Carolina took it easy this week, and are only now starting to practive full speed again. The injury report still isn't out, so no one knows who might play or sit. Have they been through this before?
The team was hot going into their last bye, after the last Cardinals game; they came back healthier than ever, and flatter than ever. So what will the difference be?
Coming in first off - the stakes are much higher. Home playoff game, playoff game by itself. There can't be a letdown, because there are no bigger stages. “If guys can’t get refocused on this and fired up about this, then they’re in the wrong profession,” safety Chris Harris said. “This opportunity doesn’t come all the time. I’ve been blessed to play in the playoffs three seasons, this is my fourth season, and there are guys around here who have been in the league seven, eight years and have never seen a winning season yet, let alone the playoffs.
Second - the bye week midseason was followed by a west coast run. Who plays well going across the country anymore? It's as if we're back in the 40s and it's all train travel again. But it's a simple truth, you play better at home than away and you struggle far from home.
Finally, Carolina is altering things. Instead of a seven day layoff before practice, the team only took three days off. The team practiced three times and met three for meetings, spending time working on fundamentals and lifting. They start full work again this week, gameplanning for Arizona.
Carolina must hope, however, that whatever demons led to their late start coming off the bye doesn't come back. A key to this would be making sure Jake Delhomme still gets consistent work all week - his Oakland and Detroit games following the bye showed rust, inconsistency, and some of his least inspiring play in years. Whether caused by fatigue, changes in the arm due to rest, changes due to not working the arm for the first time since rehab, or mentally being off, Delhomme wasn't himself those two weeks following the bye. Since, he's turned it on, and so have the Panthers - they've scored 28 points or more in each game following Oakland.