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Panthers ready to move on after benching, illegal hit

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the losses keep piling up for the NFL-worst Carolina Panthers, so do the odd stories and puzzling mysteries.

Thursday featured cornerback Chris Gamble finally ending his silence about leaving practice last week and then being benched, more fallout from the monster fine given to safety Sherrod Martin, and an injury report so lengthy that coach John Fox couldn't read it on one breath.

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Not the best of scenarios for the Panthers to end another five-game losing streak as they prepare for Sunday's game at Seattle (5-6).

"We're 1-10, and I wish it was the other way around," Gamble said. "Things are really frustrating around here, but you've got to just keep grinding, keep moving on."

The hard-to-figure story of Gamble's missed practice and demotion finally included a first-person account Thursday, moments after he missed practice with a sore hamstring that he tweaked one day earlier. Gamble was one of 12 players to be sidelined or limited.

Gamble indicated he left the stadium before practice Nov. 24 for a personal matter, not because of any dispute with coaches or teammates.

"I just had some personal issues I was going through," Gamble said, declining to elaborate other than to say they involved his family. "I had to leave practice and I apologized to the team about it. Everything is good now."

One day earlier, teammate Everette Brown said Gamble made an "out-of-mind decision" and "was disciplined for his actions." Gamble would only say he was "frustrated" by personal issues that day.

"I felt like I let the team down for missing practice and I should have been there," he said.

Gamble, in the middle of a six-year, $53 million contract, said the incident didn't stem from him being demoted. He said he wasn't told he was being benched until Saturday, one day before Carolina's 24-23 loss at Cleveland.

"I was upset, but he's the man, and I've got to deal with that," Gamble said.

That man, Fox, appeared agitated at answering more questions about the issue Thursday.

"It was personal, and that means exactly what it is," Fox said of the missed practice. "The reason he didn't start in the game last week was purely due to football. I think I said that once before."

Gamble, the third-highest-paid player and the fourth longest-tenured on the team, believes his benching stemmed from a poor performance one week earlier when he was beaten on Ravens wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 56-yard touchdown catch.

"I kind of struggled in the Baltimore game, so I kind of figured that's where it came from," Gamble said. "I just have to keep praying and playing football like I know how to do."

Gamble's replacement, Captain Munnerlyn, returned an interception for a touchdown against the Browns. Munnerlyn participated on a limited basis in Thursday's workout because of a sore shoulder, and Fox again declined to say who will start against the Seahawks. Gamble said he was optimistic he'd be healthy enough to play.

Meanwhile, the suddenly poorer Martin avoided reporters one day after acknowledging he was fined $40,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns tight end Evan Moore.

It came as defensive end Charles Johnson avoided a fine for his roughing-the-passer penalty on former teammate Jake Delhomme.

"Thank God they didn't get me for a fine, but it's kind of crazy what happened to Sherrod," Johnson said. "I don't think it's a crazy hit at all. It's just unfortunate."

Martin was hit with such a big penalty because he's a repeat offender. It's the fourth time he has been fined for unnecessary roughness in two seasons. His hit on New York Giants tight end Kevin Boss in Week 1 was included in a video sent to teams earlier this season when the NFL announced stiffer penalties for illegal hits.

"I think they're going to continue to enforce those at a high level," Fox said.

At least Martin is healthy. The Panthers could be without two starters on the offensive line against the Seahawks after guards Travelle Wharton (toe) and Geoff Schwartz (back) missed practice for a second consecutive day.

Backup quarterbacks Brian St. Pierre and Tony Pike remain limited with sore shoulders, and four players from the secondary are banged up.

It has been that kind of season, which has forced many Panthers to take a longer, more philosophical view of things.

"It is difficult, but it's a job. You've got to do your job well," Johnson said. "I come to work every day. I want to work, and I'm happy to be here. I'm fortunate to be a starter on an NFL team. I see a lot of people I know that aren't starting or are not even in the league."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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