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Fox won't commit to QB Clausen as Panthers' offense sputters

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jimmy Clausen's job might not be secure, but Jeff Davidson's is.

One day after a new low point in the Carolina Panthers' miserable, winless season, embattled coach John Fox said Monday that it's "too early to say" if Clausen, a rookie, will remain the starting quarterback. But Fox rejected talk of making changes to his staff, including coordinator Davidson, to try to jump-start the NFL's worst offense.

"No," Fox said. "I think we just have to play better."

An offense that just can't seem to hit bottom managed eight first downs and 147 yards in Sunday's 23-6 loss to the Chicago Bears, and Clausen was benched. The performance in front of booing home fans dropped the Panthers into last place among the NFL's 32 teams in total offense.

Carolina (0-5) enters its bye week with five touchdowns, 16 turnovers and 52 points, good for a league-worst average of 10.4 points per game.

"I think at this stage we've got nowhere to go but up," Fox said.

But there appear to be few ways for the NFL's youngest team to improve in what has become a lost season. With top receiver Steve Smith still in a protective boot with a high ankle sprain, the Panthers on Sunday became the first team since the 1999 Cleveland Browns to start a rookie at both receiver spots and quarterback.

And although Clausen was brutal -- 9-of-22 passing for 61 yards with an interception and three fumbles -- veteran Matt Moore wasn't any better when he replaced the rookie late in the fourth quarter.

Moore, benched for Clausen after Week 2, threw 10 passes. Five went to his teammates and two to the Bears. Clausen has a 52.2 passer rating this season and Moore a 33.3. It leaves Fox, in the final year of his contract, with an unpleasant decision before the Panthers face the San Francisco 49ers (0-5) on Oct. 24.

"I think it's too early to say (who will be the starting quarterback)," Fox said. "We'll evaluate that as we move forward this week."

Maybe the Panthers could use more of the Wildcat formation with receiver Armanti Edwards. The converted college quarterback, from NCAA Football Championship Subdivision power Appalachian State, was on Carolina's active roster for the first time Sunday and ran two plays from direct snaps with little success.

"We're looking at all means to move up from 32," Fox said.

Fox tried to lighten the mood Monday. As he climbed the podium for his news conference, he pointed to two towels on the table and asked if they were crying towels. But after management gutted the roster during the offseason, lowered payroll and failed to extend his contract, Fox has little to work with in a lame-duck year.

The Panthers have fallen behind by so much so early -- they've been outscored 38-6 in the first quarter -- Davidson has had to abandon the run game early. Jonathan Stewart has just 36 carries for 119 yards after running for more than 1,100 yards last season. DeAngelo Williams, who also rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season, has 317 yards.

It has forced Clausen to go to the air with an inexperienced and mistake-prone receiving corps. And although the Panthers on Monday claimed wide receiver Devin Thomas off waivers from the Washington Redskins, there's still plenty of problems and little depth.

Clausen has had trouble handling snaps and handoffs cleanly, and the offensive line has been shaky. Clausen was sacked five times Sunday.

It has been a rough NFL debut for the second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame. Questions are beginning to be raised about the long-term damage that a miserable rookie season could have on Clausen's confidence and whether it might be time for him to sit again.

"I think anytime you don't have success, it can thwart your development, no matter what position," Fox said. "I think it's no mystery that quarterback is one of the hardest positions to play. I think receiver is right up there with it. ... But nobody comes rescue you. You've just got to get better."

Carolina's offensive woes have overshadowed a decent defensive effort this season. The Panthers set a team record Sunday by allowing just 29 net passing yards. Safety Charles Godfrey leads the NFL with four interceptions.

But it's hard to win when you've failed to reach double digits in all three home games and have scored two points all season in the fourth quarter.

"The defense is doing a great job of getting turnovers and getting us the ball back," Clausen said. "I think the biggest thing is we have to keep going to work and grinding this thing out."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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