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NFC playoff notebook

wire services
Published January 16, 2004

EAGLES: Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is betting famous sandwiches on the Eagles, while North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has bet a barbecue dinner.

Easley has offered a pound of barbecue and sauce, a pint of slaw and hush puppies from Wilber's Barbecue of Goldsboro and the Barbecue Center Inc. of Lexington. Rendell is putting up cheese-steaks from Pat's King of Steaks in Philadelphia and Primanti Brothers sandwiches from Pittsburgh.

"If the Carolina Panthers keep playing at the same level they have in the past two weeks, I will be gaining a lot of weight," Easley said. "I have been told that a genuine cheesesteak from Philly is the best, and I plan on putting that theory to the taste test."

PANTHERS: Leading rusher Stephen Davis missed his second practice in a row Thursday because of a strained left quadriceps and his status will be a game-day decision. He went to the practice field, but stayed on the sideline then got almost two hours of treatment.

"This is very frustrating - I've never been in this position before, in the NFC championship with a chance to go to the Super Bowl," Davis said. "The team has won before without me, but I want to be part of it."

Playing without Davis, who ran for a career-best 1,444 yards this season, would seem like a grim prospect. He's carried the Panthers and was successful against the Eagles (115 yards rushing on 23 carries) in Philadelphia's 25-16 victory in November.

But the Panthers are confident in DeShaun Foster, a second-year running back who spent the season as Davis' understudy.

"When we drafted DeShaun, we drafted him to be a feature back," coach John Fox said. "I think he has tremendous abilities, as good as any back in the league. If for some reason Stephen can't go, and Lord willing he can, we feel totally comfortable with DeShaun Foster as our back."

The Panthers have had little dropoff when using Foster.

Davis was knocked out of the second half of a win over Indianapolis, and Foster ran for 85 yards on 16 carries. When Davis injured his quads in the second quarter of last weekend's playoff win over St. Louis, Foster had a career-high 95 yards.

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