|Surprise starts leave Packers, Panthers scratching their heads|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 15 November 2007 13:25|
The guy wearing No. 4 is as surprised as you are.
``There's not a time, at least once during the course of a day, where I don't go, 'I can't believe we're 8-1,''' Brett Favre said.
Of course, Favre also couldn't believe it when the Packers went 4-12 two years ago. And it's beginning to look like one of those head-scratching lost seasons for the Packers' opponent at Lambeau Field on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers (4-5) were considered playoff contenders coming into the season, but lost starting quarterback Jake Delhomme for the year and now have scored a total of two offensive touchdowns in their last three games, all losses.
But Packers coach Mike McCarthy isn't about to let his players reflect on their unexpected success or start looking ahead to road games against fellow resurgent NFC North rival Detroit and fellow conference heavyweight Dallas in the next two weeks.
``We're beyond 8-1 right now,'' McCarthy said. ``We're about the Carolina Panthers. We need to manage what's going on around us. That's our focus. In my opinion, this is a very good football team coming in here. They've had success in the past. They have veteran players. They have veteran Pro Bowl players. Schematically, they challenge you. We need to get ready to play Carolina Sunday.''
Even if they don't know which quarterback to prepare for.
The Panthers could start Vinny Testaverde, who signed with the team last month and turned 44 on Tuesday - potentially making Sunday's showdown a game for the aged, with Testaverde and the 38-year-old Favre forming the oldest starting quarterback combination in NFL history.
But the Panthers also could go with David Carr, who was cleared to practice this week after sustaining his second concussion of the season against Tennessee on Nov. 4.
Either way, the Panthers need to start getting the ball to wide receiver Steve Smith and revive their running game, although Smith missed some practices this week with a shin problem.
``We've gone through a few quarterbacks here in the last few weeks, kind of a revolving door so to speak, but guys are starting to settle in,'' Testaverde said. ``Like I said, we have to win this game because time is running out. Now would be a great time to go up there and get a big win up there against a really good football team.''
Favre isn't sure he wants to play into his mid-40s, but is impressed that Testaverde is doing it.
``A guy like Vinny, maybe at different points in his career he got injured and felt like there was a lot left for him to give,'' Favre said. ``I think everywhere he's gone he's had success - memorable games, memorable seasons. Physically, he still looks great, so why not?''
On defense, the Panthers will try to slow down Favre despite a defensive line that isn't playing up to expectations and the possible absence of safety Deke Cooper (shoulder).
If Cooper can't play, one potential replacement is Marquand Manuel, who was cut by the Packers before the season after losing his starting job to a more athletic player, Atari Bigby, in training camp.
Panthers coach John Fox said the Packers' offense is ``well thought-out'' and tough to stop.
``Part of that and the West Coast philosophy is doing it with different personnel groups and playing it very fast, keeping you off-balance,'' Fox said. ``They're doing that at a high level.''
But Favre remains concerned about a letdown.
``Every game we've played has been extremely close,'' Favre said. ``It's come down to a play or two here or there, except for last week (a 34-0 win over Minnesota). I don't assume that will change. From here on out, we have to play our best football and we have to approach every game that way.''
Packers defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins certainly won't be looking past the Panthers - it's a showdown for family bragging rights with his older brother Kris - but he doesn't expect his teammates to approach the game any differently.
``Carolina's a good football team,'' Jenkins said. ``They've just had some unfortunate things, some injuries, especially at the quarterback position. They're real close to having a lot better record.''
Cullen Jenkins, a far less heralded prospect than Kris coming out of college, has played his way into a starting spot and offseason contract extension from the Packers.
``He's still got the Pro Bowl thing he always holds over my head,'' Cullen Jenkins said. ``But besides that, we'll talk a little trash about it later in the week.''
Kris Jenkins said the sibling rivalry will be fun.
``I don't want to lose to my brother and I know he doesn't want to lose to me,'' Kris Jenkins said. ``It's going to be intense, but at the same time I want to see him do good. I mean that's my little brother and I'm always going to be big brother. Sometimes it's hard because I don't want them to win, but at the same time I want him do good and I want to see him play good.''
So who will the rest of the family be rooting for?
``The defense,'' Cullen Jenkins said.
AP Sports Writer Mike Cranston contributed to this report from Charlotte.