHAINS: The Panthers must prove their offensive improvement against the 49ers wasn't a fluke if they hope to prove their victory wasn't a fluke.

The newfound success against the 49ers set Carolina up for future success, but still there are potential road blocks.

Quarterback Matt Moore's breakout game means the Rams could feel the need to back off a bit and expose themselves to possible damage from a Carolina running game that's been mostly dormant to date. But Carolina's ability to run the ball could be damaged by leading rusher DeAngelo Williams' foot injury (he's listed as doubtful).

With Jonathan Stewart and an improved Mike Goodson in the Panthers backfield, however, the Rams might still dare Carolina to beat them through the air.

The Rams appear to have the type of pass rush to allow them to sell out against the run while still feeling protected against the pass: They rank sixth in the NFL with 20 sacks, and veteran defensive end James Hall ranks sixth in the league with 6.5 sacks.

"They're real good up front," Moore said. "They get a good push, so that will be tough for the guys up front. They create trouble in the pocket."

To avoid trouble, Moore must do what he did a week ago: get the ball out quick.


NO ORDINARY ROOKIE: As the youngest team in the NFL, the Panthers certainly don't mind seeing some inexperience on the other sideline -- especially at quarterback.

Rams rookie Sam Bradford, however, has played beyond his years for the most part.

"It will be nice to have a rookie quarterback on the other side where we feel like we can take advantage of some things, but watching him on film, he's smart," Panthers defensive tackle Ed Johnson said. "He's not an average rookie."

Bradford ranks 13th in the NFL with nine touchdown passes, even though the Rams rank just 27th in scoring. But he has thrown eight interceptions – the sixth-most in the league – all adding up to a 71.4 passer rating that's just 28th in the NFL.

The Panthers are one of just two teams to allow less than 200 passing yards per game and pick off 10 or more passes. If they can make Bradford look like the rookie that he is, the Panthers can prevail.


NO ORDINARY RUNNER: One of the reasons Bradford has survived early on is the presence of Steven Jackson, a battering ram of a running back by any measure.

Jackson officially is questionable following surgery on his left ring finger Monday but says he'll play. He ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (88.1).

Given that 49ers running back Frank Gore racked up 159 all-purpose yards last week, and that Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte picked up 166 of his 352 rushing yards at the Panthers' expense earlier in the month, Jackson is a major concern.

"He's a big-time player," Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson said. "He will run you over, and he has breakaway speed.

"He's going to get his yards, but we have to try to contain him."


HOME IN THE DOME: The Rams have played much better at the Edward Jones Dome than they have on the road, going 3-1 at home while still seeking their first road victory.

The Panthers, too, are still looking for their first road triumph, but they have been competitive outside of Charlotte. They led the New York Giants at halftime and came a handful of yards away from attempting a game-winning field goal at the New Orleans Saints.

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