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What to watch: Panthers vs. Raiders

Left tackle Jordan Gross wants to give Panthers fans an early Christmas present with a victory Sunday over the Oakland Raiders to close out the home schedule.

Gross knows from experience that it could be a gift that keeps on giving come Monday.

"My wife has already been asking me if I'm going to have Christmas Eve off. I tell her it depends on Sunday," Gross said. "A lot of people don't understand that we don't usually get holidays off unless they fall on Tuesday. I've been working every Thanksgiving since college. So a day off with the kids for Christmas Eve, that would be nice."
Panthers players often get Monday off after a victory, and it has been pleasantly quiet around Bank of America Stadium the last couple of Mondays. For that to continue with the Panthers' first three-game winning streak in three years, here's what has to happen.

ANOTHER STRONG START: The Panthers showed no signs of jetlag at San Diego last Sunday, cruising to a 21-0 lead and never relinquishing control.

To state the obvious, a similar start would be huge.

When the Panthers scored their third touchdown out of the gate, it marked their seventh consecutive first-half drive to produce points and their ninth in 10 drives. The lone exception was at Kansas City in Week 14, a game in which the Panthers found the end zone on their first two drives but still trailed 17-14 at half.

The last two games, when the offense has put up 40 first-half points, the defense has matched suit by not allowing a single first-half point.

"I think we're finally learning to play as a team," Gross said. "Early in the season, I felt like if one side of the ball played well then the other one wouldn't, and we took turns playing those roles. But lately, everybody has been doing pretty well, special teams included."

DERAILING DARREN: A hot start in part helped neutralize Falcons running back Michael Turner two weeks ago and force San Diego away from its running game a week ago.

That certainly would help the cause this week against Raiders running back Darren McFadden.

McFadden averaged nearly 90 yards a game when healthy in 2010 and 2011 but missed 12 games. He missed four games earlier this season with an ankle injury but appears to be rounding back into form based on his 110-yard day last Sunday against Kansas City.

Prior to the Panthers' back-to-back wins, they allowed 178 yards to Philadelphia rookie Bryce Brown and 127 yards to Kansas City vet Jamaal Charles in back-to-back games. Limiting McFadden is critical.


IF IT COMES TO PASS: If the Panthers can secure an early lead and curtail McFadden's role, the Raiders will turn to quarterback Carson Palmer to bail them out.

His numbers this season might surprise you.

Palmer ranks seventh in the NFL with 3,987 passing yards – 29 yards behind Peyton Manning – and is tied for eighth with 22 touchdown passes.

Palmer's quarterback rating, however, is just 17th thanks in part to 14 interceptions, including at least one in nine consecutive games before avoiding one against the Chiefs.

The Panthers defense is one of just seven in the NFL still sporting a single-digit interception total (nine). But just 10 teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns, and Carolina has moved up to 10th in passing yards allowed.

If the Raiders end up needing Palmer to win the game for them, the Panthers will be ready.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS: Last year on Christmas Eve, the Panthers wrapped up the home schedule with an entertaining 48-16 romp over Tampa Bay that had everyone at Bank of America Stadium smiling.

On the eve of Christmas Eve, the Panthers want to deliver more of the same – for the faithful fans and for themselves.

"We're having fun playing," Gross said. "You can see the guys are enjoying being out there together, and that means a lot.

"It would be outstanding to get a third win in a row and close the season off at home with a win to give our fans something to be excited about."

Fuel Up To Play 60 Kids Combine Located on the Panthers' practice field adjacent to Bank of America Stadium and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free, interactive area promotes youth fitness through a variety of football skills and drills for children and their families. Activities include 40-yard dash, vertical jump, wide receiver/quarterback challenge, TopCats dance studio and inflatable obstacle course.
Panthers Lair Located on the corner of Mint Street and Morehead Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for photos at the 107.9 The Link booth from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Sir Purr appearing throughout the morning. Find out how you can make your tailgating and game day experience even better at the AT&T Fantasy Football Lounge. Visit the Ford vehicle display for gift card giveaways, games and photo opportunities. Enter to win $500 off a set of new tires from Firestonem, see the newest car models from Hyundai and sample one of Pepsi's newest flavors - Pepsi Next.
Catwalk Located outside Bank of America Stadium's North Gate on Graham Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for pictures from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the WBT 1110-AM booth. Enjoy snacks from Bimbo Bakeries, throw a virtual football with Verizon and learn about protecting your home from CPI Security. Support the Jason Ray Foundation, a charity dedicated to raising awareness for organ donation
Invocation Pastor Brian Early - Journey Church, Huntersville, N.C.
Of Colors
Southern Guards Battalion Army ROTC - Spartanburg, S.C.
National Anthem Julie Roberts
Halftime Holiday a cappella concert featuring the Clef Hangers from the University of North Carolina and Cocktails from the University of South Carolina

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