The Vikings changed starting quarterbacks this week, but did they pick the right man for the job?

"Have they seen my passer rating against Carolina?" kicker Ryan Longwell joked.

Longwell's only pass in 12 NFL seasons came on Sept. 17, 2006, vs. Carolina at the Metrodome. Trailing 13-6 in the fourth quarter, the Vikings called a fake field goal. Longwell threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Richard Owens.

"I'm at 158.3," Longwell said of his passer rating. "Does it get any better than that?"

Longwell also kicked three field goals that day, including the game-winner in OT.

Unfortunately for Panthers coach John Fox, the game wasn't remembered for Longwell's kicking or passing. It's remembered for one of the worst coaching decisions of Fox's career.

Leading the Vikings by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Fox called for a trick play on a punt return. The lateral attempt was fumbled. The Vikings recovered and quickly tied the score on Longwell's touchdown pass.

The Panthers finished 8-8. Had they beaten the Vikings, they would have made the playoffs. Their first trip back to the Metrodome is today.

Speaking of Fox That being said, Fox is one of those guys who seems to end up on more coaching "hot seats" than he probably deserves (see: Star Tribune; Sept. 4).

Maybe that's his punishment for the inconsistency of reaching the Super Bowl in 2003, going 7-9 in 2004, reaching the NFC Championship Game in 2005 and going 8-8 in 2006. He went 7-9 last year but also had to use four different starting quarterbacks.

Whatever it is, Fox understands the nature of the business.

"We're all on the hot seat every week," he said. "It's no mystery to me."

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said he has heard the rumors that Fox is coaching to save his job.

"You do hear a lot of things, but that's the NFL," he said. "We went 8-8 in 2006 and 7-9 in 2007. So if you don't win in this league, you are looking to be replaced, plain and simple. I'm included too. I don't think it takes rocket science to realize."

So far, so good. The Panthers are one of only five undefeated NFC teams.

Lloyd's big leg returns After bouncing on an off the rosters in Baltimore and Green Bay for most of last season, former Gophers kicker Rhys Lloyd seems to have found a more stable home in Carolina as one of the NFL's few kickoff specialists.

"[Keeping a kickoff specialist] comes at a cost, especially on game day when you're only allowed 45 or 46 players," Fox said. "But so far he's been real good in that department and been worth the cost to keep him up."

Lloyd signed with Carolina for its season finale last year. In just that one game, he had three of the Panthers' five touchbacks in 2007.

This year, all 11 of Lloyd's kickoffs have reached the end zone. Three have been touchbacks. And last week against Chicago, his kickoffs helped the Panthers hold Devin Hester, the best return man in football, to a 21.7-yard average.

"I'm enjoying playing for Carolina," Lloyd said. "And I'm looking forward to the Metrodome. You take all the elements out in a dome. You just step up and kick it."

Lloyd still practices place-kicks and is learning from one of the best in 18-year veteran John Kasay.

"When you get advice from a guy like that, you tend to listen," Lloyd said. "He came into the league in 1991. I was 9 years old, still in England playing soccer, in 1991."

Stat of the week In the past 15 years, 78 teams have started 0-3. Only two of them -- Buffalo in 1998 and Detroit in 1995 -- made the playoffs. Meanwhile, 68 of those teams went on to losing seasons.

Mark Craig •