BY STEVE KORTE
News-DemocratThe sight of Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace dropping to one knee in pain as he tried to walk off the field after injuring his right shoulder in the second quarter Sunday had to make the hearts of St. Louis Rams fans slump.
Pace will undergo an MRI on his shoulder today, and his teammates are bracing for the possibility of another long period without the anchor to their offensive line.
"We played a while without him last year, so unfortunately we do have some experience with it," Rams quarterback Marc Bulger said of Pace, who missed the final six games of the 2006 season with a torn triceps muscle in his left arm.
Pace was injured pass blocking with 1:45 left in the second quarter.
Rams coach Scott Linehan said the initial diagnosis for Pace is a sprained shoulder.
Adam Goldberg, who has played mostly guard in his previous four seasons in the NFL, replaced Pace at left tackle.
"That's kind of the life of a backup offensive linemen," Goldberg said of being ready to play anywhere if needed. "Due to the rules in this league, you can't carry a backup at every position. I went into this game knowing that if any of the four (offensive linemen) other than the center got hurt, I was going in there."
Goldberg said he felt better prepared to play left tackle than they did last season after replacing Pace in the second quarter against Seattle in Game 10.
"It's never fortunate when somebody like Orlando -- a Hall of Famer -- goes down, but given that circumstance, I was fortunate that for the last three weeks I've been playing left tackle," he said.
The Rams were already thin at tackle after Todd Steussie suffered a broken foot in the preseason.
It's unknown if the Rams will stick with Goldberg at left tackle or move Alex Barron from the right side to the left side if Pace is sidelined for an extended period.
In other injury news, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa suffered a sprained right foot on a 7-yard run by DeAngelo Williams with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter. Tinoisamoa returned for a couple of plays, but then retired to the bench.
What Brown can do for you
Millford Brown was somewhat of a surprise starter at right guard in place of Richie Incognito, who has a high ankle sprain.
Claude Terrell also had worked at right guard in practice.
"They have been very close, and it was going to have to be one of the two," Linehan said.
Brown said he knew he would be starting already last Thursday, even though he was never told directly.
"The way the rotation was going in practice, and they kept telling me, 'You need to have a good one this week,"' Brown said.
Brown said he felt he performed well.
"I obviously did pretty good in the run game," Brown said. "But, we lost the game."
The Rams' inactives included wide receiver Drew Bennett, who has been bothered by a tight thigh muscle for the last week, and defensive end Victor Adeyanju, who sustained a sprained knee in practice last week.
Also inactive were Terrell, running back Antonio Pittman, linebacker Quinton Culberson and defensive end Eric Moore.
The Rams are 8-5 in season openers since coming to St. Louis in 1995.
The Rams had four tight ends in uniform for the game, but none of them caught a pass until Randy McMichael hauled in an 8-yard reception with 5:49 left in the game.
McMichael finished with two catches for 24 yards.
The Panthers had one sack, while the Rams went sackless in the game.
The Panthers had a huge advantage in time of possession in the second half as they had the ball for 19 minutes, 59 seconds compared to 10:01for the Rams.
According to the press box statistics, the Rams' leading tackler was free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe with 10.