Maybe you remember this. Maybe you don't. But last season at exactly this point, Panthers coach John Fox decided not to play his starters at all in the final exhibition game of 2008 against Pittsburgh.
It was the first time in franchise history the starters hadn't played even a snap in the final preseason game -- they generally play a series or two in the final exhibition before retiring to the sidelines. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, for instance, played two series last year in the final exhibition (the Steelers won that meaningless game, 19-16).
This year, that shouldn't happen. It's obvious to everyone that the Panthers need some more work -- a lot more. On defense, especially. Fox criticized his team's tackling after Saturday night's 17-13 preseason loss to Baltimore; here's a rare chance to practice it against the defending Super Bowl champs.
Last year was different. Carolina creamed Washington in the third exhibition, racking up 47 points. Things were much more fine-tuned. The starters arguably deserved that night off.
But this 2009 Panther team has been a sluggish mess for much of the preseason, going 0-3, battling injuries and playing too soft on defense while trying to learn new D-coordinator Ron Meeks' system.
All that can be fixed, for sure, before the regular-season opener Sept.13 vs. Philadelphia. But this is not a time to play it totally safe in exhibition No.4. Sit out DeAngelo Williams and Jon Beason? Absolutely. Sit out a couple of other big-timers like Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme? That'd be understandable, too, because of their value.
But most or all of the defense, especially, has to get back out there and get to work. There's little time left, and surely Fox realizes that it's no time for "Casual Thursday" -- with the starters all wearing ballcaps instead of helmets -- this time around.