Carolina Panthers (3-2) at Detroit Lions (2-3)KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan
SERIES: 4th meeting. The Panthers lead the series 2-1. The Panthers have won the last two against the Lions, but have never faced Detroit at Ford Field. In the last meeting on Dec. 21, 2003, the Panthers outgained the Lions 384-106 in a 20-14 win at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers scored the game's first 20 points behind two Jake Delhomme touchdown passes and two John Kasay field goals and then hung on to win.
*2005 rankings: Panthers: offense 26th (20th rush, 20th pass); defense 24th (3rd rush, 27th pass). Lions: offense 28th (19th rush, 28th pass); defense 19th (21st rush, 17th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers' top two running backs, Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, are battling sore knees, but Carolina has plenty of depth at the position. Carolina QB Jake Delhomme said he expects the Lions to use CB Dre Bly on WR Steve Smith, meaning Keary Colbert and the other receivers must begin to produce more. But the game could turn on red-zone production. The Panthers rank first in the league with touchdowns on 12 of 15 red-zone possessions (80.0), while the Lions defense has allowed just four touchdowns in 10 trips. Detroit's offense has leaned more on RB Kevin Jones in recent weeks, but QB Joey Harrington will need to step up and make plays against a Panthers defense allowing 259.2 passing yards per game for the Lions to score enough points to keep it competitive late into the game.
Panthers: Delhomme completed a franchise-record 2.6 percent (29 of 35) of his passes in the last meeting in 2003. ... Delhomme needs 102 passing yards to pass Kerry Collins (8,306) for second place in franchise history. Lions: Jones is averaging 107 rushing yards in his past six home games. ... Have a three-game home winning streak.
--RB Stephen Davis was back on the field Thursday for Carolina and said he plans to be ready for Detroit. Davis has scored seven touchdowns already this season, but is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.
--RB Jamal Robertson could get some carries this week if DeShaun Foster does not suit up. Foster has missed two straight practices due to a knee injury. At the very least, Robertson will handle kickoff returns with Rod Smart out.
--FB Brad Hoover practiced on Thursday but remains questionable with a shoulder injury.
--WR Steve Smith has posted three 100-yard receiving games and a league-high six touchdown catches.
--CB Chris Gamble was back on the field Thursday and it looks as though he will start against Detroit.
--RB Rod Smart is doubtful for this week with a groin strain.
--QB Jeff Garcia was in pads and threw in the Lions' Thursday practice but did not participate in any of the offensive team work. Coach Steve Mariucci left open the possibility that Garcia (broken left fibula and sprained ankle) might be the No. 3 QB Sunday against Carolina but said he doesn't believe Garcia is ready to play.
--WR Roy Williams (quadriceps) says he is feeling better, but unless he can practice at full speed, Lions coach Steve Mariucci said he is not inclined to play him in Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. Williams was hurt Sunday in the Baltimore game and has not practiced this week.
--WR Glenn Martinez, a first-year player on the Lions' practice squad, is getting reps with the offense this week. Coach Steve Mariucci said Martinez will be signed to the 53-man roster and will be active for the game Sunday against Carolina as the No. 4 WR if Roy Williams and Eddie Drummond are unable to play because of injuries.
--PR/KR Eddie Drummond missed the first two days of heavy work in the Lions' preparation for their game Sunday against Carolina because of a badly bruised left shin and hyperextended knee. He said the injury has been feeling better as the week progressed and coach Steve Mariucci is not ruling him out.
--CB R.W. McQuarters will play his usual role as the Lions nickel back Sunday in their game against Carolina and there is a good chance he will have at least one - and possibly two - additional duties as well. McQuarters will return punts and kickoffs if Eddie Drummond (knee/shin injuries) cannot play and he will run pass routes as the No. 5 WR if Drummond and Roy Williams (quad muscle) cannot play.
INSIDE THE CAMPSPanthers:
Running back Stephen Davis and fullback Brad Hoover returned to practice Thursday and there's a decent chance both will play Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
However, Carolina coach John Fox remained noncommittal about their availability, and both players remained questionable on the injury report. Nonetheless, Fox said it was encouraging to see his starting backfield tandem on the field together.
"They are just day-to-day, and we'll see how it goes along the way," Fox said. "It was good to get them out here today, and we'll see how they feel tomorrow. They looked alright."
Davis has not missed a game since returning from last year's microfracture knee surgery and has rushed for seven touchdowns this season, third-most in the NFL.
Ever the veteran, Davis was reiterating the company line during Thursday's open locker room session, saying with a coy smile, "I'm day-to-day."
But then as he walked away from reporters toward the training room, Davis looked back and smiled and continued, "Day-to-day. At least that's what they tell me. But I'll be all right to play."
Davis said earlier he hasn't had any setbacks from his knee surgery.
"I'm having no problems, man. I'm fine," he said. "I haven't had any setbacks or anything. Soreness here and there, but I have soreness in both my knees, my back and my shoulders, too."
The news was not as good for backup running back DeShaun Foster, who missed his second straight day of practice with a knee sprain and likewise remains questionable on the injury report. Fox did not elaborate on the extent of Foster's injury.
Although he doesn't start, Foster has been a key component of Carolina's offense this season. His 373 total yards from scrimmage rank second on the team only to wide receiver Steve Smith.
Hoover said he wants to play, but believes that decision will ultimately be up to team trainer Ryan Vermillion.
Hoover, who injured his shoulder in Sunday's win over Arizona, has only missed two games during his six seasons in the NFL. Davis' lead blocker, Hoover is also a decent receiving option for the Panthers out of the backfield.
"It's sore," Hoover said. "The swelling has gone down and the range of motion has come back, but it's still sore. I will have to pad up and protect. I do want to play. I'm preparing to play, but it's whatever they want me to do."
In other injury news, starting cornerback Chris Gamble, who tried to play last week on a bad ankle but was benched at halftime, returned to the practice field Thursday and probably will play this week. However, he remains listed as questionable.
Running back Rod Smart remains doubtful for Sunday's game.
The Lions will put their differences aside - assuming there actually are any serious differences among the individual players - and see what they can do Sunday about increasing their lead in the NFC Central Division.
For most of the week, the media focus at the team's Allen Park headquarters has been on alleged harsh feelings among some of the Lions' key players - including receiver Roy Williams, running back Kevin Jones, quarterback Joey Harrington and cornerback Dre' Bly.
The players, for the most part, say they have been amused by the suggestion of a feud among them.
Williams said his comments, reported on SI.com, regarding a lack of "trust or confidence" among the players should not have been taken personally.
"I'm just saying on the football field, we don't have that trust and that closeness and that communication on the football field right now at this point, and that's what we're trying to get to," Williams said.
Harrington shrugged off the comment, saying he and the receivers frequently spend time on the field after practice trying to iron out the kinks in the offense.
"I don't think he meant it as a malicious statement, knowing Roy," Harrington said.
And Lions president Matt Millen, who played linebacker on the rough and rowdy Oakland Raiders of the 1980s - where fights among teammates were common - scoffed at the suggestion the Lions have a serious locker room problem.
"If you don't have differences of opinion in the locker room, you don't have a locker room," Millen said.
The Lions will take a 2-2 record - good for first place in the NFC North - into Sunday's game against the 3-2 Carolina Panthers, and Millen isn't opposed to seeing them go into the game with a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude.
"That stuff, that's just par for the course," Millen said. "It's normal."