This story might self destruct after you read it, so ...

The HeraldJanuary 2, 2009 

Darin Gantt

CHARLOTTE -- Sssshhhhhh.

You can read this story, just don't read it out loud.

And, just in case, don't talk about it when you're finished.

Among the stats which have contributed to the Panthers turnaround this year, few are as important as ball security. They've only fumbled it away seven times all year, and only four teams in the league have been more careful.

When you're running the way the Panthers are, taking care of the ball just gives you more opportunities. But the one thing they don't want is an opportunity to talk about it.

Running backs coach Jim Skipper was requested for an interview on the topic. According to a team spokesman, he replied with "a shudder," and politely declined. Similarly, running back DeAngelo Williams has a scheduled appearance with the media today, and didn't want to change his schedule.

Like no-hitters in baseball, it's the kind of thing no one really wants to talk about.

But when it's gone on as long as it has for them this year, it gets to the point where the pile of evidence is hard to ignore.

Of the Panthers' total, quarterback Jake Delhomme has three, and receivers Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett have one each. Rookie running back Jonathan Stewart has the other.

Let's see, there's one name we haven't called. Hmmmm, who have we not mentioned, ...

Williams is one of just 10 backs in the NFL with more than 200 rushing attempts who didn't cough it up in the regular season. Only LaDainian Tomlinson (292) has more attempts than Williams' 273, but no other back on the list is within 400 yards of him.

Of the 24 backs with 200 attempts, there are a total of 57 fumbles. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson leads the league with 1,760 yards, but also with a jaw-dropping nine fumbles, which nearly overshadows his 10 touchdowns.

Williams has been generally careful throughout his career, losing just one fumble in the 2007 opener at St. Louis and none as a rookie. Contrast that to the guy he was stuck behind the last two years, DeShaun Foster, who for all his talents was prone to giving the ball away. He fumbled 11 times in five seasons here, including five last year. That, as much as his contract status or Williams' own potential, is the reason he's backing up fellow butter-fingered back Frank Gore (six this year) in San Francisco.

EXTRA POINTS: Team officials said the 7,000 tickets available for their Jan. 10 Divisional round playoff game sold out in approximately five minutes Thursday morning. While other cities were having problems selling playoff tickets, that wasn't a problem in Charlotte.

The Panthers will play either Minnesota or the Atlanta-Arizona winner -- whoever's the highest remaining seed -- next Saturday night. ...

Players were given a chance to sleep in Thursday, reporting for work around noon, with the hour-long practice beginning at 1:15 p.m. They'll go again this morning before taking a long weekend, with Saturday, Sunday and Monday off.

daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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