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What to watch: Panthers vs. Saints


Wide receiver David Gettis described the Carolina Panthers' first game against the New Orleans Saints as "very winnable."

Fellow wideout Brandon LaFell said the Panthers "let one go."

The rookie receivers know the Panthers were just one play away from beating the Saints a month ago, but veteran receiver Steve Smith understands that winning the rematch Sunday at Bank of America Stadium won't be as simple as making just one more play.

"Every game, every year shakes out just so differently," Smith said. "You play somebody this way, and the next time it changes.

"Every time we play New Orleans, something different has happened."

While the Panthers were one play away at New Orleans, getting to the Saints' 36-yard line in the waning seconds in a 16-14 game, they also were a play or two away from getting blown out in the first half.

The Saints racked up 17 first downs before halftime while holding Carolina to four, but they only led 10-7 thanks to two turnovers near the end zone and one long strike by the Panthers.

The second half, however, was much closer on the stat sheet before Carolina came up just short in a dramatic finish.

It's good that a Carolina team surely struggling with its confidence can glean some from its previous matchup with this week's opponent, but they also must realize that a repeat of their effort in the first meeting won't be enough.

"They're going to be coming harder this game; it's not going to be the same team we played," Gettis said. "We have to make sure we're not the same team and come out with tenaciousness."

In addition to the Panthers' mindset, here are some other things to watch for Sunday.

CHANGE IN THE AIR: Want pregame proof that the rematch is likely to play out differently? Look no further than the personnel.

The Panthers started rookie Jimmy Clausen at quarterback in the first meeting, but now they've turned back to Matt Moore. Running back DeAngelo Williams, who had his best game of the season at New Orleans, is likely to miss his second straight game with a foot injury.

For the Saints, they're yet to get back running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas _ who missed the first game against the Panthers – but they have recently welcomed back safety Darren Sharper.

It's too simple to say that if Moore avoids trouble from Sharper and puts up better numbers than Clausen did at New Orleans (though that actually was Clausen's best game), then the Panthers will prevail. What is more relevant is that Moore must look more like the quarterback he was two weeks ago against San Francisco than he was last week at St. Louis.


CHANGE ON THE GROUND: Running back Jonathan Stewart also had his best game of the year at New Orleans, though the majority of his damage came on a 55-yard touchdown reception when he snuck behind the defense.

If Williams can't go, it will be up to Stewart to get the running game going, something he wasn't able to do last week at St. Louis.

The Saints rank in the middle of the NFL pack when it comes to stopping the run but have allowed four backs to top 85 yards rushing.

One of those was Williams – the only time this season a Carolina back has rushed for 85 or more yards. Last year, Williams and Stewart combined to top 85 yards on 12 occasions.

COOL BREES? Rumors continue to swirl that Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been playing through a more serious knee injury all season than he's willing to acknowledge.

Regardless of the extent of the injury, he's hurt his team more than usual with interceptions – creating a possible opening for the Panthers.

Brees "leads" the NFL with 11 interceptions, already matching his total for all of last season. The Panthers are tied for sixth in the NFL with 10 interceptions, though they didn't pick off Brees in the first meeting.

Brees might be vulnerable, but he's still also incredibly valuable. Despite the interceptions, he leads the NFL in touchdown passes (16) and completion percentage (70.7).

HERE'S THE KICKER: Panthers coach John Fox wanted to get at least one yard closer before giving John Kasay a chance to beat the Saints in the first meeting, but the Panthers went backwards and Kasay never got his shot.

Kasay, who recently turned 41, now has three field goals of 50 yards or longer this season. He's 9-for-10 overall.

Saints kicker Garrett Hartley has some serious range as well – he's the first kicker in Super Bowl history with three field goals from 40-plus yards. Hartley, however, is just regaining his confidence after being benched in favor of 46-year-old John Carney, who helped kick Carolina to the curb last month with three field goals.

If it does come down to a kick this time, Kasay appears to have a leg up.

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