CHARLOTTE – Leading up to Sunday's home opener, Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen declared himself ready for action if starter Matt Moore couldn't go after suffering a concussion.
Clausen did get his opportunity, but not because of health concerns.
The Panthers turned to Clausen in response to Moore's continued early-season struggles, leaving the quarterback situation up in the air following a 20-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that dropped the Panthers to 0-2.
"I can't make that decision at this point," head coach John Fox said when asked who would start under center against the Cincinnati Bengals. "Matt has not been benched by any stretch. We'll go with whomever gives us the best chance to win next week, and that will take some time (to figure out)."
Moore, who threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a season-opening loss at the New York Giants, had another interception and a lost fumble in three-plus quarters against the Bucs. He did have a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Smith – the second straight week they've hooked up – but minus that play, Moore completed 5-of-15 passes for 88 yards.
"I respect their decisions, but individually I think anybody would be a little disappointed," Moore said. "I'm not one to go against the grain, to argue or complain. I understand and respect the decision.
"I wish it never came to that, but that's the way it is."
Moore took over as Carolina's starting quarterback with five games left last season and directed the Panthers to a 4-1 mark. He entered the season with a 6-2 record as a starter, but 2010 hasn't started out nearly the way he would have hoped.
"I don't know if I can put my finger on it right now. I don't know what the biggest difference is," Moore said. "I feel that scheme-wise and everything, it's pretty much the same. We just need to keep at it and turn this thing around."
The Panthers turned to Clausen for a spark. He directed the offense to a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line on a drive highlighted by a 19-yard completion to Smith on fourth down near midfield, but the Panthers couldn't punch it in.
Clausen's next drive ended with an interception. He went 7-for-13 for 59 yards.
"I thought I did all right," Clausen said. "There were some throws that I could have made better, located the ball a little better.
"A loss is a loss. We've got to get to work tomorrow and start getting ready for next week."
Several team leaders showed their support for both quarterbacks while deferring to the coaching staff when asked which one they'd like to see start next Sunday.
"I don't think it's really up to me," said Smith, who caught three passes for 66 yards. "I can't worry about what is on someone else's stove because I've got my grilled cheese burning, too."
Added running back DeAngelo Williams: "That's not my call. That's above my pay grade."
While the signal callers' teammates seem to appreciate that it's a tough call for the coaching staff, defensive leader Jon Beason tried to put himself in the shoes of the quarterbacks themselves.
"At the end of the day, he's got more pressure on him than anybody in this locker room. You've got to commend the guy that plays quarterback," Beason said. "I know Matt went out there and played hard and was trying to make plays. He'll get better, and getting Jimmy some experience maybe wasn't a bad thing."