Inside slant: Carolina Week 12 preview

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition previews Week 12's games, including personnel news, analysis and insider matchups for the Carolina Panthers. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

Seeking stability from the quarterback position, Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said 21-year veteran Vinny Testaverde will remain the team's starting quarterback this Sunday against New Orleans.

And, it sounds as if Fox will stick with Testaverde down the stretch, as long as he stays healthy.

"I was real impressed with him in that first game (at Arizona)," Fox said. "If everything had gone right, I think he probably would have been the guy the next week. But, unfortunately, that didn't work out. Like any team when you get injuries, you move on to the next step. ... For about four or five games, we had some instability at that position and, hopefully, we can keep some stability moving forward."

Fox admitted for the first time Wednesday that he feels Testaverde gives the Panthers a better chance to win than David Carr, despite the fact the Panthers gave Carr a two-year, $6 million contract in the offseason to rally the team if something happened to starter Jake Delhomme.

"We make decisions based on who gives us the best chance (to win)," Fox said of starting Testaverde. "It's not always money. It's not always what round (draft pick) you are. We make those decisions not on any polls from the outside, just based on who gives us the best chance -- and right now we think that's Vinny."

Testaverde is 1-3 as the team's starter, but has clearly outperformed Carr.

Fox believes the offense, which has struggled for the most part since Delhomme went down in Week 3 with a season-ending shoulder injury, said he likes what he saw from his offense in the second half of Sunday's 31-17 loss to Green Bay.

"I saw some bright spots in our offense," Fox said. "Both on first and second down and even on third down there was a distinct difference between that and the first half. A big part of that I think is the continuity at quarterback."

This is the earliest in the week Testaverde has been named the starter.

Fox normally waits until Friday -- or, in some cases, Sunday -- to make the call.

"I'm really looking forward to building off of what we did last week," Testaverde said. "I really feel like a light went on, the line has been playing pretty good football, at the skill positions I think I see a spark there, some confidence. Like I said, I think I've seen the light go on and hopefully we can continue to have that success going forward."

This could be the week where the Panthers offense finally gets on track.

The Saints rank 28th in the league in pass defense and 27th overall. The Panthers will get wide receiver Steve Smith back this week, as well.

He practiced full on Wednesday.

With back-to-back home games against the Saints and San Francisco 49ers, the Panthers feel like they can get back to .500 before heading into a difficult four-game stretch in December that includes games against Jacksonville, Seattle, Dallas and division-leading Tampa Bay.

SERIES HISTORY

26th meeting. The Panthers lead the series, 14-11. The Panthers defeated the Saints earlier this year at the Superdome. In that game, David Carr returned from a back injury and led the Panthers to a win. But really, it was the defense that won that game.

NOTES, QUOTES

--David Carr seemed to take the news that Vinny Testaverde will be the team's starter moving forward pretty well. Carr said he was disappointed he's not starting, but seems to think the decision has more to do with injuries than his performance.

"You want to be out there," Carr said. "You want to play and give your team a chance to win. It's his decision. I can't do anything about it. This whole year has been a little crazy, to tell you the truth. A little different than I had expected."

Carr shook off the notion that being replaced by a 44-year-old Testaverde might leave a black mark on his career and have a negative impact on his future in the league after this season.

"Not really," Carr said. "You can sit back and think about things like that. If I was 100 percent all year, then definitely. If I hadn't gotten injured, yeah I'd be bummed out I wasn't playing.

"But there are a lot of other things that have gone into the decisions coach (John) Fox has had to make. My health and just the nature of the team and where we're at right now, there are a lot of things that go into that. If I was healthy, yeah I'd be pretty bummed out. But not right now."

Carr, who said he's still not 100 percent "from the knees on up" was asked if this move could be construed as the team lacking confidence in his ability.

"It could be," Carr said. "It could be viewed as a lot of things, the reason why he's out there. I don't lack confidence in myself. That could be one thing, him just not knowing me. But I don't know what it is, to tell you the truth. I'm just trying to get healthy and let them figure all that out."

--At 4-6, the Carolina Panthers certainly aren't out of picture when it comes to the NFC South division title -- but clearly they have an uphill battle ahead. The first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the other hand, have easy sailing ahead.

