CHARLOTTE -- The Panthers liked quarterback Matt Moore enough they hesitated to play him until they had no choice.
Now, they might like him enough to bring him back as next year's backup, rather than continuing his internship as the third quarterback in 2008.
No one's going to make any strong declarations now, but there are growing indications the team might go into next year with just Jake Delhomme, Moore and Brett Basanez, rather than signing a veteran to go between them.
"Obviously, Matt's done very well in the two starts he's had, for his first two starts in the league," general manager Marty Hurney said. "As far as how it impacts the depth chart for next year and all that, that's an evaluation we'll go through at the end of the year."
There will be some guys available who have more experience, but the free agent quarterback class isn't very good, and the Panthers have never been a team interested in spending high draft picks on passers, since they believe it takes several years to develop a good one. Besides, they could probably always call Vinny Testaverde in (but only for a week at a time, this time) if need be.
But Moore might have shown enough the last two weeks to have earned the job behind Delhomme.
In his six relief appearances, he had a passer rating of 21.1. But in two starts, it was 81.6. He's also got a much higher completion percentage (61.8 percent to 43.8 percent) in his starts, as well as showing a knack for moving the ball downfield, with 7.09 yards per pass attempt in his starts compared to 5.19 when he was mopping up.
"Coming in when you're down, and throwing all the time, that's a different set of circumstances," Hurney said. "The games he got into late, that helps, too, as far as learning the speed of the game, but he handled that well, too.
"But Matt knows it's a long road."
Moore's unfazed by it all, as he has been since the Panthers claimed him off waivers from Dallas.
"Still on the roller coaster ride, you know?" he said last week. "It's definitely been crazy and fast-paced. Whatever they're throwing at me, I'm kind of just going with it and saying, 'OK, this is the new challenge for today.' After Sunday I'll take that deep breath and kind of analyze what's gone on."
Dallas coach Wade Phillips said last week the Cowboys "may have made a mistake there" about letting him go to keep just two quarterbacks, and Moore has at least one other admirer outside the organization.
"He reminds me a little bit of a young Jeff Garcia," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. "He can hurt you with the scramble and is a guy, I think, that the team has confidence in. I can just see that the level of play looks to be pretty good around him when he is in the football game.
"Good things seem to happen when he is around."
• GETTING IN THEIR DIGGS: The Panthers signed linebacker Na'il Diggs to a three-year contract extension Saturday, solidifying a group that's grown together nicely on the fly this year.
The move all but certainly brings an end to Dan Morgan's run in Charlotte, as the team's got all three starting linebackers under contract through the next two seasons, making it unlikely they'd give Morgan a chance to return. He had to take a pay cut to come back this year, turning a $2 million roster bonus into per-game installments of $125,000. He only cashed three of those, as he was lost for the year with an Achilles injury against Atlanta on Sept. 23.
Diggs, 29, has been a solid piece in Charlotte the last two seasons, but opened this season on the bench as they started rookie Jon Beason on the weakside next to Morgan. But when Morgan was hurt, Beason took over at middle linebacker and Diggs got his old job back. He's posted 46 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, broken up five passes and has nine special teams tackles.
• RUMOR OF THE WEEK: From a selfish sports reporter's perspective, the reason we keep asking to talk to Panthers' owner Jerry Richardson is so we don't have to waste time chasing every rumor that involves coach John Fox. The latest was that he's a candidate for the UCLA job. Several people close to Fox blew that one out of the air Saturday morning, for a number of reasons. Also, the Rick Neuheisel hiring in Westwood later in the afternoon seemed to clear things up.
First, Fox is expected to be coaching the Panthers next year. Second, he's made it clear in the past he considers himself a pro coach, with no desire to return to the college ranks, where he spent 10 years as an assistant. Third, if he's not coaching in Charlotte, he could get another NFL job in about five minutes.
But such things will keep cropping up until Richardson comes out and says something definitive, not filtered through the announcers of the network he's part-owner of.
"John has expressed no interest in coaching any team but the Carolina Panthers," Hurney said Saturday.
• EXTRA POINTS: Safety Chris Harris (neck) didn't make the trip to Tampa on Saturday, meaning they'll turn to either Marquand Manuel or Quinton Teal in his spot. Harris was one of the true surprises for the Panthers this year, joining them in August via a trade with Chicago (just before Mike Minter's retirement), a steal for a fifth-round pick. He went on to set a franchise record with eight forced fumbles this year, and was second on the team in tackles. ...
The Panthers' press box won't quite add up quite right next year, after last week's passing of team statistician Dr. Harold Vigodsky.
The 62-year-old Spartanburg optometrist, who also did stats for Clemson, has scored the Panthers games from the start. He also served as head statistician for Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta.
He died last Thursday from complications of a virus which caused internal bleeding. Our condolences go to his wife Gail, his two children and his many friends, a group among which The Herald was a small, grateful part.