It might be just another game for the Patriots, but some Panthers are still haunted by their loss in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Julius Peppers never thinks about Carolina’s Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. He refuses to replay the game in his mind or wonder what the Panthers could have done differently.

“That was a long time ago, I don’t dwell on the Super Bowl,” said Carolina’s standout defensive end. “Like I said from Day 1, it’s over. It was two years ago.”

Yes, but Sunday will be the first regular-season game between the teams since New England’s 32-29 win. The Patriots have added a second-consecutive Super Bowl win since then, their third title in four years, while the Panthers have struggled to get back to that same level of play.

So no matter how hard they tried, the Panthers could not avoid reflecting on their loss this week. And unlike Peppers, most of Carolina’s players are still haunted by the game.

“To be honest with you, I still think about it all the time,” said safety Mike Minter. “Because you’re in the Super Bowl, you’re close to winning that thing and then you don’t win it, so you definitely think about it.

“Every time you see those highlights, and they’re always showing it, it’s definitely on your mind.”

So for the Panthers (0-1) this meeting Sunday is almost like a rematch.

But it’s just another game for the Patriots (1-0).

“I think there’s some familiarity with them, but sometimes the schemes change and the players change,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “They’re doing some different things and we’re doing some different things. We’ve got new players out there. It’s different.”

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is if the Super Bowl is any indication, this meeting will be a physical one.

“The thing I do take from (the Super Bowl) is how hard it’s going to be,” Brady said. “They hit me. They hit me hard.”

Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who broke his arm in the game, called it “the most physical game I’ve ever played,” and Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan, who the Panthers claim had 25 tackles in the Super Bowl, agreed.

“My entire body was black and blue,” Morgan said.

There should be some lingering bad feelings in this meeting, at least between Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Patriots cornerback Tyrone Poole. On one of the first plays of the game, Poole split Smith’s lip. On the next play, Smith knocked Poole to the ground.

Smith claims Poole then spit on him. Although he’s been very vocal with that accusation at various times the past year, Smith passed on the opportunity to discuss it earlier this week.

“I look forward to seeing everybody,” Smith said. “As far as what goes on with that, that’s over and done with. It happened, but he and I are going to be out there ready to play.”

Then he stopped talking to the media, perhaps to avoid answering any more questions about it.

The bigger questions for the Panthers are if they can bounce back from their season-opening loss to New Orleans. Carolina was sloppy against the Saints, allowing the Saints to make 8 of 13 third-down conversions, while committing 11 penalties and four turnovers.

The Panthers also failed to stop veteran tight end Ernie Conwell, who caught six passes for 71 yards. Three of his grabs went for first downs against rookie safety Thomas Davis, who was often caught out of position.

There’s no doubt the Patriots will try to go at Davis early in an attempt to test his shaky confidence. It could make for a long day for the first-round pick because New England’s tight end trio of Daniel Graham, Ben Watson and Christian Fauria is much stronger than Conwell.

Even so, Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn’t willing to give New England an advantage.

“Davis is an outstanding player,” he said. “We thought a lot of him coming out of Georgia. He’s a terrific athlete and a big hitter. I don’t think that you can just go in and play Carolina and say that we’re going to do one thing. I don’t think that’s anywhere near enough.”

One spot New England will have an edge is against the Panthers’ defensive line, which will be without star tackle Kris Jenkins. He’s out for the season with a knee injury, and his linemates are already tired of the early criticism for failing to manage a single sack against the Saints.

“It seems like there is always more pressure on us, not from in here, but from outsiders who don’t know what’s going on,” Peppers grumbled. “It’s always the D-line’s fault that we’re not getting pressure.”

With or without Jenkins, Brady isn’t ready to dismiss Carolina’s line and still remembers running into Peppers in a preseason game last year.

“He bodyslammed me last year in the preseason,” Brady said. “It was like I was 150 pounds. He’s strong, he runs well and he’s very athletic.

“Hopefully he doesn’t ruin the game for us this week, but he’s very capable of doing that.”

AP-ES-09-15-05 2027EDT


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