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QB sparks Panthers in strongest showing of the season

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — They lost Jake Delhomme in Week 3. David Carr got hurt, then was so ineffective he was benched. Vinny Testaverde was OK, until his 44-year-old body broke down.
Apparently, quarterback No. 4 is the charm for the Carolina Panthers.
Smiling and full of energy in his first NFL start — perhaps because he didn’t know any better — undrafted rookie Matt Moore’s enthusiasm rubbed off on his teammates on Sunday in Carolina’s shocking win over Seattle.
With his youthful exuberance, Moore changed the attitude of a team that had lost six of seven games and had left coach John Fox’s future employment uncertain.
Moore wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t turn it over and finally moved the ball enough in the fourth quarter to make a dominating defensive performance stand up in the Panthers’ 13-10 win over the NFC West champions.
While the game was scoreless until early in the fourth quarter, the 23-year-old Moore avoided the big mistake. He also helped the Panthers (6-8) convert nine of 18 third downs that led to a 10-minute edge in time of possession.
In blustery conditions, Moore completed 19 of 27 passes for 208 yards, wasn’t sacked and didn’t throw an interception. Perhaps the lasting image was the wide smile he flashed after completing a pass to Steve Smith early in the fourth-quarter field-goal drive that put the Panthers ahead to stay.
That’s for sure. Carolina fans had witnessed some horrific quarterback play.
With a 1-5 home record coming into the game, the Panthers had scored seven points or less in three of their five home games since Delhomme was lost to a season-ending elbow injury.
Things had turned ugly, with home losses of 20-7, 31-7 and 31-6. Carolina even lost at home to lowly Atlanta, 20-13.
Fans booed the tentative Carr off the field. Testaverde had trouble moving and finding receivers. There were whispers the Panthers had quit after their 37-6 loss at Jacksonville a week earlier.
Then enter Moore, thrown into the starting role with Testaverde’s creaky body giving out. A rookie who lost his starting job at UCLA — who had a 21.1 passer rating in six brief appearances — forced to face a team on a five-game winning streak.
Coming six days after Fox had openly questioned whether it would be wise to throw him out there, Moore had to be nervous, right?
Moore’s 54-yard pass to the fellow rookie on Carolina’s second series made it evident the Panthers were ready to compete.
Yes, Moore had trouble calling a play once in the huddle and had a shotgun snap bounce off his helmet, but you wouldn’t have known he was playing the team that was second in the league in sacks (41) and interceptions (20).
Behind an offensive line that gave him time, Moore made the right decisions — and quickly earned the respect of his teammates.
Moore earned another start Saturday night against another division champ, Dallas. Moore went through training camp with the Cowboys, learning from another undrafted rookie that’s done pretty well for himself, Tony Romo.
Moore was one of the Cowboys’ last cuts. The Panthers signed him the next day, never thinking he’d be their best option late in the season.
Moore will get a chance to show if he’s a one-hit wonder or perhaps starting on the path Romo took.
Regardless, he helped change the landscape around what had been a sinking season. There was rare whooping and hollering heard in the home locker room Sunday afternoon.
Another strong performance could save some jobs, too.
Notes: Facing a short week with a Saturday game, the Panthers will practice on Tuesday, normally a day off. … The Panthers provided no update on DE Julius Peppers, who was sidelined for some of the second half with a sprained knee.