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December 31, 2010

Panthers make it official: Fox era over

The Carolina Panthers made official today what John Fox has known for a couple of years: The winningest coach in franchise history is gone after Sunday's game at Atlanta.

Fox met this afternoon with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who informed him that after nine years it was time for a change. Fox, who has a regular-season record of 73-70, entered the season in the final year of a contract that paid him $6.5 million this year.

"I told John today that I appreciate everything he has done for us over the last nine years, but as happens in this business, it is time for both sides to move in different directions," Richardson said in a release.

"While we haven't accomplished all of the goals we set as an organization when we signed him in 2002, we have certainly had our share of high moments -- the Super Bowl, two NFC Championship games and a division title in 2008. We wish John and his family the best going forward."

Fox, who took the Panthers to their only Super Bowl appearance after the 2003 season, said twice this week he knew the end was imminent for a couple of years.

If he wasn't certain his days were numbered when the Panthers declined to extend him following the 2008 playoff season, Fox definitely knew it when Richardson let him go into this season without an extension.

“I could see that coming, let me put it that way,” Fox said.

“It's something I've been preparing for for a couple of years,” Fox added. “As I've said before, it's been a lot of great memories, a lot of great relationships and something I'll cherish forever and embark on the next chapter.”

In the announcement released Friday afternoon, the Panthers said the contracts of Fox's assistants would not be renewed, either.

Fox, 55, was hired in 2002 after the Panthers went 1-15 in George Seifert's final season. Two years later, Fox had the Panthers in the Super Bowl, where they lost to New England 32-29 in Houston.

"I appreciate the opportunity Mr. Richardson gave me to be a head coach in the National Football League nine years ago and to be a part of this organization," Fox said in the release.

The mood during John Fox's final full practice with the Panthers on Friday seemed light.

There were a lot of laughs, including when Fox huddled with his players after the workout ended.

But Fox was not particularly emotional. When he approached reporters afterward, the first thing he asked about was the size of the crowd at the Meineke Bowl at adjacent Bank of America Stadium.

When asked about the day's mood, Fox said: “I'll say this, these guys have stayed enthusiastic and have continued to work very hard all season.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2010 at 04:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Mood light at final practice for Fox

The mood during John Fox's final full practice with the Panthers on Friday seemed light.

There were a lot of laughs, including when Fox huddled with his players after the workout ended.

But Fox was not particularly emotional. When he approached reporters afterward, the first thing he asked about was the size of the crowd at the Meineke Bowl at adjacent Bank of America Stadium.

When asked about the day's mood, Fox said: “I'll say this, these guys have stayed enthusiastic and have continued to work very hard all season.”

As he mentioned Wednesday, Fox said he has seen the end coming for some time. If he wasn't certain his days were numbered when the Panthers declined to extend him following the 2008 playoff season, Fox definitely knew it when Jerry Richardson let him enter this season without an extension.

I could see that coming, let me put it that way,” Fox said.

On the injury front, there was good news and bad for the Panthers' offense. Tailback Jonathan Stewart (foot) was listed as probable for the game at Atlanta, although leading receiver Steve Smith (calf) is questionable after missing Friday's practice .

The rest of the injury report:

FB Tony Fiammetta (ankle), CB Chris Gamble (ankle) and DT Ed Johnson (knee) are out.

LB Nic Harris (ankle) and DT Nick Hayden (head) are probable.

--Joseph Person

 



Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2010 at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

December 29, 2010

Fox keeping emotions in check

Much of the focus Wednesday after the Panthers' practice was on John Fox preparing for his final game.

Not surprisingly, Fox did not get real emotional in discussing the end of his nine-year tenure in Charlotte, saying he wishes he could have won more games.

But as for his departure, Fox said: “This is not new news. It's a finishing. It's kind of been knowledgeable for a couple years."

Fox, who is 73-70 in regular-season games, was not offered an extension after the Panthers' playoff season of 2008, and was allowed to enter this season with an expiring contract.

Fox said he wasn't going to play the “blame game” when asked about what went wrong during this 2-13 season.

More revealing were a few of the comments from rookie QB Jimmy Clausen, if only because Clausen usually reveals so little.

Clausen said he was planning to begin the offseason by taking classes at Notre Dame to finish his sociology degree. He also is going to have his right foot examined.

Clausen had surgery to repair torn ligaments on his right big toe in January. Clausen said his toe has felt fine, but his foot has been bothering him. He was uncertain whether he would need surgery.

Clausen said he was not focused on the Panthers clinching the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, and the speculation that they might use it to select Stanford QB Andrew Luck. He was asked if he'd done enough to show team officials they didn't need to use the top pick on a quarterback.

