CHARLOTTE -- Not that long ago, the Carolina Panthers would have been scared of a week like this, whether they'd admit it or not.
But now that they have a better option at backup quarterback, the prospect of playing him isn't as frightening.
With starter Jake Delhomme held out of practice Wednesday because of a strained right (throwing) elbow, the Panthers are preparing as if David Carr will take the field Sunday against Tampa Bay.
In the past, such weeks brought trepidation, with good reason.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
In the five games since 2002 in which the Panthers have had to start their backup because of injury, the team's 1-4. The only win came last year in Atlanta when they barely passed at all (seven attempts, four completions, three sacks).
Former No. 2 Chris Weinke started four of those games, with Randy Fasani getting the other, against Tampa Bay in 2002. That one's memorable because of his 0.0 passer rating.
"Not taking anything away from the guys we've had in the past, but they're not as good as David," fullback Brad Hoover said.
Having the number-one overall pick from the 2002 draft has given the Panthers some peace of mind, knowing they're working with a guy who's started 75 games. Fasani was hopelessly lost, and even though Weinke had experience, he also left the league with a 2-17 record as a starter.
As a result, the Panthers aren't planning on changing much.
Coach John Fox said he wouldn't restrict the team's playbook because of the chance Carr plays.
"We'll have our game plan," he said. "He's been with us for some time now through all of the offseason. He's played in the league before as a starter, so we wouldn't hold back anything.
"He's got to go out there and execute just like any quarterback does, as well as the rest of the offense. As far as scaling back, that won't be a factor. Execution, we'll wait and see Sunday."
Carr has praised the talent level since the day he signed, saying it was a welcome departure from his days in Houston, when he was beaten to death behind patchwork lines (249 sacks in five years) and didn't always have good skill position players around him.
"Honestly in this position, you've got so much talent, just run the offense," Carr said. "Look at the wristband. Get the play on the wristband. Get your team on the right play. Pre-snap penalties, get rid of all that nonsense, the false starts, the delay of games. You eliminate that stuff and we're going to be in position. If you just do what you're supposed to do, it's not difficult."
And the other players say the burden's not completely on him.
"I feel like when I'm out there, no matter who's throwing the ball, the confidence is going to be there," wide receiver Steve Smith said.
As much as Fox said things wouldn't change, the game plans have been different in the past when the backup played. The average gain per pass attempt was 5.65 with the backups. Compare that to Delhomme's career average of 7.22, which is identical to the league average, and you see the difference.
All the numbers indicate a significant difference when the backup plays. The interceptions climb (1.80 per game to Delhomme's 0.94), sacks go up (3.40 per game to Delhomme's 1.76) and the passer rating plummets (47.1 to Delhomme's 86.0).
There's a "no duh" element to this, of course. Teams are better with their starters because the starters are starters for a reason. But the dramatic difference in stats also points to a philosophical conservatism.
"Maybe in the past that's been the case, but I don't think that'll be the case with us from here on out," Hoover said, echoing his confidence in Carr. "Naturally you want your main guy in there, that's the guy who's your leader on the field and in the locker room. But having David in there, a proven guy that's started a lot of games, the confidence factor doesn't drop off that much."
Delhomme knows the other side, too. He came in cold in 1999 to start New Orleans' final two games under Mike Ditka, without having played before in the league.
"That was in '99. I couldn't tell you," Delhomme said with a grin when asked if the Saints limited his calls. "I would assume they did, but I don't really remember. But let me give you a hint, back then when I was playing in that offense, we were scaled back from the get-go."
But the Panthers insist Carr will get the whole book. They sound sure of him, and he in them.
"Yeah I hope so," Carr replied when asked if he was ready. "I've had enough experience, not necessarily with this team, but it's going to be fun. We've got some talent and I've said that since I got here. There's some skill out here at these positions. Up front, being able to stand in there and no you're being protected, that's a good feeling. I'm excited about it.
"It might be a big deal for you guys. And it's going to be a big deal for me, don't get me wrong. If I get a chance to be ready, it's going to be exciting for me. But there's pressure to win the football game."