Panthers vs. Raiders

Kerry Collins returns to play in front of the crowd he quit on for the first time since his departure.<br><br>Leaving Carolina was the best thing for Collins at the time, but it left the Panthers in a hole they just recently climbed out of.

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/07/04
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
2004 RANKINGS: Raiders: offense 20th (30th rush, 10th pass); defense 26th (28th rush, 19th pass). Panthers: offense 21st (22nd rush, 17th pass); defense 16th (31st rush, 6th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams are riding five-game losing streaks and in desperate need of help from their running games. Panthers RB Stephen Davis has practiced this week and appears ready to return after missing the past two games. The Raiders have the fifth-worst run defense in the league, so Carolina would like to lean on Davis and take pressure off an offensive line that has not protected QB Jake Delhomme well. The Raiders have equally missed RB Tyrone Wheatley, who is expected to start after seeing some action last Sunday. He brings a physical presence and can attack the middle of Carolina's defensive line, where injured DT Kris Jenkins is missing. Still, for the Raiders to win QB Kerry Collins, who has lost his last 11 starts overall, to limit his turnovers and make an occasional big play to his speedy receivers.

FAST FACTS: Raiders: Have allowed at least 30 points in a team-record five consecutive weeks and lost by an average of 19 points. ... Have a league-worst 6-18 record since appearing in Super Bowl XXXVII. Panthers: Have lost their past five games by an average of 11.8 points. ... Are 0-3 at home. ... Have placed eight players on Injured Reserve.

PREDICTION: Panthers 24-23

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Raiders:
-- CB Charles Woodson (hip pointer) did not practice either Wednesday or Thursday and the chances of his playing against Carolina have dwindled each day. Coach Norv Turner said he would wait until the team's Friday workout before making a determination.

-- CB Denard Walker was the replacement left corner during Charles Woodson's summer holdout but has experienced difficulty in coverage as a nickel back during the regular season and may not be the choice if Woodson is held out of the Carolina game.

-- If Charles Woodson cannot play, CB Nnamdi Asomugha is being mentioned as a possible starter in his place in addition to Denard Walker. While Walker has struggled in coverage, Asomugha has committed numerous penalties.

-- RG Ron Stone did not practice again Thursday, increasing the likelihood he will not face Carolina.

-- If RG Ron Stone does not start, as is expected, rookie C/G Jake Grove will get the call at RG.

-- The Raiders signed G Corey Hulsey and placed him on the active roster for depth on the offensive line. Hulsey, who has been with the club off and on for two years, has played both guard positions.

-- LB Travian Smith (knee) did not practice Thursday, making it increasingly unlikely he will play at Carolina.

Panthers:
The Panthers on Thursday waived rookie defensive tackle Damane Duckett, a player veteran Brentson Buckner called "the find of the century" during training camp.

They replaced him with defensive tackle Cleveland Pinkney, who has played in two games with the Atlanta Falcons this season. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound Pinkney was waived by Tampa Bay before signing with Atlanta for seven games, five of which he was inactive.

Pinkney was named USA Today honorable mention as a senior at Sumter (S.C.) High, where he excelled in track. He finished his college career at the University of South Carolina, where he totaled 85 tackles, two forced fumbles, 3.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery.

Originally signed by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2001, Pinkney was waived by the Colts and signed by the San Francisco 49ers the following season. After spending the 2002 NFL Europe League season with the Berlin Thunder, where he totaled 24 tackles, Pinkney was waived by the 49ers at the end of training camp.

Pinkney spent the first nine weeks on Tampa Bay's active roster before being signed to the practice squad in 2003. He played in four games for the Buccaneers and was inactive for eight others. He totaled four tackles and one sack for the season.

--RB Stephen Davis has practiced the last two days for Carolina and hopes to get back on the field this week against Oakland. He has missed five of seven games this season with a knee injury.

--FS Travares Tillman still can't even use his right arm to put on his clothes, so it looks as though he will not play this week even though he's only listed as questionable on the injury report.

