Panthers struggling on 3rd downs

The number is awful -- 18.6 percent. That's how many third downs the Carolina Panthers have converted heading into a tough game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Panthers managed to win their third straight game and climb above .500 for the first time this season with a 20-12 win over the Cleveland Browns, despite failing to convert a third down.

The Panthers were 0-for-11.

Carolina came into the game 31st in the league in third down conversion at 11-for-48, behind only the winless and offensively inept Oakland Raiders. And things didn't get better.

Although Jake Delhomme was just 1-for-7 for 2 yards and took a sack on eight third down passing plays, it's hard to put this all on him. The normally reliable Steve Smith dropped three passes on Sunday, two of them in the end zone.

"It wasn't good but we were able to put up 13 points on offense," said Delhomme. "We had some chances on third down, and we were a little sloppy. Give them credit because they had something to do with it...

"But we played turnover-free football today, which is huge. DeShaun Foster (106 yards) ran the ball well and we came out with the win. Certainly we'd like to look a whole lot prettier. We know we need to play better on third downs, but we were able to win today."

Said coach John Fox: "It's something to work at. We've struggled up to date. We are close. We are doing a pretty good job on first and second down. Now we just have to get over the hump and improve that."

Fox is right.

Delhomme, for instance, was 19 of 22 for 168 yards and a touchdown on non-third down throws.

Meanwhile, DeShaun Foster ran well except on third down where he came up a yard short on all three carries.

"I am a little bit concerned," said receiver Keyshawn Johnson. "Oh-for-10 or whatever we were, that's just not good. Throughout my career, I've been good on third down. I don't know what the problem is ..."

Smith, however, refused to spend much time dwelling on it, although six of Delhomme's third-down passes went his way.

"It was in the game," Smith said. "It's not now. So just move on. We can't have these downfalls and I can't have mistakes like I did this weekend against Baltimore and their great defense next weekend."

But they better improve if they want to stay above .500.

The Ravens entered last week's game having limited the opposition to just 25.5 percent on third downs.

Delhomme figured to put on an aerial display Sunday against a Browns defense that came into the game without its top three cornerbacks and was forced to start a safety at cornerback.

"Yeah, you lick your chops at 'em," Johnson said. "But like I told Steve and I told the rest of our receivers, 'We're not going to have a productive day today.'

"I mean, I just knew it. It's always that way when a secondary is banged up and you figure, 'Oh, we're going to throw for 500 yards.' That first ball, when I didn't catch it and it was thrown to me, I was like, 'OK, here we go.' I've been here long enough to know that just always happens. You never see teams take advantage of other teams that have banged-up secondaries. You just never see it."

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