Carolina Panthers

Panthers 'Vin'dicated

The Panthers' Vinny Testaverde runs to elude Arizona's Monty Beisel in the second quarter.
The Panthers' Vinny Testaverde runs to elude Arizona's Monty Beisel in the second quarter.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After a week of being the nation's punch line, Vinny Testaverde got the last laugh Sunday.

Everyone from the locals to Jay Leno made great sport of the fact the Carolina Panthers signed the soon-to-be 44-year-old on last week. But the funniest part was, the guy proved he could still play.

Testaverde was humble and soft-spoken in the aftermath of the Panthers' 25-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals, talking often about the "challenges" of playing at all, much less playing as well as he did after his shotgun wedding and desert honeymoon with his seventh NFL team.

After all, he didn't just become the oldest quarterback to win an NFL game, he did it with four days of practice, and the pressure of trying to cram two-and-a-half months' worth of preparation into less than a week.

"That's all I did all week, really," Testaverde said of his night-school education. "I didn't return any phone calls. I was too busy studying my playbook and making sure when I stepped on the field the next day in practice, I knew what I was doing.

"If I was going to play, I wanted guys to see that I was ready, and for them to have confidence that we could win this game."

They had that, not that they had much choice.

Presumptive starter David Carr tried to warm up Sunday morning, but it became apparent after his back tightened up Friday night during their flight west that he wasn't going. That left either Testaverde or rookie Matt Moore, and fitting with the theme of the bizarre game, he even got in for a snap, too.

But Sunday was about Testaverde, his 21 years in the league (he even said it was probably his last) and the one sweet ball he threw in the fourth quarter to deliver the win.

He hit wide receiver Steve Smith in stride for a 65-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, to break open the game after they had been limited to three field goals.

Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood stopped short after Smith caught the ball.

"When I threw the ball I saw the defender stop," Testaverde said. "All I could think of was I just overthrew Steve for what would have been a touchdown. He caught it and ran, and I was looking at his feet to make sure he wasn't going out of bounds.

"I jumped on him, and he's like: 'I told you you can't overthrow me.' I believe him now."

And they believe in him, as well.

Several things became apparent quickly after his dramatic entrance -- he rode in just before practice at 10:30 Wednesday morning on an equipment cart, not a white horse. First off, he was in shape and ready to work. He said it was "no coincidence" that the two guys who tried to recruit him into coming back this week were Arizona strength coach John Lott and Carolina counterpart Jerry Simmons, both of whom he knew from previous stops.

Then, once Testaverde took the field, a few warm-up throws and they came to understand how he's lasted this long.

"As soon as I saw him throw the ball," running back DeShaun Foster said, eyes wide in amazement. "I knew Vinny's still got it."

Panthers coach John Fox joined in the chorus, lauding Testaverde's head-down approach from the moment he arrived.

"First of all, to be able to play at his point in life, is a tribute to him," Fox began, waiting then for the laughter to subside. "Taking care of himself, to be able to play and do the things he does physically at his age is a testament, I think, of how hard he works.

"He's in the weight room. He's a guy's guy. He's a guy you like being around. And you could sense that from the guys playing around him in a short time."

Of course, the Cardinals had their own short-timer in the game, since Kurt Warner left the game in the first quarter with a strained elbow -- the result of a Julius Peppers sack/forced fumble.

That left them with Tim Rattay (a mere child of 30 years), who lapped Testaverde in experience since he signed here Tuesday.

And for the first three quarters and then some, the game was played like both sides were still making acquaintances with their own. All of the passes were short ones, the running games and the defenses the elements they were going to rely on as the new guys did the training-wheel thing.

As a result, the game was maddening to watch, as the teams combined for seven first downs in the first half.

But the Panthers persisted. Foster gained just 43 yards, but he carried it 17 times, getting him to the magic number. The Panthers are now 23-2 when he carries the ball at least 15 times.

After he pounded away without much result, DeAngelo Williams broke through, following the Smith touchdown with a 75-yard burst that took all the conditioned air out of University of Phoenix Stadium. He tacked on a touchdown later, enabling him to post a career-high 121 yards.

Of the Panthers' 181 rushing yards for the day, 113 of them came in the fourth quarter.

Combined with a five-turnover effort out of a revived defense, and the game was perfectly played to the Fox game plan, even if it wasn't much to look at.

But regardless the artistic merit, the Panthers are 4-2, tied for first place in the NFC South, with a bye week to savor it before they have to look at Indianapolis and Tennessee.

Say that again to yourself. First place.

And just like Testaverde's heroics, as hard as it is to believe, that's no joke.

Carolina Arizona

• Panthers notebook • 5B

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