CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers haven't pointed fingers in the locker room during their difficult season, but beyond closed doors, fans often pin the blame on the quarterback.
So you can't blame Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen if he took a measure of personal satisfaction in Sunday's victory over the Arizona Cardinals – his first as a starter in eight attempts.
"Like Coach Fox has said many weeks, 'It's not all one person.' But being the quarterback, you take it more personally than the other guys," Clausen said following the Panthers' 19-12 victory at Bank of America Stadium. "I just give thanks to all of those guys. I respect them highly.
"It's great going out to practice each and every day with those guys and just working toward one common goal, and that's winning."
Clausen didn't do anything spectacular Sunday, but he didn't do much wrong, either. Clausen had thrown an interception in five of his seven starts and hadn't thrown a touchdown pass since Week 4, but Sunday he didn't throw an interception and connected with tight end Jeff King for a 16-yard touchdown.
"We've been working on that for a long time," Clausen said of the touchdown. "Coach (Jeff) Davidson (the Panthers' offensive coordinator) made a great call, and King made a great catch to get into the end zone."
Clausen struggled mightily just a week ago against the Atlanta Falcons, but Sunday he made good decisions and pushed the ball downfield to seven different receivers.
Rookie wide receivers David Gettis and Brandon LaFell and second-year running back Mike Goodson each had a catch that covered at least 17 yards.
All told, Clausen completed 13 of 19 passes for 141 yards. It all added up to a quarterback rating of 107.6 - easily his best of the season.
"He's getting better," head coach John Fox said. "He's young. He's smart. He's got ability like all young players, whether you talk about David Gettis, Brandon LaFell, Mike Goodson.
"I thought Jimmy was better this week than he was last week, and he'll need to be the same next week."
Clausen and the Panthers will face an angry Steelers team Thursday night in Pittsburgh. If nothing else, you can bet Clausen will cram every bit of preparation out of what little prep time he has.
"The only thing that I know how to do is just keep working," Clausen said. "When you lose, you look back on the week and say, 'What could I have done better?'
"All of the hard work - coming in early, staying late and watching tape - has paid off. I think it showed today. Now we just have to keep that mentality for the last two games of the season and into next season."