In five seasons in Houston, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft went 24-56 with no playoff appearances, and his body became bruised and battered from an NFL-high 249 sacks.
Now with Carolina, Carr is smiling again - even though he will be a backup for the first time.
"You get to a point where you're in survival mode, which is hard for me," Carr said Friday, a week after agreeing on a two-year, $6.2 million deal to be the Panthers' No. 2 QB behind Jake Delhomme.
"Honestly in the last five years we haven't had much spark. If we were stuck in the forest, it would be hard to light a fire with what we had going on."
Carr expressed some resentment Friday toward the Texans, who released him last month after they acquired Matt Schaub in a trade with Atlanta. Schaub was then quickly anointed the starter.
Carr may have had chances to start elsewhere - he visited Oakland - but chose Carolina because he wanted to play for a team that has a chance to win.
"I've been on an expansion team and it's not fun," Carr said of being the first pick by the Texans. "I've been on teams that aren't winning and it wasn't exciting. Football is a hard enough game when you go out there and you're battling everything and you go out and lose it makes it hard. I wanted to be on a team that was fun and exciting and whether I had a chance to play right away, it didn't matter to me."
Carr also made it clear he wanted to play for a team with an established offensive line. Carr completed 60 percent of his passes with the Texans, including a career-high 68 percent last season. But Carr also 65 interceptions over five seasons as he faced nearly constant pressure.
So it wasn't surprising Carr quickly sought out members of Carolina's line. Tackle Jordan Gross was one of the first Panthers he met.
"If I learned anything in the last five years, that's where football games are won and lost," Carr said.
Until last season when injuries devastated the line, Delhomme has been protected. He's been sacked 106 times in the past four seasons, while Carr was sacked an NFL record 76 times in just his rookie year.
It's believed the 6-foot-3 Carr, who won't turn 28 until July, could blossom when he has time to throw. With Delhomme and the Panthers coming off a disappointing 8-8 season, it's been suggested Carr could quickly challenge for the No. 1 job.
General manager Marty Hurney said Delhomme is the clear starter, but likes having an established quarterback as a backup. Carolina released Chris Weinke last month after he was ineffective replacing an injured Delhomme last season.
"(Carr) knows that Jake is our starter," Hurney said. "Every player wants to play, but he knows the role he's coming into."
Carr also insisted Friday he's content as a backup - and ready take a break from running away from defensive linemen.
"I need to take a deep breath and be around a good environment and just start enjoying the game again," he said. "In the last week or two, it's brought back a lot of excitement that I had when I was younger.
"As far as getting on the field and playing, that's not up to me. That will be something that will come in time hopefully. When Jake is out there I will be his biggest fan."
Carr said he's returning to Charlotte on Monday with his wife, and will take part in the team's offseason conditioning program, while poring over the playbook.
"It's funny, the day I was signed by Carolina, I was throwing balls the next day. I've never done that before," Carr said. "I was out there throwing a ball for two or three hours and I couldn't really explain it except I was excited to get a new opportunity and a chance to show what I can do."