Carolina Panthers

Gross, rest of offense protect Moore well

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers knew they were going to have to take care of their latest quarterback, so they threw a wall around him.

With rookie Matt Moore making his first career start against the league's second-ranked pass rush, the Panthers didn't allow a sack for just the third time this season.

"The guys up front were huge," Moore said of his protection. "Seattle has a good defense, and I think I only got touched one time. That is outstanding. You can't ask for anything better than that."

Seattle entered the game with 41 sacks, but barely sniffed Moore. Part of that was the Panthers' offensive plan, since they used a lot of quick drops and relied on the run to protect him, as well.

But on the whole, they just blocked better than they had in the past, specifically right tackle Jordan Gross, who stoned Seahawks end Patrick Kerney.

That's become a trend, since none of the 8.5 sacks Kerney's registered against the Panthers (going back to his days with Atlanta) have come against Gross.

"I've played against him a lot, we have a history, and it's a good history," Gross said. "I have a lot of respect for him."

Kerney leads the league with 13.5 sacks this year, and when his spotless record against him was mentioned, Gross shrugged, hesitant to tempt fate.

"I know he's got some hits on Jake (Delhomme)," Gross said. "We always play the Falcons tough. He's a good player. I was definitely nervous for this, he's made a lot of sacks this year, so it was a good challenge."

It also stands as well-timed, since Gross is two games from becoming an unrestricted free agent in a thin market at his position. He's only given up one sack this year.

• WELCOME BACK: Wide receiver Steve Smith had his most productive day in some time, catching eight passes for 72 yards, including three for 31 yards on the field goal drive in the fourth quarter which gave the Panthers the lead for good.

It was the most yards he's had since gaining 136 on Oct. 14 in Arizona.

"If you put the ball in my hands, I make plays," Smith said. "If you don't, I can't. That's the bottom line."

Coach John Fox said there's been an effort to do so in the past, it just hasn't worked out.

"We've tried to do that all season," Fox said. "Unfortunately we haven't been as consistent with the execution of it. Steve's been very patient. He's done a tremendous job all season in a tough spot. I was happy to see us be able to get him the ball downfield a little bit deeper than we have as of late."

• BIG-PLAY HARRIS: Safety Chris Harris notched his seventh forced fumble of the year Sunday, tying the franchise's single-season record set by Mark Fields in 2002.

The Panthers acquired Harris is August, just before the sudden retirement of Mike Minter, and he's quickly acclimated himself here. In fact, giving up next year's fifth-round pick looks like a steal for a guy who's meant so much to this year's defense.

"My goal this year was 10, so I'm a few shy of that," Harris said. "That's one thing I try to harp on. I try to be a play-maker, that's what they brought me in here for, to make plays.

"I know I'm not getting interceptions, I've got one, but fumbles, they serve as interceptions. They give us the ball, so i'm trying to create as many plays as I can."

• LINEUP CHANGES: A week after having one of his worst weeks of tackling, cornerback Chris Gamble was benched Sunday in favor of Richard Marshall.

In and of itself, that's no surprise, since Marshall's played extremely well as the third corner, and is a more physical than Gamble, anyway.

But Gamble wasn't even part of the nickel package, replaced there by Patrick Dendy. When they went dime, they brought rookie safety Quinton Teal in.

Gamble was active, and hasn't been listed on the injury report, but was clearly in the doghouse.

The Panthers also stuck with Geoff Hangartner at right guard. Last week, he subbed for Jeremy Bridges, who didn't play at Jacksonville because of an abscessed tooth. Bridges didn't practice Wednesday, but worked the rest of the week.

Bridges went in briefly for Mike Wahle, but Wahle returned to the game.

• EXTRA POINTS: Defensive end Julius Peppers was in and out of the game with a sprained right knee, and wasn't able to return late, but Fox had no update on his condition. Peppers hustled out of the locker room without talking to reporters. ...

The Panthers shuffled their inactive list Sunday, with several new looks.

Vinny Testaverde was the third quarterback, after being held out of practice all week with a combination of old and sore.

Also down were wide receiver Keary Colbert (knee) and defensive end Stanley McClover, which allowed rookies Dwayne Jarrett and Charles Johnson, respectively, to play. It was Johnson's first appearance.

Ryne Robinson got most of the work as the third receiver, catching his first two passes for 20 yards.

The other inactives were offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Frank Omiyale, defensive tackle Gary Gibson and linebackers James Anderson and Brandon Jamison.