CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -The Carolina Panthers broke the huddle and receiver Steve Smith lined up in the shotgun. Vinny Testaverde jogged out wide left, and when no cornerback immediately followed him, the 44-year-old quarterback-turned-receiver briefly started dreaming.
``When no one came to cover me, I thought maybe Steve might throw it to me,'' Testaverde said with a grin.
There was no way Smith would consider throwing the ball to the second-oldest starting QB in NFL history, right?
``Let's hope not,'' coach John Fox said.
Smith took the direct snap and ran the other way for five yards to the San Francisco 3. It led to John Kasay's 19-yard field goal that put the Panthers ahead to stay in a 31-14 win Sunday.
It was part of a day of razzle-dazzle for the usually conservative Fox, who opened up the playbook and, for at least a week, removed the dark cloud hovering over the franchise.
With direct snaps, reverses and hook-and-ladders, the Panthers finally got their offense in gear, snapping a five-game losing streak and winning at home for the first time in more than a year.
``A lot of times it's not just plays, it's the execution of them, whether they're real plays or what you might call wrinkles,'' Fox said Monday, trying to downplay the trickery. ``If they make yards it helps. They can be passes. They can be runs. They can be fourth down plays, third down plays. At the end of the day, you've got to make plays.''
And the Panthers (5-7) finally did. Granted it was against the 49ers (3-9), one of the worst teams in the league. But for a team that had not tasted victory at home in 377 days, it was still sweet.
``God bless their souls, our fans,'' Fox said. ``It has been a long time since they've seen us win in this stadium.''
The Panthers did it in a most unorthodox way, especially since the Panthers' biggest trick play of the season had been a pooch punt on fourth-down - that was returned for a touchdown.
The new look started when Testaverde, back as the starter after missing a game with a sore back, threw a pass to Smith, who then pitched a lateral to running back DeAngelo Williams for a 22-yard gain.
Three plays later, Smith took the direct snap, passing up a chance to throw it to Testaverde.
In the second quarter, Smith lined up as a running back, but didn't get the ball. But he did later when Testaverde found him for a 29-yard catch, the longest for Smith since his 65-yard touchdown against Arizona in Week 6, Carolina's last win before Sunday.
Four plays later, Smith ran a reverse, while faking a double-reverse, for 16 yards. It led to Testaverde's 5-yard TD pass to Dante Rosario for a 10-0 lead.
``We took some shots and ran some reverses,'' said tight end Jeff King, who caught a 1-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter to ice it. ``We got the ball to Steve Smith in some different ways. It was important to get him involved and get a flow and some first downs.''
Smith finished with eight catches for 64 yards and two rushes for 21 yards. While they weren't spectacular numbers, the Panthers finally got their star involved, and found a way to score.
The Panthers had been averaging 12.3 points per game since quarterback Jake Delhomme was lost to a season-ending elbow injury in Week 3.
Fox insisted there were few new plays on Sunday. Smith has lined up in the backfield before this season and they have run reverses in the past, but Smith had never lined up at quarterback.
``We've practiced it. We've had it,'' Fox said.
The plays opened up the offense. With the 49ers forced to prepare for anything, the Panthers got the running game going, finishing with 166 yards.
Building a big lead, it allowed the defense to feast on San Francisco quarterback Trent Dilfer, who threw four interceptions and was sacked six times.
And it left the Panthers with hope - albeit slight - of getting back into the playoff race.
``We've had our share of setbacks,'' Fox said. ``Hopefully we will be more fortunate moving forward.''
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