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What to watch: Panthers vs. Packers


Panthers head coach Ron Rivera often talks to his young team about making the lengthy climb up the mountain, always with the goal of someday reaching the top.

Sunday, a team already at the peak will visit Bank of Stadium, when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers visit for the Panthers' home opener.

"It's going to be a heck of a challenge for our guys and for us as coaches, but what an opportunity, to play the defending Super Bowl champs," offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "You've got to smile at that. This is why you play."

The opportunity goes beyond the acclaim that a victory Sunday would bring. At this early juncture in the season, especially with every team in the NFC South losing its opener, Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn believes an upset victory could set the stage for something special in the near future.

"They're the defending Super Bowl champions, so we feel like if we go out and get this win then we know we have a chance to make the playoffs and be one of the elite teams," Munnerlyn said. "It's a golden opportunity."

Of course, getting the chance to play elite teams and actually doing well against them are two different things. If the Panthers hope to pull off a surprise, here are a few things that need to happen.


NEWTON, PART TWO: Rookie quarterback Cam Newton was all the rage in the days following his record-setting debut last Sunday at Arizona, but Newton doesn't want a repeat performance against the Packers – because the Panthers lost their opener.

"I'm not going into each game trying to top anything," Newton said. "I'm just going into each game being coachable and use the things that I've been practicing all week."

Newton threw for 422 yards and accounted for all three of Carolina's touchdowns against Arizona. Late in the game, however, he couldn't help the team get in the end zone on five plays in the red zone that could have tied it. Earlier in the game, the Panthers also stalled three times on the cusp of field goal range.

Against the Packers, who scored an NFL-best 42 points in Week 1, Newton knows stats won't matter without scoring plays to match.

"Any time we have a chance to put points on the board, we can't shoot ourselves in the foot with poor decisions," he said.

TICK, TOCK: The Packers don't need much time to score, but they do need the ball to score.

If the Panthers can sustain drives, it qualifies as a winning formula in so many ways.

Obviously, sustained drives likely include deep penetration into Packers territory and, hopefully, points. In addition, such drives would keep the Packers' potent offense on the sidelines and also would keep Carolina's defensive relatively fresh.

The most efficient way to maintain a drive that keeps the clock moving is with an effective ground game. The Panthers struggled running the ball in the opener but have the personnel in place to quickly improve. In addition to running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Newton might well use his legs more than he did in the opener.

If time is on the Panthers' side, it's that much more likely the score will be.

MR. RODGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn't merely emerged from Brett Favre's shadow – he now casts his own shadow.

"He puts the ball where nobody but his guys can get it. That's what separates him from the other quarterbacks in the league," Munnerlyn said. "He's very smart, and he can run, too. People don't really realize that. It's going to be a tough week for us."

Tough, but not impossible.

The Packers can strike quickly but also are as good as anybody at sustaining drives that produce points. Still, Munnerlyn believes that figuring out ways to make Rodgers and Co. advance in small chunks could be a recipe for success.

"We've just got to eliminate those big plays," said Munnerlyn, who added that a big play for the defense certainly wouldn't hurt. "It would be a great week to get an interception."


RAPID RETURN: The Packers already possessed a myriad of weapons before rookie Randall Cobb announced his arrival.

Cobb changed the complexion of Packers' 42-34 victory over the Saints by returning a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown.

As many ways as Green Bay can hurt you with its offense, the Panthers can't afford to allow any fireworks from Cobb or anyone else on special teams.

HOME SWEET HOME: It's the home opener and the home debut of Newton, and it's against the winners of the most recent Super Bowl.

While the Packers have a national following and should have their share of fans in the stands, the Panthers need the home field to be an advantage.

"It's going to be awesome," Panthers defensive tackle Sione Fua said. "I'm sure we're going to have a great turnout, and the fans are going to be loud and wild. There's going to be a lot of energy."

Pre-game ceremonies will include a flyover by a KC 135 aircraft at 1 p.m. The large refueling aircraft will fly low and fast across the city from east to west.

Gates open at 11 a.m., and fans are encouraged to arrive early in light of the large crowd expected and a pat-down procedure recommended by the NFL that increase safety but will require additional inspections at the gates.

In addition, traffic could be impacted by the two righthand lanes of College Street between Hill Street and Stonewall Street being closed Friday due to a metal panel falling from a nearby building. Two eastbound lanes of Stonewall Street between College Street and Caldwell Street also were closed, but two-way traffic was being allowed. It isn't yet known when the lanes will reopen.

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