Carolina Panthers

Even defense flounders as team struggles to get on track

CHARLOTTE -- We've known for months the Carolina Panthers weren't very good on offense.

Their defense started springing leaks in a 31-6 loss Sunday, allowing a 21-point outburst in the third quarter to the New Orleans Saints. That it happened after the offense proved again to be ineffective was little consolation.

The Saints nearly doubled the Panthers in time of possession (39:23 to 20:37), giving them many more opportunities to hit them.

"We've been down that road before," defensive end Mike Rucker said. "Whether it's a turnover out there or they go three-and-out, it shouldn't matter to us. When we're called upon, whether it's our 1-yard line or their 1-yard line, it shouldn't matter. That's the attitude you have to take going out there. Sometimes you do it and sometimes you don't.

"That's what the problem is, we're not consistent with it. Maybe two times we do it and one time we don't and that one time is what hurts us."

Typical of their struggles was a play early in the third quarter, when cornerback Ken Lucas realized they were in a bad defensive call, and tried to get a timeout. He signaled wildly for safety Deke Cooper (who was supposed to be deep offering help) to cover a man at the line of scrimmage. Lucas then fell behind Devery Henderson on a 33-yard gain that started the avalanche.

"The defense we had called, it wasn't going to work," Lucas said. "For one, a man was out there uncovered, then it was a domino effect. The safety had to go out and cover somebody. Everybody would have been essentially open because of the type defense we were playing."

Coach John Fox pointed to the time they were left hanging out there, in addition to the error.

"There is a time when there is a matter of hope," Fox said. "We didn't play as well as we could. There was a couple of big plays involved. We had a misalignment on one of them. One of our players did try to get time out but it was too late. I think it was more of their execution and our lack of.

"When you are out there that long, sometimes that gets to you. It's not an excuse, it's reality."

• NO VINNY: Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde wasn't able to play Sunday after his back tightened up over the weekend.

The 44-year-old was set to become the second guy to start three straight games for the Panthers this year (after Jake Delhomme did the first three weeks), but he was unable to get well in time to play.

"It just wouldn't loosen up like I wanted," Testaverde said. "I woke up Saturday morning with it. My back was locked up."

He said he thinks the walking boot he was wearing for his sore Achilles might have had some affect, but that he hopes the problem clears up for next week.

"If it didn't hurt so bad, it would be laughable," Fox said. "The hard part about it is that he goes through the week as the starter and gets the starter reps and it just didn't work out."

• KING ME: It's been a bad eight days of first quarters for Jeff King.

First, he was the guy who didn't take the field at the right time last week, which helped allow Green Bay a 94-yard pooch punt return touchdown.

Sunday, he was flagged for illegal formation, for not being on the line of scrimmage. It wiped a 41-yard reception to Drew Carter off the board, for what would have been the Panthers' first first down.

• HARDLY OFFENSIVE: The Panthers gained just 195 yards and 11 first downs on the day. Those were their second-lowest totals of the season in both categories, after getting 191 yards at Tennessee and 10 first downs here against Atlanta.

The first of the first downs came on a New Orleans penalty with around five minutes and 18 seconds left in the first quarter, but that was on a 41-yard pass interference penalty on the Saints.

They didn't gain one on their own until the 1:56 mark of the second quarter.

• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers started cornerback Richard Marshall in the pace of the injured Chris Gamble, who had surgery on his right thumb last Tuesday. ...

The Panthers deactivated the following players: Testaverde, Gamble, running back Alex Haynes, offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Frank Omiyale, defensive linemen Gary Gibson and Charles Johnson and linebacker James Anderson.

Anderson going down gave them a chance to put a better special-teamer (Donte Curry) on the active roster, while Haynes sitting gave them a chance to keep all five wideouts up.