CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – After three years of pacing the sidelines, watching and waiting for his next chance, Chris Weinke was ready when his time finally came.

Weinke began warming up the second he saw Jake Delhomme crumble to the ground, then went into the game and led the Carolina Panthers to a comeback victory.

“Chris has been around here a long time and one of the pluses of having a veteran backup is they’ve been there before,” coach John Fox said Monday. “He’s been with us, he’s been with the team, he’s been in the system and I think he executed it very well.”

Weinke got into his first game since Dec. 29, 2002, when Delhomme was knocked unconscious late in Sunday’s game at Detroit. Lions safety Kenoy Kennedy hit Delhomme as he slid to end a run and Weinke knew right then he was going in.

By the time Fox turned around to tell Weinke to get ready, Weinke was already throwing the ball on the sidelines.

“I didn’t have time to think about it,” Weinke said. “I had been standing around all day. I just had to get as loose as I could.

“I was excited. You never want to see someone go down but I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for three years to get out on the field.”

The circumstances weren’t ideal: Carolina trailed 20-14 with 2:56 left and didn’t have any timeouts. Weinke threw a quick 6-yard pass to Rod Gardner to get rolling.

He then moved the Panthers’ offense with crisp efficiency, throwing four completions that included a 41-yarder to Ricky Proehl followed by a 3-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds to play.

When it was over, Weinke was 5-for-7 for 47 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

“This is what dreams are made of,” said Weinke, who wasn’t sure when he last led a fourth-quarter comeback. “It has been too long.”

Weinke, the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, has had a long and difficult career.

The Panthers chose him in the fourth-round of the 2001 draft and then-coach George Seifert made the Florida State star his starter. He wasn’t ready and the Panthers weren’t very good that year, resulting in a 1-15 season that cost Seifert his job.

Fox was hired months later and wasn’t sold on Weinke, benching him one week before the season-opener for Rodney Peete. Since then, Weinke has attempted only 38 passes and had slipped to third on Carolina’s depth chart behind Delhomme and Peete.

But when Peete retired last winter, Fox didn’t pursue another quarterback and made Weinke the backup. He had a decent preseason and has done his best to remain confident.

“You have to keep a positive mind-set,” he said. “I’ve had to continue to tell myself that I’ve got confidence and I can play in this league. It’s hard to sit back and say when that opportunity will come up.

“But every day I go out there to practice and say I never know when that opportunity will come up, so be ready.”

Meanwhile, Fox will say only that Delhomme was shaken up on the play that forced him from the game. He’ll get an extra week to rest when the Panthers have their bye this weekend and will resume as the starter when he returns, Fox said.

“There is not a quarterback controversy,” Fox said.

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