Following the most lopsided win in the franchise's 19-year history, the well-rested Carolina Panthers are feeling confident entering a five-game stretch against teams without winning records.
Coming off their bye week, the Panthers hope to put together another all-around dominant performance Sunday against an Arizona Cardinals team that is struggling to put points on the board.
Carolina (1-2) dropped its first two games by a combined six points before bouncing back with a 38-0 rout of the visiting Giants in Week 3.
"We have to be realistic because we've not arrived by any stretch of the imagination,' coach Ron Rivera said. "We have to approach each week as a learning situation, a growing situation and keep shooting for the top of the mountain.'
Rivera's defense paved the way in the team's first shutout since 2008, allowing 150 total yards after giving up 806 in the previous two weeks. The Panthers also sacked Eli Manning seven times and forced three turnovers despite playing without four starters on defense and missing four defensive backs.
Free safety Charles Godfrey was lost to a season-ending Achilles injury the previous week, cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (hamstring) were injured, and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott benched struggling three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason for Chase Blackburn.
Thomas is expected to play and Edwards is optimistic that he'll be ready as the Panthers begin a stretch of games against Arizona (2-2), Minnesota (1-3), St. Louis (1-3), Tampa Bay (0-4) and Atlanta (1-3).
"We know exactly what we've got to do to keep winning,' said safety Robert Lester. "That's the mindset we're going to keep, that's the mindset we're going to have going into Arizona.'
The Cardinals couldn't get anything going for three quarters Sunday before scoring 10 points in the final 3:06 to beat Tampa Bay 13-10 and end a nine-game road losing streak.
Quarterback Carson Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for a game-tying 13-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but he also threw two interceptions in the first half. Running back Rashard Mendenhall lost the first of his two fumbles in the opening half to set up Tampa Bay's only touchdown.
Arizona finished with 296 total yards - 248 passing by Palmer - three turnovers and 10 penalties for 90 yards. After totaling 49 points and 738 yards in their first two games, the Cardinals have put up 20 and 543 yards in their last two.
They also traded struggling left tackle Levi Brown to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and he'll likely be replaced by Bradley Sowell, who was claimed off waivers from Indianapolis on Sept. 1.
"If it was one guy, it'd be easy to fix," coach Bruce Arians said of the offensive woes. "Seems like we've got eight or nine guys on each play playing extremely well and two guys, and they keep swapping it out, decide to not do the right thing.'
Andre Ellington is making a bid for more playing time in the backfield after rushing four times for 29 yards against the Buccaneers. He's averaging 6.2 yards per carry on the season - 2.8 more than Mendenhall.
Carolina's DeAngelo Williams is coming off his best effort, rushing for 120 yards on 23 carries against the Giants. Williams has averaged 125.3 yards on 6.0 per carry over his last four games dating back to last season.
Rookie Kenjon Barner, a sixth-round draft pick out of Oregon, is targeting Sunday to make his NFL debut after spraining his foot in the preseason. Jonathan Stewart, however, remains out while recovering from offseason ankle surgery.
The Panthers, third in the league with 151.0 rushing yards per game, could have a difficult time against an Arizona team that ranks second against the run (75.0 ypg) after limiting Tampa Bay's Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries.
The Cardinals also are getting starting linebacker Daryl Washington back from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Quarterback Cam Newton hopes Washington won't be too much of a detriment after completing 36 of 65 passes for 452 yards with five scores and two interceptions in his last two contests. Newton also has rushed for 60 yards and a score on 11 carries over that span.
"We have to keep going and get the mentality of 'We can win - and we will win,'" said Newton, who threw for a career-low 125 yards in a season-opening loss to Seattle.
Newton faces the Cardinals for the first time since his NFL debut in 2011 when he was 24 of 37 for 422 yards - a record for any rookie in his opener - with two touchdowns and one pick in a 28-21 loss in Arizona.
With that victory, the Cardinals snapped a seven-game regular-season losing streak to the Panthers.
The Associated Press News Service
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