|CRANSTON ON FOOTBALL: Steep fall for Panthers leaves Fox's future uncertain|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 27 November 2007 09:55|
After reaching the NFC championship game two years after that, the Panthers entered the 2006 season as the trendy pick to make the Super Bowl.
Boy, does that seem like a long time ago.
Sunday's horrific 31-6 home loss to New Orleans was eerily similar to the end of the George Seifert era in 2001. There was awful quarterback play, mental errors and signs the Panthers have stopped playing for their coach.
Things happen quickly in the NFL, and Fox and general manager Marty Hurney have gone from highly regarded to among those with uncertain futures after a series of bad personnel moves and uninspired play.
``The buck stops here,'' Fox said after Sunday's loss, the Panthers' fifth consecutive overall and seventh straight at home dating to last season.
A day later, Fox was asked to evaluate his performance.
``That's for other people,'' said Fox, whose contract runs through 2010. ``We're not pleased with where we are right now. We still have five games to go and those decisions are not in my control.''
The man making those decisions, owner Jerry Richardson, isn't talking. The former NFL receiver, who played with Johnny Unitas in Baltimore, rarely speaks in public. A team spokesman said Tuesday it's Richardson's practice not to comment until after the season.
But Richardson hasn't kept a coach if Carolina has finished with less than seven wins.
Dom Capers was fired in 1998 after going 4-12, only two years removed from leading the Panthers to the NFC title game in their second year of existence.
Seifert was a goner after 2001, two years after nearly squeaking into the playoffs in his first year.
Realistically, the Panthers (4-7) have only one winnable game left, Sunday against San Francisco (3-8). Their final four games are against Jacksonville (8-3), Seattle (7-4), Dallas (10-1) and Tampa Bay (7-4).
And with the way they looked Sunday against the Saints - their sixth loss by 13 or more points - it's hard to envision the Panthers beating anyone.
The argument for keeping Fox and Hurney is that the season was ruined when Jake Delhomme was lost to a season-ending elbow injury.
But a look around the league Sunday saw backup quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Trent Dilfer leading their teams to wins. Philadelphia's A.J. Feeley, in his first start since 2004, nearly helped the Eagles to an upset of New England.
And the Panthers' miserable performance came with one of the top quarterbacks available in the offseason, David Carr.
After going 8-8 last season, Fox and Hurney made few moves, pinning the poor year on injuries. But they did want to upgrade at quarterback. They released Chris Weinke, the starter in Seifert's 1-15 season, and gave Carr a two-year, $6 million deal.
Perhaps the first signal it was a bad move was at his introductory news conference. Carr said he was more than happy to go from a five-year starter in Houston to a backup, saying he needed to ``take a deep breath'' after being sacked 249 times with the Texans.
Carr's time off ended when Delhomme went down in Week 3, and he's been shockingly bad. Carr has lacked accuracy, can't find receivers downfield and holds onto the ball too long. He's lacked fire, and the team hasn't responded to him.
Fox planned to start 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde against the Saints, until Testaverde's back locked up Saturday. Fox said Testaverde will start Sunday against the 49ers, if he's healthy. What does that say about Carr?
Maybe Carr's woes shouldn't have been a surprise. The long-held view in Houston was that Carr wasn't the victim of a bad offensive line as much as his own inept play.
After Carr was released, Texans receiver Andre Johnson said Carr had to learn to go through reads under new coach Gary Kubiak after being told where to throw the ball on every down with their old coach.
That coach, coincidentally, was Capers.
``It was like he was starting all over again,'' Johnson said.
The failed decision to sign Carr - it's unimaginable he'll be back next season - is another in a long list of moves that have backfired.
The Panthers released Keyshawn Johnson three days after drafting receiver Dwayne Jarrett, convinced Jarrett immediately would become the No. 2 receiver opposite Steve Smith.
Jarrett hasn't been able to learn the playbook. After being inactive in six of the first eight games, Jarrett has played some of late. On Sunday, he ran the wrong route on the first of Carr's two interceptions.
Smith's numbers are way down from his career year in 2005, and he hasn't caught a TD pass during the five-game skid. While much of that can be blamed on Carolina's quarterback woes, Smith couldn't come up with what would have been a touchdown catch late in the first quarter Sunday.
After the ball bounced off his chest, Smith got up and started barking at Saints cornerback Jason David. Smith always seems to be angry, even though he'll angrily tell you that he's not.
The defense has improved of late, but not behind the supposed stars. Rookie Jon Beason and training camp acquisition Chris Harris have been Carolina's bright lights.
The high-priced defensive line has been awful, burdened by Julius Peppers having just 2 1/2 sacks in 11 games.
Peppers' effort on one play early in Carolina's loss to New Orleans may have best summed up the lack of urgency around the team. Aaron Stecker got the handoff and ran to Peppers' side. Peppers, who is hardly ever double-teamed anymore, was blocked by Jon Stinchcomb. Peppers was stood up and then inexplicably turned away and looked toward the end zone.
The whistle hadn't blown. Stecker was still fighting for yards, and was eventually pushed back into Peppers, who still was looking the other way. Peppers fell to the ground.
Peppers finished without a single tackle, bringing back memories of Richardson's reasoning for firing Seifert.
``The energy has been sucked out of our organization and our fan base,'' Richardson said.
There's little energy around the Panthers now.