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PANTHERS RECAPTURE FIRST-PLACE SWAGGER

Steve Smith called it a debacle. Chris Harris said he was embarrassed. Jake Delhomme described it as awful.

A week after giving up sole possession of first in the NFC South with a woeful performance in at loss to the Bucs, the Panthers were determined to prove they were different from the inconsistent nonplayoff teams of the previous two seasons.

On Sunday, they again looked like one of the league's best in a 30-7 rout of the Saints, who quickly unraveled after Reggie Bush left with a knee injury and Jeremy Shockey perhaps reinjured his groin (see notebook).

Jonathan Stewart rushed for a score, and the Panthers shut down Drew Brees and the league's second-rated offense.

"You have that nasty taste in your mouth until you play another game," Harris said of last week's 27-3 loss at Raymond James Stadium. "We still thought about it, because we were pretty much embarrassed last week."

Brees, who went in leading the league in completions and yards passing, was hounded all day and struggled with his accuracy.

"I thought we got beat in every area," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

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