Carolina Panthers

Road opener could be good for Panthers

Given the Panthers' recent history, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, left, and coach John Fox might prefer to open on the road.
Given the Panthers' recent history, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, left, and coach John Fox might prefer to open on the road.

CHARLOTTE -- The bad news for most NFL teams would be opening the regular season on the road.

But it's the good news for the Carolina Panthers, as they might be able to counter their recent slow starts by getting away from their home-field disadvantage.

The Panthers have lost their last three home openers, some in alarming fashion, but this week they get to enjoy a solitary nature which has suited them best in recent years.

"I think the key to look at it, it's important to start fast," veteran defensive end Mike Rucker said. "It's important for us to go on the road and have a good showing and for us to be together. The guys who jump on that plane, the coaches who jump on that plane, it's only going to be us. Nobody's going to rescue us, nobody's coming to help us."

While the conventional wisdom says you'd rather be in your own place, the Panthers have turned that on its head under coach John Fox.

Since he took over in 2002, they have identical 22-18 regular-season records (.550) on the road and at home. Figure in the playoffs, where the benefit to being in your own building grows, and Fox is better anywhere else (.578) than Charlotte (.561).

While the league average over that span is a .576 home winning percentage, the Panthers enjoy a considerable advantage over most when they leave, since the NFL as a whole is .423 on the road.

Of course, the most significant number for the Panthers as they approach this season might be eight, as in the number of practices Fox cut out of training camp this summer.

Rather than going twice a day in Spartanburg, with one of them being a shorter session, Fox went to an alternating schedule, where two-a-days were followed by a single afternoon workout.

"The 2-1, 2-1, training camp has helped out," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "Certainly the weather hasn't cooperated, I don't think there's any doubt. But we feel good."

Fox extended his less-is-more approach since they broke camp. They only worked once per day upon returning home, and Wednesday's practice was their first full session since before the preseason finale against Pittsburgh last week.

They had Friday and Saturday off, watched film Sunday, took Monday off and had a light day of running and weightlifting Tuesday.

"I think we're a little fresher, not just physically, but the mental part of it too," linebacker Dan Morgan said. "I think he's kept us a lot fresher this year than in the past, and I think that should carry over into the first game of the season. I think guys are going to be mentally and physically fresher."

Anything to change the omens of the last three opening days has to help.

In 2004, the Panthers were exposed as a team that couldn't stop the run in a loss to Green Bay, which coupled with Steve Smith's broken ankle, set the stage for a 2-6 start.

In 2005, they got caught in the emotional buzzsaw that came with New Orleans, playing the first game after Hurricane Katrina. The Saints won late but finished the year 2-13.

Last year, the injuries hit again, as they lost left tackle Travelle Wharton, center Justin Hartwig and Morgan for the season against Atlanta, and once again couldn't stop the run in a 20-6 disaster.

"You look back at some of the games, I mean last year, Atlanta came in and whooped us," Delhomme said. "It didn't help losing a couple of O-linemen and Dan and whatnot. The year before, we were playing New Orleans post-Katrina, and we played OK that game.

"It's been one thing or another. We just need to go out and play solid football and minimize mistakes."

But at least they get to try somewhere else.

Fox got to use his "two games away from disaster line" for the first time, but perhaps going somewhere else will change what has been a slow-starting trend for his team.

"We've got a lot of things to work on, and we're going into a tough place to play," Fox said. "So we'll find out a lot this week."

• Panthers notebook • 4C

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