CHARLOTTE -- Daunte Culpepper knew it was going to take some time to get better. He had no idea how long.
The last time the Detroit Lions' starting quarterback came to Bank of America Stadium for a regular-season game, he had his right knee shredded, with three of the four ligaments that hold it together torn. Noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews told him it would be two years before he'd be right, and even though Culpepper was on the field with Miami eight months later, he knows now how far he had to come.
"I think that was kind of crazy in the sense that I was told two years, but I was feeling good and my leg recovered very well, faster than anybody thought," Culpepper said. "For me to get back in eight months and be playing the next season was huge, but I wasn't really myself. I really didn't understand what the doctor was saying. He really meant I wouldn't be myself for two years.
"With that being said, if I could go back and do it all over, I probably would have took a little bit more time before I got back on the field. But hey, things happen, and you have to move forward."
When he was himself, he was one of the most dangerous passers in the league, hooking up with Randy Moss in Minnesota to form one of the top passing tandems in the league. Now, he's scrapping back, having signed with the Lions less than two weeks ago, and coming back to the place where it all started unraveling.
"Obviously, it's in my mind," he said of this week's setting. "I look at it like this, I am going there to play and do what I love to do, and that's play the game of football at a high level."
He's far from the top, taking the helm of the league's lone winless team (0-9). He signed a two-year deal which will likely carry him through the next administration.
"It's huge," Panthers linebacker Jon Beason said of Culpepper's arrival. "They got 10 times better with him. His ability to throw the deep ball and scramble is scary. And he's a hard tackle, too. We've got to just do what we do best: Chase the football and swarm."
Lions coach Rod Marinelli said he thought adding Culpepper was an easy decision, especially given the injuries that have wracked the position this year. Starter Jon Kitna's on injured reserve with a back problem, and replacement Dan Orlovsky is out with a thumb problem, leaving them with only Drew Stanton healthy in reserve.
"If you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback, which he is and has been and he is only 31 years old, I think you are crazy not to," Marinelli said. "He has a cannon for an arm and great feet. I thought it was great to have a veteran and a young quarterback in our program right now. I am excited about it. He has given a jolt to our team, and he has a tremendous arm.
"I see him just getting better and better as the season goes on."
• WEEK-TO-WEEK? The Panthers made an interesting call last week, going with an again-healthy D.J. Hackett as the third receiver instead of Dwayne Jarrett. The decision was a close one, and late in the week, no one in the locker room even knew which way they were leaning.
Asked about it Friday, coach John Fox suggested it could change from time to time.
"It's just the way we went that week," Fox said. "I don't know that it's a seasonal deal, but each week it's a good problem to have. They are both very good receivers. Both we think can help us. We've seen evidence of that with both guys."
Asked if there was a chance the third active receiver might change depending on matchups, Fox replied: "We'll have to look at it week to week."
Hackett missed three weeks with a knee sprain, giving Jarrett an opportunity to play. Otherwise, he's been inactive the other four weeks since Steve Smith came back from suspension.
Hackett has 11 catches for 144 yards this year (13.1 per), while Jarrett has six for 78 (13.0). If you take out the five catches for 48 yards Hackett had as a starter at San Diego, their numbers are roughly the same.
• INJURY UPDATE: There was nothing new on the Panthers' injury report. Center Ryan Kalil was again held out and listed as doubtful for this week's game. Defensive tackle Darwin Walker practiced, and he's listed as questionable because of a stiff neck leftover from his Oct. 25 car wreck. ...
For the Lions, five players are listed as out, including both starting defensive ends, Jared DeVries and Dewayne White. Also listed as out were center Dominic Raiola, safety Dwight Smith and backup cornerback Keith Smith.