Memory of Panthers' playoff loss to Arizona stings

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Thomas Davis remembers the feeling in his stomach the previous time the Carolina Panthers hosted a playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals.

''It's something I don't want to relive,'' the Panthers' 10-year veteran outside linebacker said Tuesday.

Nor do Panthers fans.

Six seasons ago the Cardinals, a 10-point underdog and a team that had shown little ability to win a game east of the Mississippi River, came into Charlotte and clobbered the NFC South champion Panthers 33-13. Carolina entered the game with a 12-4 record, but Arizona forced six Jake Delhomme turnovers.

''It was tough to lose that game - especially to lose that game the way we did,'' said Davis, one of six holdovers from that 2008 team.

On Saturday, the Panthers (7-8-1) are seeking to get even when they host the Cardinals (11-5) in a wild-card game.

''It's been six years but I'm still mad about this game (and motivated by it).'' running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted this week, posting a highlight video of the game with a picture of the score.

Added fellow running back Jonathan Stewart: ''I remember how well things were going throughout the season and then you get to the playoffs and you stink it up.''

The loss marked a turning point in Panthers history.

It not only ended Carolina's bid to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 2003, but also sent the organization into a spiral.

Things began to crumble.

Delhomme was released one year later, general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox were let go the year after that, and the Panthers would go 23-41 over the next four seasons.

Carolina didn't return to the postseason until last year, falling to San Francisco 23-10 in the divisional playoffs.

''We went into a drought,'' Davis said. ''We don't want that to happen again. We have back-to-back playoff years going and we want to build off that.''

Center Ryan Kalil said there are lessons to be learned from that defeat - namely that anything can happen in the postseason regardless of your record.

The Panthers are in just such a situation to use that as motivation.

Carolina is only the second NFL team to qualify for the postseason with a losing record in a non-strike-shortened season. The other is the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, who went 7-9 but won a home playoff game over New Orleans.

''There are a lot of good teams in the NFL,'' Kalil said. ''There are a lot of teams that don't have a great records - but that doesn't mean they're bad teams. It just means other teams have been a little better than them. Anybody can beat anybody, and you better believe that.''

Said Stewart: ''It tells you that no matter what you do during the regular season, it just doesn't matter. Things amp up to a whole different notch in the playoffs.''

For the 31-year-old Davis, the four-year run with a playoff appearance is a reminder for him to leave everything he has on the field Saturday, because he doesn't know when he'll be back in the postseason.

''If we have another drought like that I may never get to go to the playoffs again,'' he said.

The mood this week at the team's facility has been relaxed and loose.

Coach Ron Rivera stood behind a podium on Tuesday and said he feels as if the Panthers are ''playing with house money'' after winning their final four games to get into the postseason when it appeared their season was over after a 3-8-1 start.

But the Panthers are now playing with confidence.

''We have a lot of momentum right now and we're just going to continue to ride that,'' Davis said.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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