Cam Newton vs. Michael Vick seemed a lot more intriguing on paper several months ago.
When the Carolina Panthers visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, a national audience gets to see the two teams with the worst records in the NFC. Not so enticing for viewers.
To make it worse, Vick and LeSean McCoy are unlikely to play for the Eagles (3-7) because of concussions. Rookie Nick Foles would make his second straight start filling in for Vick. He'll share the grand stage with the underachieving Newton, who has fallen way short of matching his sensational rookie season.
Newton hopes to erase the sting of a poor sophomore year by showcasing his unique skills in his Monday night debut. The Panthers (2-8) are strangers to the spotlight, not having played on Monday night since 2009.
"Prime-time game, everyone is going to be watching," Newton said. "It's kind of the iconic stage that everyone would like to be on. What a challenge for us to have. Any competitor would want this type of challenge on 'Monday Night Football.' I think it's going to bring out the best."
The Panthers played before the bright lights once earlier in the season. They didn't fare too well: The New York Giants trounced Carolina 36-7 on a Thursday night in Week 3.
"We didn't handle it very well," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "It was a big stage for us, and we didn't handle the circumstances very well and we missed opportunities. Anytime we get a chance to come to the football field, whether it's a Sunday or a Monday, we are out to prove we are better than what our record says."
Rivera and Eagles coach Andy Reid find themselves in similar situations. Rivera is 8-18 in his two seasons in Carolina and has said he's not certain of his future after this year.
In Philadelphia, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Reid, the winningest coach in franchise history, won't return for a 15th season. The Eagles have lost six straight games in a year that began with Super Bowl aspirations. Reid has led the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl loss, but they haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and are 11-15 since the start of last season.
"Listen, I don't go there," Reid said about speculation over his job. "I'm trying to get the team better. That's what I'm trying to do. That's where my energy is. To look at all that stuff, I can't control that. You want to win football games, you want to get yourself better as a football team. That's the No. 1 thing."
Players in both cities answer more questions about their embattled coaches than talk about football.
"He's the leader, but we're the ones that go on the field and have to make the plays," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said.
The Panthers feel the same about Rivera, a linebackers coach under Reid in Philadelphia from 1999-2003.
"We have people looking and putting it on coaches, but it's us," Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We're doing it as players. We've got to go out and we've got to finish these games."
Carolina came close last week before wasting an 11-point fourth-quarter lead in a 27-21 overtime loss to Tampa Bay. Six of its losses have come by a margin of six points or less, including a 30-28 defeat at Atlanta in Week 4 and a 23-22 loss at Chicago in Week 8.
"We're so close to winning, and the way we lose is frustrating," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "We can't keep making the same mistakes."
The Eagles haven't even sniffed a victory in over a month. Their last four losses have come by an average margin of 17 points.
In a football-crazed town, that's led to plenty of hostility.
"The fans are passionate, and that's the one thing I've always heard even before I was drafted here," Foles said. "I love it. Shoot, we're frustrated, too, and we're going to keep working at it. The fans love this team. They do everything they can to support us. They come to the games and they bleed green. We know that, and I love how passionate the fans are. They live and die with the way their teams play, and that's hard, and I respect that. We have to keep working hard. The people in Philly are hardworking people and we have to do everything we can to keep them coming to our games. Continue to work hard and stay together through the tough times, and go out there and play as hard as we can."
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