In three preseason games, the Panthers have managed two touchdowns; one on a fumble recovery and one on a kickoff return.
Defense and special teams, one apiece. Offense, zero.
"Basically we're just going out there to give the defense a rest," said starting quarterback Matt Moore, whose 0/1 touchdown/interception ratio has marred a preseason in which he's completed nearly 50% of his passes. "Those guys have complained that we're still not giving them enough of a breather, but the coaches have made it clear that a three-and-out is the goal on most of our possessions."
Wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart, who led the Panthers in touchdowns through the air and on the ground last season, respectively, have been held out of all three preseason games. While other teams around the league have been known to hold out their star players to avoid injury, the Panthers are doing so because their knack for finding the end zone totally screws up the game plan.
"Initially, it was a little bit weird trying to avoid the end zone at all costs," Smith said in post-practice interviews last week. "But you know, I really think we'll be glad we did this when the lockout happens."
Both Smith and Stewart have been commended by coaches this past week for starting to buy into the "No Pressure, No Points" offense in the most recent days of practice. However, when each of them scored during Friday's scrimmage, the decision was made to hold them out for Saturday night's game against the Tennessee Titans.
Head coach John Fox, who has been on the hot seat for nearly half of his nine seasons with the Panthers, has often been criticized by fans for being too conservative on offense despite his ability to manage a swell defense. This season, however, fans will have little room to complain when he again calls a halfback draw on third-and-nine.
It's part of the plan, part of preparing for the lockout.
"By the time the expected lockout is over, our offensive players will have had nearly two years off of intense competition," said Fox after 15-7 victory over the Titans. "That rest will be invaluable when it comes time to play again," Fox said, before adding that the defense will be instructed to stop playing after the November 28th visit to the Cleveland Browns.
Coaches were contemplating letting the defense mail it in a few weeks earlier, but seeing as how the Browns' new quarterback is former Panther Jake Delhomme, they decided to let their final game be the one against the man who invented and perfected the no-scoring offense in Carolina.
"Seeing as how Jake has taken his end-zone wary offense to Cleveland, we wanted to help him out by actually playing defense against him," said corner back Chris Gamble. "It's just better not be too cold up there," he added, insinuating that even the defense may take that game off, weather permitting.
The Panthers came perilously close to scoring a touchdown in their match up versus the Titans when corner back Brian Witherspoon intercepted a Kerry Collins pass and returned it to the Titans' 23 yard line. The offensive line, however, ensured that a touchdown would not happen.
Three false starts on three consecutive (attempted) snaps forced the Panthers out of legitimate touchdown range. Enter John Kasay. Three points.
The odd offensive strategy is not entirely an effort to lose games, considering the strength of the Panthers' defense has kept them close in their preseason games. And with John Kasay and his bionic leg still kicking field goals, expect the Panthers to win a couple close games.
Three points at a time.
Author's note: Offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson was unavailable to comment on the strategy, as Panthers' brass have locked him in a closet deep in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium to keep him from trying to save his job.