The cheers died down a long time ago for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers are 1-8, have lost six starters to injuries, and will likely begin next season with a new head coach.
"Man, we're just trying to stay positive," middle linebacker Jon Beason said during a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday. "We realize that we're young, and we realize that we got hit really hard with the injury bug this year. A lot of things have backed up against us, but those circumstances don't control what happens on Sunday. So it's another opportunity to go out and try to get a win for the fans."
With just seven contests remaining, the team's stretch run is eerily similar to last season's when the Panthers won four of their last five games to conclude the season with a 8-8 record.
But Carolina would need to string together a seven-game winning streak and get significant help from the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in three years. Even Beason was realistic enough to understand the improbability of that scenario.
"I think we're just playing for pride," Beason said. "I don't think 8-8 gets you into the dance this year. I think people will look back on this season and they're going to try to say what the 2010 Panthers were all about. I think it's the way you finish. People remember what you did in December, but I think we can finish strong and people will say, 'Hey, this team had a lot of character, they showed a lot of pride, and they never quit.'"
Ravens coach John Harbaugh emphasized that the Panthers are still a dangerous opponent standing in the Ravens' path.
"Every game is important in this league," Harbaugh said. "Our guys understand that. I don't think it's anything we're doing as coaches. There's no pep talk or anything like that. We've got mature guys — leaders — and you have to win every game. They all count the same. Every game counts for one win, and we need to win."
The Panthers aren't just running on fumes, they're limping to the finish line. The team has been forced to play without five starters in quarterback Matt Moore (torn labrum in right shoulder), right tackle Jeff Otah (left knee), middle linebacker Dan Connor (cracked bone in hip) and outside linebackers Thomas Davis (torn anterior cruciate ligament in right knee) and Jamar Williams (spinal concussion).
The injured-reserve list got a little longer Wednesday when the team lost DeAngelo Williams. The running back who rushed for 2,632 yards and 25 touchdowns in the previous two seasons was placed on injured reserve after a sprained arch in his right foot, which forced him to sit out the last three contests, did not appear to be healing quickly.
In addition, rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen and running back Jonathan Stewart are both dealing with concussions, and left guard Travelle Wharton has been hampered by injuries to his toe and foot. Those three players and Beason (knee) did not practice Wednesday.
So on Sunday, Carolina, which has lost by an average of two touchdowns and is 1-4 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., could start either rookie Tony Pike or journeyman and former Raven Brian St. Pierre at quarterback and a third-string running back in Mike Goodson.
Cody Redding is sympathetic to the Panthers' troubles. In six seasons with the Detroit Lions and one with the Seattle Seahawks, Redding, a Ravens defensive end, has never played for a winning team, and he understands the frustration that can bubble within a locker room.
Asked if Carolina would employ a nothing-to-lose approach to Sunday, Redding smiled.
"Those were some of the speeches that we had in Detroit," he recalled. "'Here we are, this is what it is, let's go out. We have nothing to lose. So let's go out there and let everything hang out and let the chips fall where they may.' That was the attitude. So I'm pretty sure that's where they're at mindset-wise. You can't take that for granted. Those guys are professionals, and they get paid. They're going to go out and they're going to fight their butts off."
Practice squad quarterback Hunter Cantwell, who spent last year and the preseason with the Panthers before getting cut, said he doesn't expect his former teammates to wilt against the Ravens.
"Those guys aren't going to give up, not until the season is over," Cantwell said. "They're not going to quit coming to work or quit working hard. I expect him to come out and play hard. They've got some talented players. They'll give us their best, that's for sure."
Cantwell said some of the Panthers' determination stems from head coach John Fox, who is in the final year of his contract and will likely not be retained after this season. Fox said despite the trials and tribulations, he has not detected a decline in the team's attitude.
"Yeah, our guys are fighting through a tough situation," he said. "Everybody in that locker room is giving the best they've got, and I don't think that will change moving forward."