Carolina low on rushers and run defenders
That's devastating news for the Panthers (1-3).
After remaining fairly injury-free last season en route to the NFC championship, the bumps, bruises and breaks have piled up early this year.
Star receiver Steve Smith is out indefinitely with a broken leg; top running back Stephen Davis has missed three games after knee surgery; and kick returner Rod Smart, also the No. 3 running back on the roster, is out with a knee injury.
Take Foster out of the mix and the Panthers have a serious shortage of healthy players headed into Sunday's game at Philadelphia -- a rematch of last season's NFC title game.
"I don't think there is any quit in our football team regardless of the circumstances," coach John Fox said Monday. "We've still got three quarters of the season left, and whether there is injuries or not, nobody is going to come rescue us, so we've got to bow up and compete."
But with whom?
Davis is still day-to-day, even after declaring only "a hurricane, maybe a tornado or something" would hold him out of Sunday's game at Denver. When he looked just so-so in pregame warm-ups, the Panthers scratched him in favor of Foster.
Fox said Smart definitely won't play against the Eagles, and Davis is still uncertain. That leaves him eyeing Joey Harris, an undrafted rookie from Purdue currently on the team's practice squad, as a possible starter in Philadelphia.
"We're going to obviously do something," Fox said. "We are very thin there at this point."
The problems aren't limited to offense, either.
Linebacker Mark Fields did not make the trip to Denver because, Fox said, the Panthers feared the three-hour flight would aggravate the back spasms he has been fighting for more than a week. Defensive tackle Brentson Buckner was also inactive, with a knee injury, and All-Pro DT Kris Jenkins has seemed to struggle with a shoulder problem most of the season, though the team hasn't acknowledged it.
The end result has been a pitiful run defense from a team that is built around stopping the run.
A year ago, Carolina's front four was despondent after giving up 124 yards rushing to Deuce McAllister in a victory over New Orleans. It was an aberration at the time, and McAllister is not exactly a scrub running back.
But a day after obscure fullback Reuben Droughns ran for 193 yards against their once-vaunted defense, Carolina was ready to admit it has some problems.
"Fundamentally ... there were a lot of different reasons why [Denver's] yardage was so high," Fox said. "We're capable of better, and I think there are things that are correctable."
Fox was quick to point out that despite the shoddy defense, the Panthers still had a chance to win.
They at least had a chance to tie it -- and temporarily did on John Kasay's 42-yard field goal with 6:42 left -- but it was nullified by a false start call.
Offensive lineman Matt Willig, who said he got hit by the official's flag, was then called for unsportsmanlike conduct when he picked up the yellow rag and tossed it downfield.
The 20 yards in penalties forced Carolina to punt, and the Panthers never got the ball back. In hindsight, Fox said, he should have let Kasay try the field goal.
"If I had known they were going to hold the ball the rest of the game, I probably should have let him [attempt the field goal]," Fox said. "Given that field position with that time and place, it would have been a tough call."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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