Let’s go: Panthers determined to stop slow starts

Published 12:36 pm Thursday, November 27, 2008

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — Everything moved a little quicker for the Carolina Panthers at practice Wednesday. There was less time between drills. Players broke the huddle faster and got set on the line of scrimmage sooner.
Three days after Jake Delhomme berated his teammates at halftime for their lackluster starts, the Panthers began a weeklong plan to eradicate an alarming trend: big early deficits.
The altered practice routine was inevitable because something had to change after the Panthers faced 10-0 and 17-0 holes in the last two games. The Panthers haven’t picked up a first down until the second quarter in the last two weeks. And while they were able to rally two weeks ago against lowly Detroit, their comeback bid came up short Sunday in an ugly 45-28 loss at Atlanta.
The Panthers’ knack for comebacks had lessened the attention on the sluggish beginnings. The Panthers rallied from a 17-3 deficit to beat Chicago. They trailed New Orleans 7-3 in the second quarter before winning. They fell behind 10-0 to Arizona and Detroit and won those games, too.
But the Panthers couldn’t overcome a 14-0 first-quarter hole in Tampa Bay last month. Trailing 17-0 before gaining a single yard against Atlanta Sunday proved the problem could no longer be overlooked.
The loss dropped the Panthers (8-3) into a tie for first in the NFC South with Tampa Bay. Atlanta (7-4) and New Orleans (6-5) are also still in the hunt. So in what’s become one of the NFL’s toughest divisions, slow starts have to be avoided or the Panthers could miss out on the playoffs.
Lewis believes the up-tempo practice can be helpful, after he acknowledged the Panthers were caught trying to keep up with the Falcons on Sunday.
While the defense has been susceptible to giving up long drives early, the Panthers’ offense has become the king of the first-quarter three-and-out. It’s added up to an astonishing time of possession deficit. In the first quarters of the past two games, the Panthers have held the ball for a total of 5 minutes, 29 seconds out of a possible 30 minutes.
So with a tough game looming at Green Bay Sunday followed by a showdown with Tampa Bay, the Panthers know they can’t afford to be constantly playing from behind.
Notes: Delhomme’s gash to his right elbow that caused him to be stitched up at halftime Sunday didn’t slow him at practice Wednesday. … Reserved LB Adam Seward (ankle) was the only player to miss the workout. … Lewis was gearing up for his Thanksgiving dinner, preparing to deep-fry a turkey. ‘‘I’m going to try to be 303 (pounds) in the morning and probably 312 on Friday,’’ Lewis said.