That's a tough question because being a rookie and trying to do as much learning as you can,” Clausen said. “Obviously, I haven't played like I want to play. But I think it's just a transition that I'm going through right now.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 29, 2010 at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

December 28, 2010

Gross lone Panther in Pro Bowl

    Carolina Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross was the team’s lone representative to the Pro Bowl, which was announced Tuesday night.

    This marks his second appearance in the all-star game, following his 2008 call. 

    While the Panthers struggled to a 2-13 record, Gross bounced back well from last year’s broken leg, which was likely the only thing that kept him from the honor in 2009.

    “Although this season has not gone the way anyone hoped it would, I’m honored to be selected to the Pro Bowl,” Gross said. “It’s been a long twelve months coming back from an major injury and to be selected to the Pro Bowl by my peers is such an honor. I feel very blessed.” 

    Last year, two Panthers were named (Julius Peppers and DeAngelo Williams), but two others went as alternates (Ryan Kalil and Jon Beason), so more could be added. 

 

    Here’s a look at their past representatives to the league’s all-star game:

2010 1 LT Jordan Gross.

2009 4 RB DeAngelo Williams, DE Julius Peppers, MLB Jon Beason, C Ryan Kalil.

2008 4 WR Steve Smith, Gross, Peppers, Beason.

2007 0 No players selected.

2006 3 Smith, Peppers, DT Kris Jenkins.

2005 4 QB Jake Delhomme, LG Mike Wahle, Smith, Peppers.

2004 4 WR Muhsin Muhammad, Peppers, LB Dan Morgan, LB Mark Fields (as an injury replacement).

2003 4 RB Stephen Davis, Jenkins, DE Mike Rucker, P Todd Sauerbrun.

2002 2 Jenkins (played as alternate), Sauerbrun.

2001 3 TE Wesley Walls, Sauerbrun, Smith (as a return specialist).

2000 1 ST Michael Bates.

1999 4 Bates, QB Steve Beuerlein, Muhammad, Walls.

1998 3 Bates, LB Kevin Greene, Walls.

1997 2 Bates, Walls.

1996 8 Bates, QB Kerry Collins (played as alternate), CB Eric Davis, Greene, K John Kasay, LB Lamar Lathon, LB Sam Mills, Walls.

1995 0 None.

Total 47

 

— Darin Gantt

 

Posted by Observer Sports on December 28, 2010 at 07:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

December 27, 2010

Reading the Luck-y tea leaves

    The Carolina Panthers haven't had the rights to the first pick in the draft for 24 hours, when the first wave of glee-dampening began.

    At the moment, all anyone in Charlotte can do is dream of Stanford QB Andrew Luck, because at the moment, there's not much else to work with.

    SI's Peter King said on television Sunday night and wrote Monday that Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh told him that he thought "it's more likely he'd come back."

    That got everyone stirred up, but the reality is, Luck's not likely to say anything about leaving school while his team is preparing for next week's Orange Bowl game against Virginia Tech.

    He and the rest of the underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft, and most wait until just before the deadline.

    While King's report sounded dire, there were almost simultaneous words from Luck's father (West Virginia athletic director and former NFL QB Oliver Luck) that gave a different impression altogether.

    Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, the elder Luck made it sound like the NFL was his son's ultimate goal.

    "Well, he'll make his own decisions," the elder Luck said. "He's a smart kid, and he's made good decisions in life, going to Stanford and playing for coach [ Jim] Harbaugh. And he's got plenty of people, me included that will give him advice. 

    "But ultimately it comes down to a pretty simple question, what does he want to do? I think virtually ever college kid, including my son, wants to challenge himself against the best, and the best is the NFL."

    It's the kid's call. But trusting the words of a coach that may want out of Stanford too (you don't keep hearing about Michigan, the 49ers or these guys by accident), or a dad who's trying to protect his son's interests might not be wise.

    The best bet will be to just wait, to see what Andrew Luck himself says, when it matters what he says. That day is not today.


-- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on December 27, 2010 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

December 26, 2010

Panthers win by losing; clinch No. 1 pick

Fitting that the Panthers' most fruitful Sunday came on a weekend when they were off.

Victories by Cincinnati and Denver (over San Diego and Houston) took the Bengals and Broncos to four wins, allowing the Panthers to clinch the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.

Carolina (2-13) won't have to worry about Atlanta resting its starters now. A Panthers' team that proved time and again over the past 16 weeks it was the NFL's worst won't have to go to strength-of-schedule charts to confirm it.

Raise your glass, Panther fans. You haven't had much to toast this year.

