Writing on the Wall?

A year ago, Stephen Davis was headed to Pro Bowl after rushing for a career-high 1,444 yards. This week, less than 10 months later, he had to answer questions about whether an ongoing knee injury could jeopardize his nine-year NFL career.

Davis doesn't believe the injury that has kept him out of six games this season will be a long-term problem.

"I don't think it will be a problem once I get over this hump," said Davis, who turned 30 in March. "And it's a hump. We've all got things in life that we've got to overcome."

Davis believes he'll be back on the field at some point this season, but he just can't say when.

"At this point, yes, I think I will (be back this year)," said Davis, who is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers because of ongoing swelling in his knee. "And I say that. I believe that. But I can't predict the future."

You can't blame Davis for being a little pessimistic.

Much of his season has consisted of practicing all week only to go through the disappointment of being declared inactive on game day by head coach John Fox. Davis practiced some on Wednesday but is again listed as questionable on the injury report for Sunday's game at San Francisco.

Again, Fox will make a game-time decision on Davis' availability.

"It's just that at this point, the knee is not reacting the way we want. We just have to wait to see if it will."
- Stephen Davis

Normally, Brad Hoover has been the one to carry the ball for the Panthers when Davis doesn't play, but he, too, is listed as questionable with an aching back. However, Fox said he thinks Hoover will play.

"As long as it continues to get better each week, I don't care if it comes down to the last week of the season," Davis said of his return. "If that's when I'm better, then that's when I'll play."

Given that Carolina is in the midst of a 1-7 season, it wouldn't surprise anyone if Fox shelved Davis for the remainder of the season. Carolina already has 10 players on injured reserve.

Davis, who ran for a career-best 1,444 yards last season, still has three years remaining on his current contract after this year, and it would seem ridiculous to rush him back when the chances of making the playoffs are so slim.

Although the knee injury has kept him out of six of eight games this season, Davis doesn't believe this injury will be career-ending.

Davis said this is the first problem he's ever had with his knees since he began playing football.

He appeared fine in training camp this summer but then needed knee surgery on Sept. 17 after just one game to repair torn cartilage. He has not been right since.

Davis hasn't played since Carolina's lopsided 30-8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 17. The knee swelled up during the third quarter, and it hasn't been right since.

He said he has no regrets about playing in that game, although he admits the knee didn't feel 100 percent.

Several times Davis has practiced all week only to have his knee swell up before the game, which is exactly what happened last week before the game against the Oakland Raiders.

Davis admitted on Wednesday that he's considered having doctors re-examine the knee to see if there's a more extensive problem.

"It's crossed my mind, but you've got some great trainers and doctors here who last year took great care of my quad and all that," Davis said. "It's just that at this point, the knee is not reacting the way we want. We just have to wait to see if it will."

At this point, Davis is filled with hope and frustration.

Hope that he can get back on the field and frustration that it hasn't happened quite yet.

"You feel better during the week when you're practicing, and then it flares up on you," Davis said. "That's what is most frustrating. I think it must be making me a better person. I've never been through anything like this in my career.

"I guess it's just something that I've got to deal with, but it hurts. It hurts. I mean as far as inside my body, it hurts. It hurts me that I can't get out on the field. I feel like I'm letting the guys down. I'm the type of guy that feels he needs to be on the field. Especially with what the rest of these guys are going through right now, I want to be out there. But me knee is not letting me, so it's something I've got to deal with.

"But the knee is getting better. I really believe it's getting better every week."

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