CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A year ago, the Carolina Panthers almost made the playoffs with their high-powered West Coast offense, but foundered defensively and finished the season 8-8.
This season, it's the defense that is carrying the load for the Panthers (6-7), who enter Sunday's game at Kansas City in desperate need of a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Carolina's offense, which averaged more than 26 points per game last season, has reached that total in just four of 13 games this season and is averaging just 19.7 per game.
Quarterback Steve Beuerlein has as many interceptions, 16, as touchdown passes.
"There's definitely guilt on my part and on the part of the offense for feeling like we've not held up our end of the bargain for a lot of the season," Beuerlein said. "There has only been a few games where we've gone out and done close to what is expected out of ourselves."
Last week was a prime example of just how far Carolina's defense has come, and just how far its injury-riddled offense had fallen.
Cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock accounted for the game's only touchdown, returning a Kurt Warner pass 88 yards for a score in Carolina's 16-3 win over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams. The Panthers forced seven turnovers in the game.
Meanwhile, Beuerlein, a 14-year veteran, threw two interceptions in the red zone and was sacked seven times.
After the game, Beuerlein walked around the locker room to thank the defense for bailing the offense out once again.
"The great thing about that group of guys is that nobody has gotten down on one side or the other," Beuerlein said. "They've been nothing but supportive all year."
Defensive lineman Reggie White said he doesn't begrudge the offense.
"This is a team game, so if anybody gets angry because of what the offense is doing, they need to be out of here," White said. "They control their anger by realizing this is a team. It isn't about you or about the unit, it's about the team."
"There have been times when the offense has played great and we haven't, and vice versa. It's just the gelling of the team. You can't get angry. You can get disappointed, but you can't get angry about it."
While his teammates continue preparing for the Chiefs (5-8), Carolina defensive end Jason Peter has decided to have surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck, said head coach George Seifert.
Doctors are optimistic that Peter will be ready to return to practice in time for next June's minicamp, but his future remains up in the air.
"There are a lot of things to overcome," Seifert said. "The doctors have to release him and Jason has to make a decision that is what he really wants to do."
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