CHARLOTTE -- Maybe it's chicken or maybe it's egg.
But after months of offensive starvation, the Carolina Panthers, not about to quibble over the particulars, are just glad to have something to chew on.
Once they finally went through an entire week and the game that followed with the quarterback they expected, the Panthers were able to do some things with the ball. Or maybe they did some things because they knew their quarterback would know what to do.
Either way, the end result was one of the best performances of the year with the ball, in their 31-14 win over San Francisco on Sunday. The Vinny Testaverde-led offense keyed their highest-scoring game of the year at a time when they needed it most.
"That always comes into play," coach John Fox said Monday. "The quarterback position is key as far as the number of things you can do. Our game plan might have been different when we were expected Matt Moore to start at one point this year being he is a rookie -- say different than a healthy Vinny or David Carr."
It's little use to delve too deeply into the numbers.
After all, Testaverde's 153 passing yards were rather ordinary, but throwing a lot's not a good sign for them anyway.
The important figure was the 166 rushing yards and the 44 attempts, because that's how Fox measure's offensive success. The attempts were the high total for the season, and the yardage was fourth-best. It's no coincidence that in the games in which they ran more successfully, they won.
They scored three offensive touchdowns, after scoring eight in the previous eight games. That's why even though it was a decent showing against a bad team, it had the feeling of a landslide.
"We mixed it up," Testaverde said. "We were able to run a couple of trick plays. We were able to mix the pass and the run. When the pass is working successfully, it makes the run easier. We had good balance."
Again, running that much helped keep Testaverde upright (he was sacked just twice), and keeping him upright might help keep the offense running.
"It's hard to get sacks when somebody is running it 44 times and throwing it 20," Fox said. "The odds are less. So it was good to be on the other end of that, and we need to get to that point moving forward."
Fox saw the first signs of such offensive improvement in the second half of the Green Bay game -- though it helped that the Packers took their foot off the gas with a 28-3 lead. The problem in the aftermath of that one was Testaverde's back locked up the day before the next game and he wasn't able to play, plopping the Panthers back into the muddled mess their quarterback position has been all year.
At this point, the job belongs to Testaverde as long as he can stand.
"Yeah, that would be helpful," Fox said. "But, unfortunately, that has not been the case. Hopefully it can be moving forward. We saw glimpses maybe the second half of the Green Bay game, and we were hoping to build on that, and it didn't work out that way.
"Again, that's part of the game and part of the adjustments that you make. We've had our share of setbacks and hopefully we will be more fortunate moving forward."
Toward that end, they buried Carr as far on the bench as they could. Fox admitted that part of the reason he made the former No. 1 overall pick the inactive third is that he didn't want to subject him to the fan treatment he received last time out. Fans chanted "We want Moore," when Carr had to replace the ailing Testaverde against New Orleans. They got their wish in the fourth quarter, and Moore was the backup Sunday.
"I don't know if I wanted to expose him here at home," Fox said. "Definitely yesterday and we'll kind of weigh that as we move forward. Anytime you don't have success, it has an effect on you mentally. I still have confidence in David Carr. I still think he has things to offer. I don't think it's gone as well for him, or for us, as we all expected.
"That doesn't mean that it won't moving forward, either."
When asked if that meant Carr wouldn't have been the third if the game was on the road, Fox replied: "I can't talk about what-ifs."
What he did discuss were the "wrinkles" in the offense which came to fruition against the 49ers. The key was keeping wide receiver Steve Smith involved, whether he was catching, running or taking snaps.
Either way, it worked for a change, so they weren't going to read too much into the whys.
"A lot of times it's not just plays, it's the execution of them, whether they're real plays or what you might call wrinkles," Fox said. "If they make yards it helps. They can be passes. They can be runs. They can be fourth-down plays, third-down plays.
"At the end of the day you've got to make plays. When you make plays, usually it sets up points, and when you have points, it helps you win games. It's not that complicated. It's not easy, but it's not complicated."
• Panthers notebook • 4C