In fact, it will take a complete collapse for the Bucs not to win the NFC South given their remaining schedule.

Tampa Bay (6-4) does not play a game against a team with a winning record the rest of the way and the combined record of their opponents is 23-37 (.383). The toughest game left on their schedule is this week against Washington (5-5).

However, Carolina, which has lost its last four games, faces six teams with a combined record of 34-26, with its final four games in December against teams with a winning record.

If the Bucs win the division, they will become the fourth straight team to go from last place in the NFC South to first the following year.

--Wide receiver Steve Smith was back on the practice field and is expected to start on Sunday for the Carolina Panthers.

Smith missed last week's game with a shin injury, but participated in all of Wednesday's practice.

"I'm getting better," Smith said. "Sore a little bit, nicked up. If I'm able to go, I'll go. If I'm not able to go, I can't go."

Clearly, coach John Fox is counting on Smith playing this week.

"I think he was close last week," Fox said. "But going in with the (limited) numbers of receivers you do and if all of a sudden a guy gets out there and he can't go during the course of a game, you can't say, 'Whoops, we want to bring this guy up now,' " Fox said. "So I think he did what he thought was best for the team. Thankfully we got him back this week."

--Tight end Jeff King was singled out on Monday by coach Fox for failing to be the 11th man on the field for the team's failed pooch punt against Green Bay.

That resulted in the Packers returning John Kasay's pooch punt 94 yards for a touchdown.

On Wednesday, King said he distinctly heard Fox call for a punt, not a field-goal punt, on the sidelines.

"I was standing right beside coach Skip (running backs coach Jim Skipper) and (coach) John Fox and (Fox) was yelling punt, so I went over the offensive area to look at pictures and get ready for the next series," King said. "I thought it was a punt. I heard punt. At the last minute, they went (with) our field-goal-punt play and I was over with the offense already."

--Testaverde's family is back in New York, so he will celebrate Thanksgiving with his old buddy, Panthers strength coach Jerry Simmons and his wife, Rebecca.

"He usually makes ... or, I should say, his wife usually makes a pretty good meal," Testaverde said.

When asked if he will be making anything, Testaverde replied, "Yeah, I'll be making the trip over to Jerry's house."

BY THE NUMBERS

16-1 -- Panthers record when DeShaun Foster runs for more than 70 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"There's no question there's still time. The good news is, as poorly as we feel like we've played this year with our record, we're in a pretty good position to accomplish our goals and get into the playoffs. But we can't really focus on playoffs right now. We've got to focus on one game at a time. And right now that's the Saints." -- Panthers QB Vinny Testaverde, on the team having a chance to make a run at the playoffs.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Linebacker Na'il Diggs won't be the only Carolina defender running around with a large club on his hand Sunday.

Cornerback Chris Gamble had surgery on Tuesday to repair a broken thumb. If Gamble plays this week, look for him to have a club-like cast on his right hand. And, don't expect any interceptions from Gamble.

Also, running back DeShaun Foster (toe) and defensive tackle Damione Lewis (shoulder) sat out practice Wednesday. Foster, who is resting a turf toe injury, said he will "definitely" play Sunday.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB DeShaun Foster did not practice Wednesday because of a turf toe injury, but will play this week.

--WR Steve Smith was back at practice and will play this week after sitting out last week with a shin injury.

--CB Chris Gamble had surgery on a broken right thumb Tuesday.

--DE Otis Grigsby, who saw action as Carolina's No. 3 defensive end earlier in the season, was re-signed to the practice squad after being cut last week.

--QB Vinny Testaverde is 1-3 as the team's starter.

GAME PLAN

The Panthers are budding with confidence over their passing game. They were able to hit a few big plays deep to Drew Carter last week and Vinny Testaverde said the light is going on with a few of the team's younger receivers. But the Panthers will still need to grind it out some with DeShaun Foster to win this week.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Saints secondary.

Smith is back this week and should have a decent week against the Saints secondary. It's a good matchup for Smith because the Saints rank 28th against the pass and he has a decent rapport with Testaverde.

INJURY IMPACT

Foster sat out Wednesday's practice, but is expected to play this week. He is resting a turf toe injury. He also sat out practice last Wednesday, but did play against Green Bay.


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