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What to watch: Panthers vs. Rams

Safety Mike Mitchell won't soon forget how he felt after the Panthers' loss at Arizona in Week 5, a game in which the Panthers squandered an opportunity to build on the momentum of a blowout victory in their previous game.

Mitchell certainly doesn't want to be reminded Sunday, when the Panthers again try to follow up a lopsided victory, this time with a home game against the St. Louis Rams.

"We know what this win can do for us," Mitchell said. "We have to be tired of winning one, losing one. Let's win two.

"Got to have it."

If the Panthers are to put together a winning streak as well as reach .500 for the first time this season, here are some things that have to happen.

CAM'S KEY: This week, we'll let a team captain spell out one of the keys to victory, simple and plain.

"The key will be just being consistent," quarterback Cam Newton said. "That's the overall challenge to everyone."

It's something that Newton mentions most weeks ("I know I sound like a broken record," he said), but it's something that bears repeating until it happens. In victories by a combined score of 73-10, the Panthers have shown their capabilities. On the other hand, they've totaled just 36 points in their three losses.

It felt like the Panthers turned a corner in last Sunday's 35-10 victory at Minnesota, but they have to play like that for more than one week at a time.

"It's all about confidence," Newton said. "When you get a person playing with confidence, who knows what they're capable of? When I was at Auburn, we played with confidence. We're beginning to play with confidence now, and look what you see."

CAM'S KEY, PART II: Newton was on top of his game against the Vikings, in large part because the Panthers' reworked offensive line got the job done in front of him. That will need to be the case again against a Rams defense that features the NFC sack leader.

Former North Carolina standout Robert Quinn has six sacks, and he's bookended at defensive end by proven pass rusher Chris Long.

The Panthers have lost both their starting guards to season-ending injuries but have successfully replaced them with a pair of players in Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott, who weren't on the roster at the beginning of training camp. Byron Bell has shown continuous improvement at right guard, veteran Jordan Gross is enjoying an outstanding season, and center Ryan Kalil is back to being a rock in the middle.


AVOID BIG PLAYS: After losing consecutive games by a combined score of 66-18, the Rams have turned things around and won back-to-back games by a combined score of 72-33.

"They do look different," head coach Ron Rivera said. "If you watch the last two they played, you see how explosive they can be, how on offense and defense they can make big plays. We can't allow big plays on either side of the ball."

The Rams were actually outgained by 204 yards last week at Houston but still rolled 38-13 thanks in large part to a pair of defensive touchdowns. They also scored on defense the week before in a 34-20 victory over Jacksonville but also made big plays on offense, with each of their top three receivers catching a pass that covered at least 25 yards.

ABSORB LITTLE PLAYS: Conversely, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is as good as anybody at working the ball underneath. The last time the teams met back in 2010, Bradford completed 25-of-32 passes for just 191 yards, but it got the job done in a 20-10 victory.

"That was a very frustrating day," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "They didn't do anything deep; they just dinked and dunked, dinked and dunked, and that's how they go into the end zone."

Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel completed 32-of-44 passes for 241 yards against the Panthers last week but was intercepted twice and only got his offense into the red zone once. Three years ago, Bradford and the Rams reached the red zone five times.

"It can be frustrating, but you've got to have somebody step up and make a play," Munnerlyn said. "And this is a totally different defense now."


A CRUCIAL CATCH: Running back DeAngelo Williams and many of his teammates will wear pink in support of the NFL's "A Crucial Catch" campaign that benefits breast cancer research and education in conjunction with the American Cancer Society.

It's a cause that's near and dear to Williams, whose mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor.

"It's huge to have this platform to wear pink and be able to display it on national TV," Williams said. "You never know who you will affect because so many people watch this game. You or a friend of yours is watching football, and someone's wife or girlfriend or sister or mother walks by and says, 'Why are those guys wearing pink?' Then they decide to go get tested. Being able to affect people like that is big."

Panthers in the Park Located at Romare Bearden Park in Third Ward between Church Street and Mint Street and open from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free, interactive area offers fun for the entire family with appearances by the TopCats, Sir Purr and PurrCussion and the Fuel Up to Play 60 Kids Combine, which includes activities like the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, wide receiver/quarterback challenge, TopCats dance studio and inflatable obstacle course. Try fun football challenges and get free milk samples from the Southeast Dairy Association. Learn about protecting your home from CPI Security.
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 and Sir Purr appearing throughout the morning. Discover a wide range of services, charge your phone and register to win prizes at the AT&T Connection Zone. See what you will look like in 25 years at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina mobile unit. Enter for a chance to win a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from RK Motors Collector Car Auctions. Visit State Farm Insurance for games, contests and giveaways. Stop by one of Charlotte's best food trucks at Queen City Q. Support breast cancer awareness month by getting a pink ribbon from Zeta Tau Alpha. Area also features a DJ and offers food and drink sales.
Pregame Sir Purr Bowl
Invocation Rabbi Murray Ezring - Temple Israel, Charlotte, N.C.
Of Colors
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department - Charlotte, N.C.
National Anthem Zendaya Coleman
Halftime A Crucial Catch celebration, featuring Skylar Laine

The National Football League bag policy designed to enhance safety will be strictly enforced on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Under the policy, approved bags must meet the following criteria:

• Small clutch purse no larger than 4.5" x 6.5"
• Any transparent plastic or vinyl bag no larger than 12" x 6" x 12"
• Seat pad that does not contain zippers, clasps, etc., and is not encased in vinyl.

The Panthers will provide a clear, plastic gallon size bag to fans who bring non-compliant bags to the stadium. Fans may obtain a bag at one of five tent locations: near the practice field, Graham Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, corner of Mint Street and Stonewall Street, corner of Morehead Street and Mint Street, or near the Morehead Street entrance to the stadium.

The North and East gates of Bank of America Stadium have been renovated to provide improved access with additional screening points of entry. For the most efficient, effective and quickest entry into the stadium, officials recommend the following:

• Arrive at the stadium gates 30 minutes earlier than you have in the past.
• Refrain from bringing items that require a bag check.

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