TAMPA - David Carr or Jake Delhomme? The Bucs say they don't care who lines up under center for Carolina on Sunday.
The numbers suggest otherwise.
With Delhomme unable to practice this week because of a strained right elbow, Carr is expected to make his first start as a Panther at Bank of America Stadium in an early-season showdown for NFC South supremacy.
While Carr has not taken a snap against Tampa Bay in a regular-season game, Delhomme is 7-1 as a starter against the Bucs, with a 93.5 passer rating. Coach John Fox has played it coy this week about naming his starting quarterback as the 2-1 Panthers hope to extend their recent mastery against Tampa Bay.
'Obviously, they are two different players,' Bucs Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber said of Fox's dilemma. 'We know David Carr to be talented. In my mind, I think that Jake is going to play. I don't think their offense will change drastically with either guy, so we will just be ready for everything.'
Carr spent five years in Houston after being selected first overall in the 2002 draft, and he experienced predictable turmoil with an expansion team that had trouble keeping Carr upright.
He was 22-53 as a starter with the Texans while suffering 249 sacks behind a weak offensive line. Still, Carr led the NFL with a 68.3 completion percentage last year, only to see the Texans release him one day after trading for Matt Schaub.
'I wanted to be part of a winning organization,' said Carr, who signed a two-year, $6.2 million deal with the Panthers on April 10, knowing he'd likely be backing up Delhomme. 'Of all the teams I was looking at, they seemed the most solid in terms of being in playoff contention every year. It was a no-brainer for me.'
Carr, 28, has more athleticism than Delhomme, and he sparked Carolina to a touchdown and a field goal in relief last week, completing three of four passes for 56 yards in a 27-20 triumph at the Georgia Dome.
'With David Carr, you get a little bit more mobile guy, a guy who may do a little bit more bootlegs and stuff,' Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said. 'We have played Jake Delhomme a lot. He is one of those crafty, winner-type quarterbacks.'
Delhomme, off to an outstanding start after a mediocre 2006 season, has a knack for the dramatic finish against Tampa Bay, torching the Bucs for 11 scoring passes in the past six meetings.
Carolina's determination to upgrade its quarterback depth in the offseason may be about to pay immediate dividends.
'I've been on the wrong end of the stick - he's beat us on the last drive of the game I don't know how many times,' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of Delhomme. 'He's a tough son of a gun. And if he doesn't go, then Carr is going to bring a different agenda to the game. I'm sure he's eager to show everybody that he is the No. 1 pick in the draft a few years ago and a guy who can lead a franchise.'
If Carr gets the call Sunday, he is planning to bring a full playbook.
'I hope not,' he said when asked if he expects new coordinator Jeff Davidson to scale back the attack. 'I've been here since minicamp, and I feel I have a good understanding of the offense. This has been one of the best times of my life as far as my football career. The Texans did what they thought they had to do and we've gone our separate ways. We're all going to be all right in the end.'