Carolina Panthers

Panthers, Saints suffer through frustrating season

CHARLOTTE -- Even though the same thing's been happening to the Carolina Panthers for a month, their prescription remains to do the same thing.

Coach John Fox has always demanded his players "be the same guy every day," whether facing prosperity or trouble.

They're definitely on the backside of that equation now -- having lost four straight entering today's loser-leave-town match with New Orleans -- but they're trying to maintain their day-at-a-time focus.

"No, you can't let it get to you, and you can't think about it," right tackle Jordan Gross said of the mounting pressure. "It's the same as if you're on a winning streak, which we've been on here, you can't think about all the wins that have added up. You've got to approach the week the same as any other.

"The records might not show it, but this is a big division game this week. We're trying to get that win at home. Everybody's going to be focused on what's at hand."

Four times under Fox the Panthers have had losing streaks of at least three games in the middle of seasons. They even lost three in a row in 2003 before their Super Bowl run, one they attributed to tightness brought on by the unknown commodity of winning as much as anything.

It was eight games in 2002, six in 2004, four last year (they never lost consecutive games in 2005). In each occasion, there were a few common denominators to breaking the streaks.

"Yeah, we won. That was the big thing," Gross cracked.

Actually, it runs a little deeper than that.

Their problem today is that all four of the wins that broke the streaks came on the road, tough since the next two games are here, where the Panthers haven't won in more than a calendar year.

Also, in each of the slump-busters, something small happened, some little tweak in the game plan that provided a spark.

In 2002, they knew they weren't going to be able to throw in windy Cleveland. So they activated third quarterback Randy Fasani, let him run around a little, and took advantage of an unheard of rushing day from Dee Brown to beat the Browns.

In 2004, trailing at halftime in San Francisco, Fox cut loose with what several players termed his most angry, profane locker room message ever. Then they cut the dogs loose on defense, started blitzing more, and the passing game caught up and led them back.

Last year, they got truly desperate, resorting to a single-wing offense with running back DeAngelo Williams taking snaps, attempting just seven passes to beat Atlanta.

Of course, speaking of such events makes them think about the streak, something they try to push to the backs of their minds.

Cornerback Ken Lucas feigned amnesia when asked about last year.

"I can't remember last year, so I can't speak on it," he said, before being prompted about Williams lining up at quarterback. "Did he? How many passes did he throw? Did he even attempt a pass? So how could you call him a quarterback?

"I'm trying to tell you, I don't remember. That's what I'm trying to do, get away from that point."

Of course, there's little avoiding it now.

If they don't win soon, the season could spiral out of control, jobs could be lost, futures changed.

That's what frustrates them. They probably weren't beating Indianapolis or Green Bay either way, but they know they left chances on the board against Tennessee and Atlanta.

That has them thinking about the mechanical elements as much as the theoretical ones.

"Especially as an offense, it comes down to details," fullback Brad Hoover said. "When you start forgetting the details, that's when you start (making mistakes). You start letting it go all to pot and it gets a lot worse.

"It's about pride, and guys fighting for jobs for next year and stuff like that. The reality of it we've got to win football games. It's all about confidence, and right now we don't have it because we're not doing it. Something's got to be done, we've got to take ownership of it and make it happen."

Likewise, running back DeShaun Foster just shook his head when asked about the losses, mentioning specific plays in each game that could have gone either way. He insisted the team was far from quitting, surrendering to the streak, hopeful that things could begin to turn today.

"Basically just keep playing hard like we have been," Foster replied when asked what needs to change. "When the execution's there, we're going to start clicking. The effort's there, we just aren't making enough plays.

"You don't look at it as desperation, but you just know that it's time. We're all working hard, we want to have that final outcome. As long as we keep working hard and stay positive, everything's going to be all right. The frustration's, ... I mean, you lose, you get frustrated, but we should be all right.

"We still got that fight in us. The effort's there. That's what I'm looking for. As long as people train, play hard, nobody's quitting. That's it."

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