Panthers' decline to NFL's worst almost complete
Less than two years after going 12-4 and winning the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers have become the front-runner in a much different competition: Securing the worst record in the NFL and the ensuing top pick in the draft.
After an offseason youth movement that's produced shockingly little depth and the league's worst offense, the Panthers (1-9) sunk to the bottom of the NFL on Sunday in a day of new lows.
There was the sight of journeyman Brian St. Pierre becoming the first quarterback in seven years to have interceptions returned for touchdowns on consecutive passes in the 37-13 loss to Baltimore. Perhaps an even uglier display for owner Jerry Richardson was at least half the crowd at Bank of America Stadium was rooting for the Ravens.
Now with St. Pierre saying Monday his right shoulder was ''pretty tender'' to further complicate the QB carousel, the Panthers will spend the week being reminded of the big offseason decision to dump seven-year starting QB Jake Delhomme. He's spent an injury-plagued season with Sunday's opponent, the Cleveland Browns.
''Looking back, sitting here at 1-9, I'm not sure how many moves were right,'' coach John Fox said. ''And that's not being critical of anybody, other than just hindsight is always 20-20.''
With Fox in the final year of his contract and not expected to return, the Panthers must dig deep to remain motivated in a nightmare season of four quarterbacks, 10 touchdowns and 28 turnovers.
Fox said he'd probably find out by Wednesday if rookie Jimmy Clausen would be cleared to practice following a concussion sustained Nov. 14. Fox indicated he'd return to the second-round pick from Notre Dame as the starter if he's healthy.
''I would say if he's cleared that's probably more than likely,'' Fox said.
That would end the bizarre St. Pierre experiment. Out of the league and a stay-at-home dad until he was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 12 following Matt Moore's season-ending shoulder injury, St. Pierre was promoted to the active roster four days later when Clausen was injured.
Fox then chose the eight-year veteran of five NFL passes to start over rookie Tony Pike against the Ravens.
After an almost comical offensive game plan devoid of anything longer than a 5-yard pass through three quarters, St. Pierre suddenly found David Gettis for an 88-yard touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter to get Carolina within 20-13.
But after a Ravens field goal, the 30-year-old St. Pierre unraveled in 11 seconds. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis had interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, turning a tight game into a rout.
According to STATS LLC, the last QB to have two picks returned for scores on consecutive plays was Detroit's Joey Harrington in 2003 against Minnesota. Yet with Fox not believing Pike is ready, Fox is leaning toward going with St. Pierre again against the Browns if Clausen isn't cleared.
''I'm not saying it's ideal, but I think we would pursue the avenue that will help us,'' Fox said. ''He would be in consideration, no doubt.''
But St. Pierre was complaining of shoulder pain Monday that surfaced toward the end of last week and got worse in the second half Sunday.
''Right now I've got to get myself feeling good enough to have a chance to play,'' St. Pierre said. ''I don't know what they're going to do.''
It's been that kind of season as Carolina careens toward matching the 2001 club's 1-15 mark. And just like that season, thousands of fans seemed to have abandoned the cause.
From the loud, 'O!' during the national anthem to the cheers for Todd Heap to the chants of, 'Let's go Ravens'' late, Sunday was a virtual home game for Baltimore.
''I realize we're a young franchise and with their being big business here with Bank of America and Wachovia a lot of people come from the Northeast and they get these big corporate jobs,'' linebacker Jon Beason said. ''They support us, they love us. But I think when it comes down to it, they have their teams that they rooted for as a kid.
''They cheer for us and then when their team comes to town they cheer for the other team.''
There's been little to cheer for Carolina since Delhomme's six-turnover performance in a stunning playoff loss to Arizona in the 2008 season. Delhomme's 18-interceptions a year later led to his departure, but things have only gotten worse with no clear plan on how to get better.
''I know Jake seems to be happy where he is,'' Fox said. ''Sometimes change is good and I don't believe in looking back.''
Notes: While LG Travelle Wharton (toe) was still in a walking boot Monday, he said he felt a ''whole lot better.'' He didn't know when he might return. ... Fox acknowledged RB Jonathan Stewart sustained a serious concussion Nov. 7, which has kept him out of the past two games. ... Fox said Moore had successful surgery last week to repair a torn labrum.