When it gets to third down for the Panthers this season, punter Jason Baker better be ready.

Even though Carolina has won three straight games, it has converted only 11 of 59 third-down chances for an average of .186, worst in the NFL. The Panthers found a way to beat Cleveland 20-12 on Sunday despite not converting a single third-down chance in 11 tries.

“I can’t remember the last time a team had an 0-for, let alone win,” coach John Fox said Monday. “Luckily it’s a team effort and we did some good things offensively. It’s not like we played poorly. When you score 20 points you usually have a chance to win.”

As of Monday, the second-worst third-down team in the NFL was winless Oakland at 11-of-45 for 24 percent. No other team has converted less than 28 percent.

Titans

Receiver David Givens will miss a second straight game with his injured left thumb, and left guard Zach Piller likely will miss a third week with his damaged left ankle.

Givens had a pin inserted into his thumb last week, while Piller sought a second opinion for a sprained ankle. Brandon Jones replaced Givens against Indianapolis, and right tackle Jacob Bell moved over as a fill-in for Piller.

Fisher said tight end Erron Kinney also won’t play against Washington on Sunday. Kinney has not played this season and has not practiced since the opening of training camp before having surgery on his left knee.

Colts

Coach Tony Dungy said Monday he expects injured kicker Adam Vinatieri (groin) to be ready when the Colts host Washington on Oct. 22, meaning Martin Gramatica would be released to open a roster spot.

“We’ll probably keep him through this week,” Dungy said. “When he (Vinatieri) is ready to go, we’ll let Martin go. He knows that and understands that.”

Dungy also expects defensive back Bob Sanders to play against Washington. Sanders missed the last three games with a knee injury.

Falcons

Through four games, the Falcons have listed Ed Hartwell as the team’s starting middle linebacker. Through four games, Hartwell has done nothing but watch.

Two weeks ago, Hartwell insisted “This is the best I’ve felt in two years,” and yet again he was inactive for the Oct. 1 win over Arizona.

On Monday, when the Falcons (3-1) returned from their bye, Hartwell was back at practice, saying “I feel good” and waiting to see how he fits into the team’s plans for Sunday’s home game against the Giants.

The Falcons may not be eager to rush Hartwell back. Five-time Pro Bowl pick Keith Brooking has played the first four games in the middle. The young starting outside linebackers – Michael Boley and Demorrio Williams – have been so productive it may be difficult for coaches to move either to a backup role.

Lions

The Lions may have to take on Buffalo without three starting offensive linemen.

With Rex Tucker (knee) and Ross Verba (hamstring) already sidelined, Detroit lost guard Damien Woody to a sprained left foot.

early in Sunday’s 26-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Coach Rod Marinelli said Monday there was a “good possibility” that all three would be out against Buffalo.

“I believe they are probably week to week, but it may get day to day on Tucker pretty soon,” Marinelli said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Woody wasn’t ready to rule himself out of the Bills game, but he wasn’t confident.

“It’s too early to say that I’m definitely out, but it’s pretty bleak right now,” he said.

Wide receiver Roy Williams also missed most of the game with a stinger and a muscle pull in his back, and Marinelli said his status was “day to day.”

Texans

Houston signed fullback Vonta Leach on Monday in the latest effort to jump-start the stalled running game.

Leach played the past two seasons in Green Bay before being released last month and spending 11 days with the Saints. He appeared in one game for the Packers this season and never played for the Saints.

Primarily a blocking fullback, Leach appeared in every game for the Packers last season, with five starts and no carries.

Coach Gary Kubiak hopes the addition will help a running game averaging just 76 yards a game. Leach joins fellow fullback Jameel Cook in Houston.

“We’ve got to get better with Jameel and him as far as our two-back offense is concerned,” Kubiak said. “We’ve done some good things throwing the ball. We’ve got to get better running the ball to help our team out.”

The Texans have used Ron Dayne, Samkon Gado and rookie Wali Lundy at running back, but none of the players has managed even 60 yards rushing in a game.

Redskins

John Hall is hurt again, forcing the Redskins to consider auditioning kickers for next week’s game against the Titans.

Hall has two injuries in his kicking leg, a strained groin and a strained quadriceps. He complained of a tired leg late last week, and the leg became sore during Sunday’s loss to New York.

“Right now we have to list this as something that’s a real concern for us,” coach Joe Gibbs said Monday.

Gibbs turned over kickoff duties to punter Derrick Frost to save wear on Hall’s leg Sunday. Hall made a 39-yard field goal, but he hooked a 42-yarder in the third quarter when the Redskins had a fourth-and-1 at the 24-yard line.

Gibbs has stuck with Hall despite the kicker’s numerous leg problems. Hall had four different leg injuries over a three-month span in 2004, limiting him to eight games. Another leg injury caused him to miss six games last year and prompted offseason surgery.

Hall has made 9 of 11 field goal attempts this year.

Trainer Bubba Tyer said there’s a “good chance” Hall will miss at least one game.

“It’s very discouraging,” Tyer said, “for him and for all of us.”

Tyer said cornerback Shawn Springs, who has yet to play this season because of abdomen and groin injuries, will have limited work in practice Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Joe Salave’a, who has missed two games with a strained right calf, strained his left calf Sunday. Defensive end Phillip Daniels hurt his shoulder and underwent an MRI, but he is expected to play next week.

Titans

Receiver David Givens will miss a second straight game with his injured left thumb, and left guard Zach Piller likely will miss a third week with his damaged left ankle.

Givens had a pin inserted into his thumb last week, while Piller sought a second opinion for a sprained ankle. Brandon Jones replaced Givens against Indianapolis, and right tackle Jacob Bell moved over as a fill-in for Piller.

Fisher said tight end Erron Kinney also won’t play against Washington on Sunday. Kinney has not played this season and has not practiced since the opening of training camp before having surgery on his left knee.

Colts

Coach Tony Dungy said Monday he expects injured kicker Adam Vinatieri (groin) to be ready when the Colts host Washington on Oct. 22, meaning Martin Gramatica would be released to open a roster spot.

“We’ll probably keep him through this week,” Dungy said. “When he (Vinatieri) is ready to go, we’ll let Martin go. He knows that and understands that.”

Dungy also expects defensive back Bob Sanders to play against Washington. Sanders missed the last three games with a knee injury.

“Bob will pick us up from an energy standpoint,” Dungy said. “He brings a lot of enthusiasm and energy.”

Dungy would not speculate when receiver Brandon Stokley would return. Stokley left Sunday’s 14-13 win over Tennessee in the fourth quarter with a sprained knee.

AP-ES-10-09-06 1938EDT


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