4 notes before the Monday night game, in which the Panthers will wear black jerseys and silver pants and want their fans to dress in black for a "blackout" night:
-- I wrote this weekend about Jon Gruden being very bullish on the Panthers -- he believes they will win "10 or 11" games, reach the playoffs and have a shot at the Super Bowl. Another high-profile coach with a Super Bowl title in his pocket added his name to the "Panther respect" list on "Sunday Night Football." At halftime of the Kansas City-Denver game, former Indianapolis and Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy added his voice to the chorus, saying he thought the Panthers were the best team in the NFC right now, saying "Defense. Defense. Watch." The other members of that studio team -- Hines Ward and Rodney Harrison -- picked Seattle as the NFC's best and disagreed with Dungy. But Dungy's endorsement carries way more clout than that of those two former players.
-- One thing I didn't have room for in the story about Gruden: he said he thought both offensive coordinator Mike Shula and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott would get head coaching interviews after the season.
-- The Panthers got no help in the NFC South division race on Sunday. They could have benefited from a San Francisco win over New Orleans, but instead the 49ers mismanaged a late two-minute drill and lost to the Saints, 23-20. So no matter what happens in the New England game, the Panthers are going to be trailing New Orleans (8-2) for awhile (the Saints do still have to play Seattle, as well as the Panthers twice). If Carolina (6-3) loses to the Patriots Monday night, they still will be tied in the wild-card race and would win the tiebreaker right now on the basis of a better record in the NFC. Also, if you care about statistics, they could become the No.1 scoring defense in the league Monday night following the conclusion of Week 11 if they can hold New England to 22 points or fewer, since Kansas City had such a hard time with Denver in its 27-17 loss to the Broncos.
-- Here's my story on Mike Tolbert (above). The blocky running back leads the Panthers in both touchdowns and nicknames, and I love his unofficial philosophy on having fun while playing football. "You stress up, you mess up," he said. As well as a lot of other things -- the story also includes a list of seven of his nicknames. Check it out.