CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - When Carolina finished a winless preseason without scoring an offensive touchdown, coach John Fox tried to spin it as no big deal, blaming it on the Panthers working in new players and experimenting with the passing game.
Fox came clean Monday, a day after tasting victory for the first time nearly 10 months.
With Matt Moore overcoming a big gaffe to play like it was 2009 again, rookie receivers showing their potential and Carolina finally moving the ball when it counted, the Panthers (1-5) rallied to beat San Francisco 23-20 on Sunday to end their worst start in 12 years.
“Even though your offense doesn’t play every snap in our preseason, I think it just kind of snowballed,” Fox said of their dreadful August. “I think we were pressing. We felt all along that we were better than what we were performing.”
Going back to Moore after benching him for Jimmy Clausen after Week 2, the 26-year-old recovered from an interception returned for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to lead Carolina to 10 points in the final 1:53 to stun the 49ers.
To put that into perspective, the NFL’s lowest scoring team had scored two points in the fourth quarter _ total _ in five games.
“Maybe I felt pressure early on,” said Moore, who went 4-1 as a starter last season. “You can’t play like that. You have to play this game loose and aggressive. That was the kind mentality I took and I tried to keep that mentality all game.”
Save for throwing it directly into defensive tackle Ray McDonald’s gut early in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead TD, Moore looked nothing like the QB who was benched after six turnovers in two games and eight in less than nine quarters.
Moore completed 28 of 41 passes for a career-high 308 yards and two touchdowns. It ends, for now, any quarterback controversy.
And while they beat a team in disarray that lost starting quarterback Alex Smith in the third quarter, there was jubilation Sunday as the Panthers won for the first time since Jan. 3.
That gave way to some confidence Monday despite still being far out of the playoff conversation.
“It’s still too early to say we’re out of it,” linebacker James Anderson insisted.
The good news for Carolina is it’s not last in the NFL in total offense anymore, edging ahead of Arizona after scoring a season-high in points and reaching double figures for the first time in four home games.
The revamped offensive line, while struggling to open running holes, did an adequate job protecting Moore as Garry Williams got his first start at right tackle. Fox said it’s “safe to say” the same lineup will start Sunday’s game at St. Louis with Jeff Otah (knee) still sidelined.