Freed from having to follow the Bengals and Broncos in Week 17, Panther nation now can ratchet up its obsession with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Let the man-crushes begin in earnest.

There is still the business of replacing John Fox and getting a new CBA in place. Oh, and it would help if Luck actually declares for the draft.

But those are matters for another day. Cherish the moment, Panther fans: You're No. 1.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 26, 2010 at 07:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

December 24, 2010

Bah humbug: Bad night in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – The upside to getting embarrassed on national television Thursday night: The Panthers get three days off for Christmas.

But excuse them if they're not exactly filled with holiday cheer.

There have been a lot of lowlights this year for the 2-13 Panthers, but the 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh ranks right down there with the worst of them.

“We got beat in all three phases and we didn't have a period during the game where we had a high,” linebacker Jon Beason said.

The defense got gashed for more than 400 yards.

The offense was brutal after a promising start.

The Panthers' first two drives produced 73 yards, four first downs … and no points.

Their final nine possessions: 46 yards, three first downs and one John Kasay field goal to avoid the team's first shutout in eight years.

Do the math: That's 119 yards, the second-lowest output in this franchise's 16-year history.

“We never could get on track,” coach John Fox said. “We're lucky it wasn't worse.”

Jimmy Clausen took (another) step backward after an encouraging game last week against Arizona.

But at least the Panthers go to Atlanta next week controlling their own destiny for the No. 1 pick. Lose and it's theirs.

Of course, Atlanta might be playing its JV team if the Falcons beat New Orleans on Monday night to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Such a scenario would be a setback in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes.

“The thing you hope for is maybe (Atlanta) can lose this week and maybe they'll have to play their starters week 17,” Beason said. “You want to go out and compete against the best. It's always tough when you know a team is going to rest their guys.”

As for the free weekend?

“A Christmas off in this line of work is a rare thing,” tackle Jordan Gross said. “So you've got to be happy about that. But right now it's not too good around here.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 24, 2010 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

December 23, 2010

Final: Steelers 27, Panthers 3

    Well, they didn't get shut out.

    Otherwise, not much went right for the Carolina Panthers Thursday, as they endured a 27-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

    The Panthers gained just 119 yards in the loss, the second-lowest total in franchise history.

    They fell short of the 113 yards they gained in the second outing in franchise history, Sept. 10, 1995 at Buffalo.

    Only John Kasay's fourth-quarter field goal kept this one from being a total disgrace, as they were thoroughly dominated throughout the night. The Steelers used a 17-point second quarter to put the game away early, moving to 11-4.

    The loss puts the pressure on Denver in the race for the first pick in next year's draft, as it moves the Panthers to 2-13. 

    The Broncos are 3-11, but would win a tiebreaker based on strength of schedule if the Panthers somehow beat Atlanta next week and they lose out.

    As unlikely as that seems, the Falcons could clinch home field advantage through the NFC playoffs with a win over New Orleans Monday night. If that happens, there's a chance they pull all their key players, as New Orleans did in last year's finale before going on to win the Super Bowl.


-- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on December 23, 2010 at 11:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

At the half: Steelers 20, Panthers 0

    Pittsburgh blew a once-close game open in the second quarter, taking a 20-0 lead at halftime off the sharp passing of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

    The Steelers star is 16-of-23 for 259 yards, with a 121.5 passer rating in the first half.

    The Panthers actually had a chance to kick a game-tying field goal on the first play of the second quarter, but went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Steelers 32. That kind of set the stage for the deluge.

    Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller at his leisure, and hit  wideout Mike Wallace for a 43-yard touchdown. On that one, the speedy Wallace found a seam in the Panthers defense and ran untouched into the end zone, flipping the ball casually over the goal post.

    Rashard Mendenhall plunged in from a yard out just before halftime to push the lead to 17-0, and Shaun Suisham added a 29-yard field goal after a quick three-and-out.

    The Panthers then gave them another chance when Mike Goodson fumbled the ensuing kickoff, setting up another Suisham field goal.

    The Panthers were running well at times, but Jimmy Clausen offered up a deep interception, and hasn't gotten much going against Pittsburgh's third-ranked defense. He's 7-of-15 for 55 yards with the pick (28.5 rating).
-- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on December 23, 2010 at 10:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

After one: Steelers 3, Panthers 0

    The Panthers are staying in this game, surprisingly enough.

   The Steelers took a 3-0 lead in the first, settling for a field goal after a rare replay challenge win by the Panthers.

    Pittsburgh's moving the ball much easier than Carolina, but there are signs the Panthers can run and stay in this one. They held the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the first quarter and are running well. 

-- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on December 23, 2010 at 09:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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