When the Carolina Panthers went through the preseason without scoring an offensive touchdown, you knew it could be bad.
It's been worse.
At the season's midpoint, the Panthers are last in the NFL in a number of offensive categories, including some important ones like points (11.0) yards (244.4) and passing yards (153.6) per game.
Carolina (1-7) has scored seven points or fewer in half of its games, and has just one 100-yard game from a running back or receiver (rookie wideout David Gettis, vs. San Francisco).
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The defense has played well for the most part, despite the lack of a consistent pass rush.
But when players start chastising themselves for not scoring on defense - as cornerback Richard Marshall did last week after a loss to New Orleans - it's never a good sign.
With eight games remaining, the only thing standing between Carolina and the No.1 draft pick is Buffalo (0-8). Dallas (1-7) has the same record as the Panthers - and the Cowboys just fired their coach.
If John Fox makes it through the season, he'll likely be gone as soon as Carolina returns from the Jan.2 finale in Atlanta. Fox is in his ninth season with the Panthers; there have been no indications he will be back for a 10th.
Before attention turns to the search for Fox's successor and the race with Buffalo for the top overall pick, The Observer first takes a look back at the best and worst of the first half.
Best decision by coaches and/or management: Pulling the plug on linebacker Thomas Davis' comeback attempt.
Davis is a terrific player who worked diligently to try to play this season after two ACL surgeries on his right knee. But why risk further damage to one of the franchise's cornerstones during a lost season? And, as noted, defense is not this team's problem.
Worst decision: Benching quarterback Matt Moore after two games.
Yes, Moore was awful in the losses to New York and Tampa Bay. But it was an incredibly quick hook from a coaching staff that stuck with Jake Delhomme last season long after Delhomme had gone bad. The Panthers centered their offseason plans on Moore, then benched him after seven quarters. It took three games to figure out Jimmy Clausen wasn't ready.
Best throw: Moore's 23-yard touchdown pass to Gettis late in the fourth quarter against San Francisco.
Moore had tossed an interception that 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald returned for a touchdown a few series earlier. Gettis had dropped a touchdown pass. But both players earned redemption when Moore zipped a pass between two defenders to tie the score with 1 minute, 53 seconds remaining.
Worst throw: Moore's first of three end-zone interceptions against the Giants.
The Panthers were in the red zone with a chance to take a 7-0 lead following a Charles Godfrey interception and long run by DeAngelo Williams. But Moore inexplicably threw to a well-covered Gary Barnidge, and former Panther Deon Grant made the pick. The play seemed to shake Moore's confidence and set the tone for the offense's season-long futility.
Best run: Williams' 39-yard touchdown at New Orleans.
Nearly midway through the third quarter, Williams took a handoff from Clausen, cut back left and ripped downfield to give the Panthers a 14-10 lead over the reigning Super Bowl champs. The run remains the longest by a Carolina back this season.
Worst run: Williams' subsequent cutback at New Orleans.
Trailing 16-14, the Panthers needed a few more yards to get in field goal range for John Kasay. On second-and-8, Williams took the handoff headed right, and - as on his touchdown run - tried to cut back left. But Saints safety Usama Young dropped Williams in the backfield - the first of consecutive 4-yard losses for the Panthers that doomed their upset hopes.
Best hit: Charles Johnson's sack of the 49ers' Alex Smith.
If not for Johnson's blind-side sack of Smith, the Panthers would still be looking for their first win. When Smith left with what was later determined to be a separated shoulder, the 49ers were forced to go nearly the entire second half with ex-Panther David Carr at quarterback. The hit changed the complexion of the game.
Worst hit: Safety Sherrod Martin's helmet-to-helmet hit on Giants tight end Kevin Boss was Exhibit A on the NFL's video of illegal hits when the league cracked down on such plays last month. Martin was fined $5,000, a bargain compared with the stiffer penalties now being doled out.
Honorable mention: The feeble tackle attempts by Johnson and Eric Norwood on Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, who bounced off both to complete a 40-yard pass to Kellen Winslow on third-and-17.
Best game: The 16-14 loss at New Orleans was a close, hard-fought game in front of a raucous crowd. John Carney, the Saints' 46-year-old kicker, had three field goals. John Kasay, Carolina's 40-year-old kicker, nearly got a chance at a game-winner.
Worst game: Take your pick, but the 23-6 loss to Chicago was almost unwatchable.
From Danieal Manning's 62-yard return on the opening kickoff, to Julius Peppers' interception from his knees (and shushing of the crowd), it was a bad day for the home team. Bears quarterback Todd Collins tried to give the game to the Panthers, who wouldn't take it.
Best quote: "It's kind of the same smell week after week. We can't give up big plays and offensively, we have to get something going." - tight end Jeff King after the Bears' game.
Worst quote: "We are what we are. And that is what I'm trying to change, so we are not that." - Fox on the Panthers' 0-3 start.
Honorable mention: "You'd have to ask somebody in the personnel department about that." - Fox, distancing himself last week, on whether the team might add a veteran quarterback.
First-half MVP: Linebacker James Anderson.
After playing primarily special teams his first four seasons, Anderson has been the best playmaker on a defense that has tried to keep this team in games. Anderson leads the Panthers and is fifth in the NFL in tackles, and has become a factor in the blitz package with three sacks and seven pressures.