CHARLOTTE -- You'd almost forgive the Carolina Panthers' defense for being frustrated with the offense.
But so far, they say they haven't seen the frustration manifested.
"I don't think that's been a problem," coach John Fox said Thursday. "But we've struggled on each side of the ball or in each phase somewhere along the way. The reality is some days, one particular phase is going to have a rougher time than the other just based on who you're playing.
"Again, when you don't win, the blame game is very normal from a human nature standpoint. But I think our guys have been good that way."
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The speculation was fueled by an item on industry insider Web site profootballtalk.com Thursday, which said Panthers defensive players were complaining about their own offense to New Orleans offensive players. That item, citing a league source, went on to suggest it as more evidence that Fox would be fired at season's end.
That was the game the Panthers' defense was on the field for nearly 40 minutes, so it would be reasonable to imagine.
"What brought that up?" defensive end Mike Rucker said with a grin when asked about the phenomenon, knowing full well why. He said he didn't hear any such talk in the New Orleans game.
"Could I say that to 100 percent? I don't think anything's 100 percent," Rucker said. "But I think as long as a majority says we're not thinking that way, we'll give ourselves a chance. The thing is, you have five opportunities ahead of you which you can change the outcome.
"I think the more the younger guys understand what's going, when you're tail-spinning and nose-diving, you've got to pull up on that stick, and you've got to pull on it hard. Because if you don't do anything, you're going to nosedive. You've got to pull on that stick and get that thing up."
The Panthers' offense is ranked 27th in the league in scoring and 25th in total yards, while the defense is ranked 17th and 18th. Part of what's keeping the offense off the floor is what happened when Jake Delhomme was playing, as they scored nine offensive touchdowns in the first three weeks but just eight in the eight games since.
Running back DeShaun Foster said he knew the offense wished it were doing more, but he didn't sense any anger from the other side.
"I'm friends with guys over there, and if that was the case, I'd know it," Foster said. "I think everybody's frustrated with the way the season's going and all that, but nobody's pointing a finger at each other."
"I don't feel it," fullback Brad Hoover said of any perceived problem. "Naturally, offensively we're struggling and we're disappointed. It can easily be construed that way, but I don't feel it. If you ask guys on defense, they feel the same way. They may be a little disappointed in us not holding up our end of the bargain, but I don't see tension going on."
• HANGING ON: Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde said he still feels well enough to start this week. He did this time last week, too, before his back locked up.
As a result, the 44-year-old said he's glad to hand off some of his repetitions in practice (mentioning rookie Matt Moore, though there hasn't been an official announcement on who'll back up) to keep himself ready.
"I go into practice and I try to take the reps I feel I need," Testaverde said. "Not trying to overdo it, but just stay as close to 100 percent as possible for the game. You don't want to take too little and not get your work done, or too much and feel like you're hurting yourself.
"Which I think is good for Matt now. He gets to go in there and get some reps where normally I don't think the backup guy would get that much."
Testaverde also said he thought the back problem was caused by the walking boot he wore for two weeks to protect him from the Achilles strain that previously kept him out of the lineup.
"Walking in a boot, keeping my Achilles from putting all the pressure on there," he said. "Trying to walk differently to compensate for the pain, so it kind of throws your back out of whack for a while."
• EXTRA POINTS: Rucker returned to practice after missing the day before with an illness.
"I think I got some bad food," he said quietly, still looking a subtle shade of green.
Rucker's impressed the team by coming back after a major knee injury last December, and has continued to play the majority of the snaps.
"Ruck has been a guy that's really battled back," Fox said. "To rehab his injury is a feat itself. To be out there playing and giving it everything he's got, he's doing a good job." ... Wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett missed his second straight day of practice with a knee problem. ... Cornerback Chris Gamble remained on the practice field with his right hand in a cast to protect his thumb, and he should be available this week.