Moore impresses in debut for Panthers

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - They played it safe, leaned on their running game and took advantage of an improbable number of mistakes by one of the NFL's worst teams.

Still, Matt Moore was a winner in his first start in nearly two years and will likely remain Carolina's quarterback for another week - when the competition gets much tougher.

A day after the Panthers beat woeful Tampa Bay 16-6, coach John Fox was typically evasive on Monday. He wouldn't declare Moore the starter next week at New England, said he didn't know when Jake Delhomme would be able to practice again, and replied "I can't answer ifs" when asked if Delhomme starts again when his broken finger is healed.

"He obviously did some good things, and some things we've got to continue to work on," Fox said of Moore. "I thought he played well enough for us to win."

The Panthers (5-7) clearly had a restrained passing game. Led by Jonathan Stewart's 120 yards rushing and a touchdown, they ran the ball 33 times to just 20 passes. Carolina twice ran draw plays on third-and-10 and again on third-and-8.

"We were running the ball well, a lot of quick game stuff, getting the ball out fast," Moore said. "That makes it easy on any quarterback."

The 25-year-old Moore also showed a strong arm when he had a chance, completing 14 of 20 passes for 161 yards. It included a 66-yard completion to Steve Smith in the fourth quarter - Carolina's longest pass of the season - that set up the clinching field goal.

"Shoot, it was a great throw," tight end Jeff King said. "That's kind of what we've been missing the last couple weeks with our passing game."

Indeed, Carolina has been bogged down with Delhomme having the worst season of his career. While Moore overthrew Smith for what would've been a touchdown and threw an interception on a poor pass intended for Dante Rosario, he showed more precision than Delhomme, who has 18 interceptions in 11 games.

Moore had a mediocre 73.1 passer rating Sunday, but that dwarfs Delhomme's 59.4 mark for the season. Moore, much more laid back than Delhomme, provided a different atmosphere in the huddle, too.

"He was great. He was Matt," King said. "He's a confident kid. He doesn't know what he doesn't know. He's young, he wants to sling it around. That's him, he has a quiet confidence about him."

Stewart's play helped, too. Filling as the No. 1 back for the injured DeAngelo Williams, Stewart averaged 4.6 yards on a career-high 26 carries, including a 3-yard run on the opening drive for the game's only touchdown.

"I thought Jonathan Stewart showed up big," Fox said. "He hadn't been called upon with that big a load as being a No. 1 guy. I was really impressed with the way he ran and how he rose to the occasion."

So did the defense. While outgained 469-309, the Panthers intercepted Josh Freeman five times. Safety Chris Harris, who had one of the picks, said Freeman was locking into his receivers inside the 20. Carolina had three interceptions in or near the end zone.

"Most rookie quarterbacks, they kind of look at their intended receivers," Harris said. "That gets better over time. But, yeah, you were able to see where he was throwing the ball because he would stare down his intended receivers."

Moore, in his third season but with only four career starts, didn't make those mistakes. While Fox wouldn't make it certain, he'll likely be starting Sunday at the Patriots (7-5), who will be desperate to end a surprising two-game losing streak

It's the start of the big-boy portion of the schedule for Moore, now 3-1 as an NFL starter. After New England, the Panthers face Minnesota (10-2), the New York Giants (7-5) and New Orleans (12-0) to close the season.

"He needed to build some confidence in himself," King said of Moore. "For him, he hasn't played in a couple of years, or at least started in a game. It was good for him to get some plays under his belt, some success, and hopefully he can build on that for this week."

NOTES: Fox provided no update on injuries, saying he didn't know if DE Tyler Brayton's head injury was a concussion. LB Na'il Diggs (ribs) didn't play in the second half. ... LB Jon Beason had two interceptions Sunday, less than a week after being arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge he disputes. "At the end of the day, the truth will come to light," Beason said. ... S Charles Godfrey had an interception in his return to the starting lineup ahead of Sherrod Martin, who had played well. "I think it's a good problem to have," Fox said.


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