CHARLOTTE -- Give Carolina Panthers coach John Fox credit for one thing -- he's not getting carried away with himself.
After all, his team's only a game out of the final wild card spot in the NFC, but it's something he didn't even want to discuss after his team broke a five-game losing streak with a 31-14 win over San Francisco.
"Before you finish -- no. I have to cut you off," Fox replied when asked about the mess that is his conference. "The best thing for us to do is feed off of this. Winning does breed confidence, and we just have to keep all of our focus on Jacksonville this week and put all of our focus and attention on that."
Sure, and the future's not exactly bright for the Panthers.
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Their four remaining opponents (Jacksonville, Seattle, Dallas and Tampa Bay) have a combined record of 35-13 (.729), the toughest strength-of-schedule number of any of the NFC "contenders."
But when you consider that there are three teams tied for the final wild card at 6-6 (Arizona, Minnesota and Detroit), and five teams at 5-7, it's hard to discount anyone's chances completely.
Still, Fox wasn't getting past the one just completed, and the one just ahead. The five losses in a row stung, and getting off that streak was huge for everyone there.
"One thing that is great about this profession is there is no greater feeling than winning and there is no lower feeling than losing," Fox said. "It was nice to feel a positive part of that. God bless their souls, our fans, it has been a long time since they have seen up win in this stadium. So it was good for everybody."
• STILL BATTLING: Fox said he was excited to see defensive end Mike Rucker come through with a breakout game, with a sack and a half and a forced fumble. The 32-year-old has shown flashes this year, but still is recovering from last December's knee surgery that some thought might have ended his career -- or at least his career here.
"That is why he is so respected by the fans and definitely by the coaching staff and his teammates," Fox said. "He's been kind of a model guy since he's been here, and you almost expect it of him. He got injured late in the season, and to come back in the amount of time that he did is a tribute to what he is all about and his work ethic and how he attacks things.
"Lesser guys would not even be playing, let alone starting and performing at a progressive level all season."
• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers did a minor paperwork shuffle on the contract of defensive end Julius Peppers. It didn't change the length of the deal, or the amount of money in his pocket, just created some additional accounting gymnastics.
He's still under contract through the 2008 season. ...
Fox offered up no injury updates, and when asked specifically how 44-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde fared, he replied: "So far, so good." ...
When the Panthers scored on Testaverde's pass to Dante Rosario in the second quarter, it snapped a skid of 84 minutes and 19 seconds between offensive touchdowns, since garbage time of the Green Bay game two weeks ago. Counting home games only, the drought covered 188:56, from the first quarter of the Indianapolis game to Rosario's grab, since they didn't score an offensive touchdown against Atlanta or New Orleans.
Strange but true
As odd as it sounds, the Panthers sit just a game out of the final wild card spot in the muddled NFC. Here's a look at the eight teams within a game of the last playoff spot, and their remaining schedules:
Team (rec.) Remaining opponents Opp rec. Pct.
Minn (6-6) @ SF, CHI, WAS, @ Den 18-30 .375
Ariz (6-6) @ Sea, @ NO, ATL, StL 19-29 .396
Det (6-6) DAL, @ SD, KC, @ GB 32-16 .667
NO (5-7) @ Atl, ARIZ, PHI, @ Chi 19-29 .396
Chi (5-7) @ Was, @ Minn, GB, NO 26-22 .542
Was (5-7) CHI, @ NYG, @ Minn, DAL 30-18 .625
Phi (5-7) NYG, @ Dal, @ NO, BUF 30-18 .625
Car (5-7) @ Jax, SEA, DAL, @ TB 35-13 .729