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Panthers turn to Goings with Foster, Davis out

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- DeShaun Foster pushed the passenger side
door open and gently eased himself out of the car, carefully
balancing his weight to keep pressure off his broken right leg.

A guard offered to get him a golf cart, but Foster refused and
stoically proceeded on crutches toward the player's entrance at
Bank of America Stadium.

"I'm doing OK," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"I'll be OK."

Foster will indeed eventually be OK.

But Monday, Carolina's featured running back was still dealing
with the emotions of yet another season-ending injury.

Foster broke his fibula when he was tackled in the third quarter
of Sunday's NFC divisional playoff win over Chicago. He'll need
surgery to repair it, but will hold off on the procedure so he can
accompany the team to Seattle and play cheerleader during the NFC championship game.

"He's obviously down," coach John Fox said. "He worked very
hard to get himself and ourselves to this position, and I think
like most guys he's disappointed. He's a strong kid and he seems to
be in a little better spirits today."

The injury comes at the most inopportune time for Foster and the
Panthers.

Foster had finally gotten the starring role he has long coveted,
inheriting the job Dec. 17 when the Panthers placed three-time Pro
Bowler Stephen Davis on injured reserve with a lingering knee
problem.

Although he didn't rush right out of the gate, Foster hit his
stride with a combined 316 yards rushing in the regular-season
finale and a wild card win over the New York Giants.

He was chipping away at the Bears' defense Sunday, running for
54 yards on 16 carries before his right leg was twisted when
linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer dragged him down from the side and
landed on him.

"The leg got caught up underneath me," Foster said. "I heard
it pop, so I knew right away [it was broken]."

It's the third season-ending injury in Foster's four-year
career: He blew out his knee in a preseason game his rookie year,
was healthy as Davis' understudy during Carolina's Super Bowl run
two seasons ago, then missed 12 games in 2004 with a broken
collarbone.

But this latest injury could be the costliest for Foster, who is
in the final year of his contract with Carolina.

He chose not to negotiate with the Panthers until the season
ended, and his recent play helped position him for a fat payday
either in Carolina or elsewhere. But injury upon injury has created
questions about his durability, and this latest setback won't help.

Nor will it help the Panthers, who need a strong runner if
they've got any chance to make it back to the Super Bowl for the
second time in three seasons.

The job will go to Nick Goings, who admirably filled in last
year when Carolina lost five running backs to injuries. Elevated
from sixth on the depth chart to starter, Goings settled in with
five 100-yard rushing games and finished the year with 821 yards
and six touchdowns.

"He's no stranger to us and he's no stranger to our
opponents," Fox said. "He's a guy who played a lot for us a year
ago. He's a guy who has respect and confidence from his team, his
teammates and me. He's a guy we feel comfortable with."

Goings' production naturally dropped off this season when Davis
and Foster returned, and Goings finished the regular season with 37
carries for 133 yards.

But with Fox intent on establishing the run during the playoffs,
he found a way to get Goings more involved in the offense. Goings
had 63 yards on 12 carries against the Giants, and added another 34
yards on 10 carries in Chicago. He also had a catch for 18 yards.

Still, Goings isn't exactly a featured back and there's no doubt
the Panthers would be much more comfortable using him to complement
a bigger, bruising runner.

Only it's too late to bring Davis back, and there's no telling
if his surgically repaired knee is any healthier after five weeks
of rest. Fox, in a rare moment of candor, indicated placing him on
injured reserve back in December might not have been the best thing
for the Panthers.

"I'd like to have that option now, unfortunately hindsight is
20-20 and we had no idea what was going to transpire," Fox said.
"It was a hard thing to do then and it is what it is. I wish he
was still available, but he's not."