Panthers seek better start in '98

Don’t expect the Carolina Panthers and their dissing cousins, the Jacksonville Jaguars, to play nice when the teams meet Saturday at Ericsson Stadium in their annual expansion bowl.

Although it’s the first preseason game for both teams, this relatively meaningless exhibition renews a rivalry between two clubs that joined the NFL in 1995 and have been at each other’s throats ever since.

The Panthers haven’t forgotten what happened last August, when they were pounded 23-9 in their exhibition opener at Jacksonville and were unable to control a blitz that kept Carolina quarterbacks on their backs much of the game.

“I think guys remember how we started the season off last year by getting embarrassed by them,” Panthers backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein, an ex-Jaguar, said this week. “I think in its own way it set a tone for the season. It was a very disappointing season.

“I think this year we want to get things started on the right foot. I don’t think it necessarily means we have to win this game. I think it means we have to go out and play well and be sharp and be ready for anything they might throw at us and not get outclassed as a football team like we did last year.”

The Panthers will start by showing a little more class. After last year’s matchup, some Panthers complained that Jacksonville took the game too seriously and played too hard.

The Panthers said they won’t whine this time, no matter what the result.

“Our team, by complaining about it, didn’t do a real good job of just letting it blow away and not become an issue,” Beuerlein said. “But I think we all feel we probably made more out of it than what it really was. They were just playing football and we got beat by a better team last year. Now it’s our turn to try and set the record straight.”

If nothing else, Saturday’s game will be an important early measure for the Panthers.

Jacksonville reached the playoffs the past two seasons and is considered among the league’s elite teams. The Panthers are coming off a 7-9 season in which quarterback Kerry Collins faltered and the defense had trouble stopping the run.

“I think Jacksonville is one of the top teams,” Panthers coach Dom Capers said. “Their record and their play the last two years is indicative of that, I think any time you’re playing against one of the top teams, it gives you an indication of where you are and the things you need to work on.”

And the Panthers have plenty to work on. They have implemented a new passing attack, which will debut against the Jaguars. Carolina also needs to find out if Tshimanga Biakabutuka is fully recovered from two years of knee problems.

Meanwhile, eight of the Panthers 11 defensive starters from 1997 season finale against St. Louis have changed, and the other three are at different positions.

Still, this game means something. Already, there are reports the Jaguars are sniping about Panthers linebacker Greg Lloyd for a supposedly dirty hit on wide receiver Keenan McCardell last season when Lloyd played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Beuerlein, who played for Jacksonville in ‘95, remembers the Jaguars’ attitude toward the Panthers.

“Certain things will never change, and I think it starts at the top,” Beuerlein said. “I think it’s very important for that whole organization to get one up on this organization.

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, because that’s the way they get ready. They have a pretty good football team. Based on what they did last year, they’re ahead of is. So we want to get to the point where we consider ourselves as good a team as anybody in the league starting this week against them.”

The Panthers might want to believe they are above the pettiness of the rivalry, that their main concern is evaluation their own team. But they need a win, if only to gain some self-esteem.

The Panthers finished 0-4 in the exhibition season last year.

“We don’t want to go through another preseason without a win,” Collins said. “I think that hurts us.”

But the Panthers acknowledge that a victory might not come against Jacksonville.

“You hope that you can go out and have a perfect day,” cornerback Eric Davis said. “But it’s not going to happen because it is the first preseason game. You shouldn’t be ready. You shouldn’t be peaking. You shouldn’t be in mid-November form.

“August. Wow, it’s August. We’ve got a long way to go, don’t we?”
Aug. 7.98