TAMPA, Fla. -- Some things happened. A few of them were good.
Not that it really mattered.
That was the story of the game Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, and the Carolina Panthers' season in general.
The Panthers won their finale 31-23 over barely bothering Tampa Bay, enabling them to finish the season an irrelevant 7-9.
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They missed the playoffs, and no one knows for sure how many people are getting fired, only that it's over, and changes are coming.
"Hopefully it won't be too many changes," rookie linebacker Jon Beason said, but that might be the naiveté of youth talking.
The big questions have yet to be answered, primarily because owner Jerry Richardson hasn't said anything publicly.
Coach John Fox bristled when asked about his future after the game, referring to the rumors that have flown through the ether (but mostly the ethernet) regarding his future.
"Well, yesterday I was the UCLA coach, today I heard I was the Miami head coach," Fox said. "Right now, I can tell you I'm the Carolina head coach.
"Other than some of the speculation by a lot of you people, I've never thought anything different."
When asked if Richardson had told him directly of his fate, Fox replied, "I'm not going to comment on that."
General manager Marty Hurney said they've all proceeded as if nothing will change at the top, but that time's what's needed the most so good decisions can be made.
"It's just like evaluating with players, I think you wait until the emotion's gone," Hurney said. "We'll go through meetings this week. Certainly John and I both, we're here and we want to be here, and that's the approach we've always taken.
"Speaking for myself, this is a terrific organization, the Richardson family and Mr. Richardson are great owners. And you want to win. You want to deliver the playoffs and winning seasons to the fans. That's obviously in your gut every day."
Toward that end, the Panthers can at least take some solace they closed strong, by winning two of their last three against playoff teams, and narrowly missing a third against Dallas two weeks ago.
But this season didn't realistically end with the Cowboys loss, it ended on Sept. 23 when quarterback Jake Delhomme's elbow blew out and the parade of quarterbacks began.
Matt Moore showed flashes late, but they didn't get to him until David Carr proved to be a complete disaster and Vinny Testaverde's 44-year-old body betrayed him. By that time, the season was beyond repair.
"These guys have been through a lot; we saw things turn in a different direction the middle of our third game," Fox said. "They hung in there, and gave some great efforts, and I'm really appreciative of their efforts throughout the year."
Not long after that game in Atlanta, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins lobbed the first grenade, questioning his team's heart and passion in a pair of rambling diatribes to the media, which prompted a players-only meeting. Then came the five-game losing streak that made things a moot point down the stretch.
"Yes, I do. I definitely do. I think it got turned around," Jenkins replied when asked if they showed what was missing early. "It's a lot of arguments that could be made. Things didn't go the way we needed them to go. The reality of it is we just came up short. We were close to the playoff race and we needed a couple of things to go our way that didn't and we fell short.
"I think next year, that's something that could get rectified."
Many of the things the Panthers showed Sunday provide some degree of hope. The defense created four sacks, and played acceptably well against the fast-and-loose Tampa backups.
Moore continued to show promise, throwing a pair of touchdowns and improving his record as a starter to 2-1. He finished the year 49-of-79 for 564 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions when starting for a rating of 85.6. After he posted a 21.1 rating in his six relief appearances, the Panthers might believe they've found an acceptable backup to Delhomme for next year.
Also, running back DeAngelo Williams strengthened his case to be the starter next year (likely since DeShaun Foster could be cut), with 20 carries for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
But the particulars of this one are largely unimportant.
Tampa Bay had already clinched its playoff spot and rested most of its starters -- the ones who bothered dressing. So as much as they enjoyed the win, the Luke McCown-to-Chad Lucas passes they were guarding weren't the ones they'd have seen if it mattered.
"Just to close with a win is huge, no matter who we were going against; we didn't get all their starters, but we got the majority of the guys," fullback Brad Hoover said. "It's nice to get away with a win; we got two of our last three against very good football teams. It's nice, but it's a bittersweet end to the season.
"(I just like) how we never quit. At times, we hit a lot of adversity, things didn't go the way we wanted them to. But nobody on this team quit; that shows a lot of heart, and we just kept fighting. As bad as it was at times, nobody threw in this towel. We were able to pay a little dividend at the end getting a few wins."
Still, this season won't be remembered for the last ray of sunshine that fell across Florida skies.
This one will go down for the expectations not met, the season that unraveled along with Delhomme's ulnar collateral ligament, leaving everyone else as collateral damage.
"I think disappointment," Hurney replied when asked the one thing he'd remember. "Our goal every year is to make the playoffs, and we didn't do that. It's nice to win the game, but we have mixed emotions all this year. Our goal was to keep playing after the last regular-season game, and we didn't do that.
"But I think there's a sense of pride as far as the way we finished out the year and kept fighting and never quit. To that extent, there's a sense of pride in how we finished up. But we're all disappointed in being 7-9 and not going to the playoffs."
Carolina 7 7 7 7 -- 31
Tampa Bay 7 6 7 3 -- 23
• Panthers notebook • 3B