CHARLOTTE -- They coined the phrase "home-field advantage" because in most places, it is one.
Not in Charlotte.
Even though the Carolina Panthers snapped a four-year drought by winning their home opener against Chicago two weeks ago, Bank of America Stadium remains a mystery, one they haven't been able to completely solve.
Coach John Fox is rare in that his road record is better than his home record, which stands as a bit of a back-handed compliment. Since Fox took over in 2002, the Panthers are 25-24 in Charlotte (.510) and 28-22 on the road (.560)
"We have a winning record on both of them," Fox said last week when asked to compare the results. When the disparity was then mentioned, he shrugged: "Hey, as long as it's winning, it's pretty good."
It's when you compare those numbers to what's happening elsewhere that the home record pales relative to the good work they do elsewhere.
The league average last year was .574 at home, and the number tracks fairly close to that through league history. The best mark ever for home teams was .643 in 1985, the worst was .508 in 1972.
So while they're glad to be so efficient when they leave town, there's a clear desire to get better at home.
Players in Charlotte have said for years they take on a bunker mentality when they go on the road, an "us-against-the-world" message that Fox has been able to sell effectively. Problem is, when it's the world against someone else, they haven't proven to be able to put people away.
"At home, there may be times when things may not be going well and you start to hear a couple of boos here and there and its kind of frustrating and discouraging to hear that from your home crowd," cornerback Ken Lucas said. "It's almost like as a child, you may go out and do something wrong even though they want you to do it well, and they chastise you and ridicule you, and you expect your parents to uplift you, even when things are going not so well. Sometimes that can be discouraging. But on the road you expect that. They kind of add that fuel to your belly. Most players like fans to talk noise to them, try to get them going. On the road, you expect the fans heckling you on the sideline. It's kind of fun, they don't realize that they're actually helping you. I think that's one of the main differences why we play a little better on the road."
That desire's clear today, especially since the Falcons and Panthers series has taken the unusual turn of five straight wins by the visitors.
And when you look at Carolina's numbers, there are patterns that emerge.
From 2002-2007, they were 24-24 in Charlotte.
Of that total, they were 16-6 against teams that finished with sub-.500 records, but just 4-14 against teams that finished those seasons winners. Appropriately, they were 4-4 against teams that finished 8-8.
Fox said he hasn't placed any more emphasis on winning home games this year, and like many things, traces the deficiencies in Charlotte to the absence of quarterback Jake Delhomme. They were 2-6 at home last season, after Delhomme lost the only home game he got to play, against Houston.
"No. I think it helps when you have a starting quarterback," Fox said. "When you don't have a starting quarterback for your last eight home games, it affects your home record. ...
"Some stadiums have more home-field advantage than others. That works for you whether you are on the road or at home. Most people take that approach at home that this is our house. I don't think that's mystical. I think everybody in the league says that, but the reality is it's kind of who you're playing and when you're playing them rather than where."
There were signs of reversing the trend in their home opener -- the first one of those they've won after a four-year drought.
After getting themselves in a big hole, the Panthers came back late, turning a dead stadium into a raucous place by the fourth quarter.
"Hopefully, it's the team," Delhomme said when asked what was different against the Bears. "They played good football when we were down, but we kept fighting and had a turnover that sparked something and made a play.
"The crowd was into it. That's great. Certainly, when the crowd is loud, it affects another team's offense. I don't think there's any doubt."
The Panthers found that out last week, when the noise and Minnesota's pass-rush kept them from succeeding. Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said it was clear that you could "utilize more of your playbook," at home, but like most players, had no theories as to why the Panthers have been better on the road.
Before criticizing the fans, which has been a popular sport in Charlotte in the past, the Panthers say it's not the fault of the folks in the seats.
"What I'm saying is we've got to go out there and play better at home and give them a reason to cheer and heckle the other team," Lucas said. "In the past, we haven't done that. Like you say, in the past we have played much better on the road. For whatever reason that may be, who knows?
"We've just got to go out there and play better and give them something to cheer about."
• What: Atlanta at Carolina
• When: 1 p.m.
• TV: FOX (cable channel 11 in Rock Hill)
• Radio: 1110 AM, 107.1 FM, 99.3 FM
The Panthers have finally clawed their way over .500 at home under coach John Fox, even though they're better on the road. A look at the breakdown of home games the from 2002-2007:
Total home games 48
vs. sub-.500 teams 16-6
vs. winning teams 4-14
vs. 8-8 teams 4-4
Visit Herald reporter Darin Gantt's Panthers blog and listen to his weekly podcast for Panthers updates at
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