No more mystery. No more pretense. Daunte Culpepper will be the Lions' starting quarterback Sunday at Carolina.
Coach Rod Marinelli came out and said it Wednesday. Asked if he thought Culpepper would start, Marinelli simply said: "Yes."
And so, the question now is purely how well Culpepper will play - and if backup Drew Stanton will still play the same type of role he did in Sunday's 38-14 loss to Jacksonville.
After Culpepper signed last week, Marinelli tried to keep his plans under wraps. But most people figured Culpepper would start because Dan Orlovsky had a broken thumb and Stanton, who had little practice time in two years because of injuries, wasn't ready.
And sure enough, Culpepper started against the Jaguars. He was about what you would expect - inconsistent, with flashes of his cannon right arm.
His first pass was behind wide receiver Calvin Johnson. His second pass was intercepted. But he made a couple of big plays, too.
"That's why it was so good to play him last week, in my mind," Marinelli said. "He got one under his belt right now. He's coming out here, and he's just a worker, man. I mean, you can see that. Every day he's out here, he's just getting better and better faster. ...
"I would expect every day and every week really a major step from him."
Culpepper said he has done extra work with the receivers so they can get their timing down.
"I try to learn from my mistakes, just try to get better, just try to get more acclimated with the whole system," Culpepper said. "I'm just trying to move forward every day. Everything I can, every meeting, every snap in practice, I'm just trying to get a little bit better. The more reps I get, I will get better. I can say that."
Last week, the Lions cited the precedent of Vinny Testaverde, who signed with Carolina last year, started four days later and beat Arizona, 25-10. Testaverde, 43, went 20-for-33 for 206 yards and a touchdown.
Now let's take the example a step further. How much did Testaverde progress the next week? He went 12-for-20 for 82 yards with an interception, and he left the game at halftime with an Achilles injury. The Panthers lost to Indianapolis, 31-7.
That said ...
"There's no doubt you get more comfortable," Carolina coach John Fox said in a conference call with Detroit reporters. "This game's about playing fast. I don't care what position you play.
"I know Daunte will be further along this week than he was a week ago. He's not that 44-year-old guy. He'll be much more comfortable I'm sure in the offense this week than he was last week and in weeks to come."
Fox said it was obvious the Lions weren't using their whole playbook against the Jaguars. Culpepper couldn't learn everything in a week. Stanton relieved him in a goal-line situation and threw a touchdown pass.
Could Culpepper handle the goal line this week?
"I mean, I don't know," Culpepper said. "I haven't had any reps at it. It doesn't matter really. We got down there. We got the points. That's all that matters."
Culpepper said he and Stanton were splitting the reps at about the same rate they did last week, both preparing to play. The Lions usually work on their goal-line package on Fridays.
Against the Jaguars, Culpepper had to wear two armbands with the plays on them. He had to check them in each huddle.
Will he wear both armbands again this Sunday?
"I don't know," Culpepper said, smiling. "We'll have to wait and see about that. We haven't discussed it yet."
One thing is certain, though: Culpepper will continue to take shots downfield for Johnson. Culpepper still has a cannon for an arm, and the Lions want to get the ball to Johnson, who ranks fifth in the NFL receiving yards (774) but only 31st in receptions (39).
Johnson ranks first in average yards per catch (19.8) among players with more than 30 catches. He is third in catches of 20 yards or more (12) and tied for second in catches of 40 yards or more (five).
When Johnson gets the ball, good things happen.
"It makes you feel good to air it out a little bit," Culpepper said. "Hopefully we can connect on many more of those."
SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead, 3-1. Panthers have won last three meetings. Last time the teams met, in 2005, backup quarterback Chris Weinke came in late and threw a three-yard touchdown to reserve receiver Ricky Proehl with 32 seconds left, giving Carolina a 21-20 victory at Ford Field.
- Quarterback Dan Orlovsky has not given up on the season, despite two fractures and a torn ligament in his right thumb. "I'm not going to get surgery," Orlovsky said. "I'm going to try and do everything I can not to have surgery. I'm going to give it time to let it heal on its own, and we'll reassess it in a couple weeks."
- Coach Rod Marinelli thinks rookie right tackle Gosder Cherilus is more equipped now to face a guy like Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers than he was earlier this season. "He had a really good game" against Jacksonville, Marinelli said. "He really did. Every week he's really stepping up. He's on the fundamental work, and he's on everything. Each week he has really made some nice gains. So I'm excited about him."
- The Panthers play the way Marinelli has always wanted the Lions to play - strong defense, good running game, play-action passing. "When I came from Tampa, that's what we wanted to be - a defense that could be a suffocating defense and be able to run the ball and then as we got better, you've got a chance to throw the ball," Marinelli said.
- Why do the Lions have only one interception by a defensive back? "I really can't put a finger on it to be honest with you," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "We obviously want them. Teams are obviously trying to keep them away from us. But we've got to do a better job of getting the ball back for our offense. We just haven't been able to do that this year. I don't know exactly what one thing more than the other is the reason why. We just haven't been able to do it."
- The Lions are the only winless team in the NFL. But Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme insists they're not the worst team in the league. "No," Delhomme said. "I honestly would say no. I don't want to get into saying who I would think, because I'd rather not have that on the air. But I would say emphatically no." Does Delhomme actually have another team in mind? Or is he just saying that because he faces the Lions on Sunday? "Oh, I promise you," Delhomme said. "Yes, I do. There's a couple I have in mind."
- Delhomme said the Lions had Minnesota beaten Oct. 12 (they still lost, 12-10) and led Chicago on Nov. 2 (they still lost, 27-23). "They've got a lot of talented guys," Delhomme said. "It's just, some things haven't kind of gone their way. ... Sooner or later, things are going to go their way."
- BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Victories for the Lions in their past 17 games, the worst stretch in team history.
- QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're like Cro-Magnon man right now. We're trying to evolve." - TE Marcus Pollard, after the Lions' last game against Carolina, a 21-20 loss in 2005. Pollard has long since left Detroit, and the Lions are still trying.
- RB Aveion Cason was signed, along with WR/KR Adam Jennings, to bolster the return game. Jennings will return punts while Cason returns kicks.
- FB Moran Norris has earned the team's starting fullback position with his strong play and injuries limiting rookie Jerome Felton.
- DE Jared DeVries (hand) did not practice Wednesday and likely will not play Sunday.
- WR Mike Furrey (concussion) did not practice Wednesday but likely will play Sunday
- QB Dan Orlovsky (hand) did not practice Wednesday. He has decided to put off surgery and see how his broken thumb heals over the next two weeks.
- C Dominic Raiola (hand) did not practice Wednesday and likely will not play Sunday.
- DT Cory Redding (groin) did not practice Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- LB Ernie Sims (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- S Dwight Smith (foot) did not practice Wednesday. He has missed three games and will not comment on his health. His status is unclear.
- CB Keith Smith (groin) did not practice Wednesday. His status is unclear.
- DE Dewayne White (calf) did not practice Wednesday and likely will not play Sunday.
- LT Jeff Backus (quad) was limited Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- DT Shaun Cody (ankle) was limited Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- DT Chuck Darby (calf) was limited Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- FB Jerome Felton (ankle) was limited Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- TE Casey Fitzsimmons (ribs) was limited Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- CB Brian Kelly (back) was limited Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.
- TE John Owens (hamstring) was limited Wednesday but likely will play Sunday.