CHARLOTTE - During a season filled with losing, Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen has looked - well - lost at times.
In a similar situation in his football past, however, Clausen eventually found his way - a happy ending he hopes to replicate with the Panthers.
"I've been in this situation before," Clausen said. "The only thing I know how to do is keep grinding and getting better. You can't hold your head down."
As a highly touted freshman at Notre Dame, Clausen was the Fighting Irish's starting quarterback seven times during a historically poor 1-9 start. Clausen did, however, direct Notre Dame to a pair of victories to close the 2007 season, and the Fighting Irish went on to finish above .500 the next season.
The Panthers (1-12) are hoping for a similar finish to this season and a similar carryover as well, beginning with their final home game of 2010 on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
"No one expected us to be in this situation right now, but we are what we are, and we have three games to finish strong," Clausen said. "Guys just want to get that one win. That's what we're fighting for, to try to get that next win."
Clausen said that his late-season victories as a freshman at Notre Dame did carry over in a positive way to his second season.
"It kind of kick-started us into the next season, getting the win over Duke and then Stanford," Clausen said. "We got a better taste in our mouth from those than we had had the whole season."
Following the Panthers' last game, a 31-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Clausen said he wasn't playing to the level that he expected from himself. That's much the way he felt as a freshman at Notre Dame, but by his third and final college season, Clausen was considered a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy.
"I don't know if I was playing decently my freshman year - it was tough, just like this," Clausen said. "We weren't winning, and I wasn't playing the way I wanted to be playing.
"But when it came down to it, it was a learning process. You've just got to learn from it and keep getting better."
Because of Clausen's potential - and because there's no substitute for on-the-field experience - head coach John Fox said earlier this week that he doesn't anticipate making a change under center any time soon.
Now Clausen will go back to the task of trying to change the Panthers' football fortunes.
"It means a lot that Coach Fox and the rest of the coaching staff have confidence in me to go out and execute the game plan and help the team win," Clausen said. "This is hard on everybody, but we're fighting our tails off each and every week.
"Nobody's giving up - nobody's ever going to give up - even though we've been through a lot this season. There's no quit on this team."