--FS Curtis Fuller could see action this week as the Panthers are running out of healthy safeties. The Panthers claimed Fuller off waivers from the Packers on Wednesday.

--CB Chris Gamble rolled his ankle on Thursday but continued to practice. Gamble said he will now get treatment on his knee and his ankle.

--CB Artrell Hawkins developed stiffness in his hamstring following Wednesday's practice and did not practice on Thursday. He was added to the injury report as questionable.

--LB Dan Morgan has not participated in contact drills this week, but may still suit on Sunday for the Panthers.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Raiders:
The Raiders have a chance to see if their master plan really does work Sunday in Carolina.

For the first time since he became a starter, quarterback Kerry Collins will be equipped with all his tools -- meaning a running game that will take pressure off the passing game.

Tyrone Wheatley, who went down with a shoulder injury in Collins' first start in Houston on Oct. 3, is expected to start for the first time since. That gives the Raiders the power running game that Norv Turner installed to help shake loose the deep passing game.

Amos Zereoue has started for Wheatley since. He had some success, but he is not a pile driver that will force the defense to stack inside the tackle box to stop a runner as strong and determined as Wheatley is.

With Wheatley out, the Raiders have been behind a lot.

"When you get down, it's pretty predictable that you're going to throw," Collins said.

You're certainly not going to run and opponents know that. In the five games Collins has started, without Wheatley in the backfield, the Raiders have averaged 16.8 rushes a game.

The plan this year was at least 25 and preferably upwards of 30 rushes a game. Instead, the Raiders have thrown an average 41.4 passes a game and have thrown 10 interceptions.

Carolina is 31st in the league against the run. Pardon the Raiders if they see a window of opportunity.

"We can be a good running team, I know we can," said Collins of his 30th-ranked rushing offense. "We've shown it. I think Tyrone's coming back will help. Norv is committed to running the ball and I think we will."

If it takes some of the heat off the quarterback, it will be a welcome sight.

Panthers:
The Panthers, losers of their last five straight, are hoping to get a boost this week from Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis.

Davis practiced for the second straight day Thursday, a sign that he could be ready this Sunday when the Panthers (1-6) play host to the equally struggling Oakland Raiders.

After missing five of Carolina's seven games this year, Davis wasn't ready to make any predictions on his availability this week, but he remains cautiously optimistic about the recovery of his knee.

"I don't want to bad-luck it, you know what I'm saying? Right now I'm a lot better than I was last week," Davis said.

Panthers middle linebacker Dan Morgan, who suffered a slight concussion in last week's loss to Seattle, has also practiced the past two days but was held out of contact drills.

Morgan tried to rush back too soon from a concussion last season and wound up leaving one game early and missing two others.

"We are trying to avoid that if possible," Panthers head coach John Fox said.

Davis and Morgan are listed as questionable on the injury report, and Fox said he'll likely make a game-time decision on both players.

Davis, who ran for the 1,444 yards last season and earned his third trip to the Pro Bowl, could be the spark the Panthers need to turn things around.

The Panthers (1-6) are reeling after five straight losses. The Panthers begin a stretch of five games against opponents with a combined record of 10-26.

The Panthers are averaging 102.9 yards per game on the ground this year, down from the 130.7 rushing yards per game they averaged last season.

This week's opponent, the Oakland Raiders, rank 28th in the league against the run, surrendering 130.6 yards per game on the ground.

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said if Davis can return to the starting lineup - and, equally as important, stay healthy -- it would be a huge boost to the struggling Panthers.

"He makes us better, I don't think there's any doubt," Delhomme said. "Anytime you can get a quality player like him back in there it gives everyone confidence. It would give us a boost."

In the latest injury to hit the Panthers secondary, nickel back Artrell Hawkins did not practice Thursday and was added to the injury report as questionable. Hawkins strained his hamstring near the end of Wednesday's practice and it tightened up later that night.

Hawkins had a big game in Seattle, forcing two fumbles and breaking up a pass in the end zone.


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