CHARLOTTE - Carolina Panthers quarterback Matt Moore is still learning on the job, so it's only natural he's still learning to trust his instincts.
Moore, who's likely to start Sunday against the New England Patriots with Jake Delhomme missing his second straight game with a broken finger, isn't a guy who lacks for confidence. That's why he's been kicking himself over a conservative play call he made during this past weekend's 16-6 win over Tampa Bay.
It came in the fourth quarter, three plays after Moore completed 66-yard pass to Steve Smith setting up first down at the Tampa Bay 13. After two runs by Jonathan Stewart left the Panthers with a third and 4, Moore approached the line with a run-pass option. He elected to handoff to Stewart again instead of throwing a fade route to Smith or Muhsin Muhammad, both of whom had man-to-man coverage on the outside. Stewart's run picked up just 2 yards, drawing disappointed grumbles from the home crowd and forcing the Panthers to settle for a short field goal.
Although that made it a two-possession game at 16-6 with 7:20 remaining, Moore was upset with himself for not being more aggressive.
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"As soon as I didn't make that call (to throw), I was walking off the field like 'You've got to trust yourself and go with it and make a big play,' " said Moore.
As he reached the sidelines quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer pointed out to Moore that the Tampa Bay defense was vulnerable to the pass given how they had lined up.
"I walked over there and he was looking at me, (like) 'What's going on? That's the look we wanted,'" said Moore. "I was like, 'I know, I just couldn't pull the trigger.' His biggest thing was I needed to trust myself, and he was absolutely right."
Moore added, with a laugh, "It was just me being weak, I guess."
The Panthers could get away with it against the offensively challenged Buccaneers, but it might be a different story when they head Foxborough, Mass., to face the New England Patriots this week, a team that is averaging more than 32 points per game at home this season.
"I didn't take a chance there and I wish I would have," said Moore, who finished 14 of 20 for 161 yards with one interception while improving his career record as a starter to 3-1. "I wanted the guaranteed points. I figured we're in field goal range, we're going to put three points up, go up by two scores... But that's a decision I wish I would have made differently."
Of course, there might have been some outside influences at work, too.
Prior to last week Moore had spent the season watching Delhomme throw 18 interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Earlier in the game, Moore had thrown an ill-advised pass to the left side of the field which was picked off.
And, across the field, Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman was in the midst of a wretched five-interception game, including three picks in the red zone.
Regardless, Moore said next time around he'll be more aggressive and trust his arm.
"I think you've just got to go with it," said Moore. "Trust what you see and go with it. Make the call and move on."
"I think it's a live-and-learn kind of deal," said receiver Muhsin Muhammad. "At that point in the game it wasn't a bad decision to run the ball because you can possibly get a score on the run and field goal gives you three guaranteed points and at that point it puts them two scores behind. Quarterbacks typically want to throw the ball when they get a chance. He just decided not to. As he matures in the offense he'll get better at reading the defense."
Notes. Along with Delhomme, defensive end Tyler Brayton (concussion) and linebacker Na'il Diggs (ribs) sat out practice. Meanwhile, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (knee) and running back Jonathan Stewart (Achilles) returned to practiced after getting a day off on Wednesday.