Carr determined to seize make-or-break opportunity with Giants

A poor fit in Carolina, David Carr had a 58.3 quarterback rating for the Panthers in 2007. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

He came in wearing a white glove on his passing hand and holding a glittering résumé. By December, the same fans who were overjoyed when the Carolina Panthers signed David Carr the previous spring were booing the quarterback right out of Bank of America Stadium.

Things got so bad that Panthers coach John Fox, who doesn't admit much of anything, admitted he was afraid to expose Carr to the home fans. With Carolina's season on the line, Fox no longer felt he could turn to the guy who had been brought in for this very purpose. Instead, he stuck with 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde until he fossilized and then handed the keys to undrafted rookie Matt Moore.

Carr's time in Carolina was over two months before the Panthers got around to officially cutting him. This is becoming an ugly trend for a guy who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft by the expansion Houston Texans.

The Panthers and Texans have given up on a quarterback who was supposed to be a can't-miss prospect. But Carr has missed receivers and opportunities at both stops. He knows the one-year deal he signed with the New York Giants on Wednesday -- a contract that's worth $1 million but could increase if incentives for playing time are met -- could be his final chance.

"This is very serious now,'' Carr told ESPN.com, shortly after signing with New York. "The last two years, I've let it kind of slip.''

The role won't come with nearly as much pressure as when Carr was asked to be the face of the Texans. But backing up New York's Eli Manning is essentially the same role for which Carr signed with Carolina last year. It seemed like a good idea, from every angle, at the time.
The Panthers wanted a backup with some experience in case anything happened to Jake Delhomme.

Carr had the experience as well as good size, arm strength and mobility. He wanted a fresh start, and although there were teams out there looking for a starter, Carr chose Carolina. After meeting with his advisers, Carr decided the best way to resurrect his career was to go to a good team as a backup for a year or two and let things sort out.

The fans in Carolina, who take anything involving the Panthers to extremes (mainly because they're the only real show in town), rejoiced when he joined the team. They assumed that Carr would beat out Delhomme before long. When he unveiled the white glove and made some nice throws in the preseason, the fans were ready for a full-blown quarterback controversy.

The coaches and management weren't quite as giddy because they were firmly committed to Delhomme. Still, they were convinced they had a solid backup for the first time since Steve Beuerlein was backing up Kerry Collins in the 1990s. But something went terribly wrong. Delhomme's elbow fell apart in Week 3. If Carr had 10 or 12 games to sit peacefully, he might have been able to succeed. But the shell shock of playing behind awful offensive lines in Houston was still with him.

Carr tried to play through some injuries and his teammates respected his toughness. But there were other currents running through the locker room that eventually spilled out into the stadium stands. First and foremost, Carr couldn't move the offense. Then, his trademark California cool --wearing the glove, dropping the word "dude'' often in conversation and that shoulder-length hair -- started rubbing people in the locker room and in NASCAR land the wrong way.

Teammates wouldn't rip Carr, but more than a few eyes rolled (especially from the defensive players) when asked about the Panthers' offensive woes. Fans began chanting Moore's name. The coaching staff and front office scratched their heads because they were so sure Carr was for real after his strong preseason. But nobody had the answer for what went wrong.

In hindsight, the 28-year-old Carr says he has it now: The California cool has to go.

"That's something guys from California have to work against,'' Carr said. "Sometimes, we make things look too easy. I thought I had the right attitude in Houston and Carolina, but I realize now that I didn't. I worked hard, but I didn't prepare myself well enough to give my teammates true confidence in me.''

This time, Carr insists, will be different, and he knows if it's not, his career could be done. Currently, Carr's in California taking care of some personal stuff. But he'll be heading to New York to join offseason workouts soon. He's going to leave the cool at home.

"I always worked hard and studied film and all that stuff,'' Carr said. "But I didn't really let people know that I was doing that. I've realized you've got to show that to get respect and confidence. I'm going to go in with the attitude that I'm going to work harder than I ever have before and leave no stone unturned.''

This won't be the first time Carr has been one of two former first overall picks on a roster. Last year, he and Testaverde shared that distinction. But the current states of the careers of Manning and Carr couldn't be any more different. Manning is coming off a Super Bowl victory and his stock is at an all-time high. Carr is just trying to show he belongs in the NFL.

The major reason Carr signed with the Giants was the presence of quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer. When Carr was in Houston, Palmer was his quarterbacks coach. The two always had a good relationship, but Carr admitted he might not always have given Palmer his best.

The folks in Carolina might not want to hear this and probably won't believe it, but Carr said last season was not a total waste. Especially the season's final month, during which the only time Carr put his helmet on was to protect himself from getting objects thrown at him by fans.

"The last month of last season was actually the best of my career,'' Carr said. "Just watching Vinny Testaverde, he showed me what it really means to be a true professional. He showed me it's about more than being a great athlete. It's about preparing yourself and carrying yourself the right way. Those were the things Chris always was telling me in Houston, but I wasn't always listening. This time, I'm going to listen.''

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.