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Trying to get better in trying times


CHARLOTTE – Rookie Keith Null took over as St. Louis' starting quarterback with four games left in the 2009 season, but after the Rams made quarterback Sam Bradford the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Null no longer had the job – or a job.

Now the Panthers are entering their last four games with rookie Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, and their current record has them in position for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Null, now with Carolina, knows how quickly things can change in the NFL – a lesson Clausen has learned even quicker.

"You never know what will happen in the NFL, and it ended up happening to me," Null said. "But now I'm here. Things worked out."

Null, promoted to the Panthers' active roster last Friday, and Brian St. Pierre – elevated from the practice squad on Nov. 16 -- will back up Clausen when the Atlanta Falcons bring their 10-2 record to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

The Falcons are led quarterback Matt Ryan, who has started all but two games since being selected No. 3 overall in the 2008 NFL draft.

"He's done a great job of coming into the league and playing really well real early," Clausen said. "He's a heck of a quarterback. I love watching him play."

Ryan provides the kind of stability that every NFL team aims for at the quarterback position – something that has eluded the Panthers this season and has many wondering if the Panthers will draft a quarterback one year after they took Clausen in the second round.

"That's not really my focus. I'm not really paying attention to what's being said on the outside," Clausen said. "I'm just trying to get better each and every day, and trying to get a win on Sunday."

Clausen will start for the third consecutive week. That might not seem like a big deal, but it qualifies as a sign of stability given the way things have gone under center this season:

--For each of the first eight games, the Panthers had the same three quarterbacks in the mix, but they often mixed up the lineup. Matt Moore started the first two, Clausen started the next three and Moore started the next three, with rookie Tony Pike serving as emergency quarterback for all eight.

--Things really started getting crazy when Moore went on injured reserve with a torn labrum following Carolina's loss to New Orleans on Nov. 7. Clausen returned to the starting lineup at Tampa Bay on Nov. 14, with Pike backing him up and wide receiver Armanti Edwards serving as emergency quarterback.

--The next week versus Baltimore, with Clausen sidelined by a concussion, St. Pierre made the first start of an NFL career that dates back to 2003, doing so just nine days signing with the Panthers.

--The following week at Cleveland, Clausen returned to the starting lineup. That's where he's remained, but he's expected to have his third different backup in as many weeks: Pike two weeks ago; Null last week after Pike went on IR; and St. Pierre this week in his return from a shoulder injury.

Through it all, Clausen said he's maintained a consistent approach regardless of his role, and he's certainly not going to change now.

"It bothers us being 1-11, but we can't do anything about that -- except for these last four games," Clausen said. "I'm trying to do everything I can to get us a victory. That's all I can control, just trying to get better and get us a victory."

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