Carolina Panthers

A year and counting -- Panthers still winless at home

CHARLOTTE -- To find comparisons, you have to go back into history.

And that's something the Carolina Panthers are hesitant to do, lest they become it.

The Panthers fell 31-6 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, their fifth straight loss overall and their seventh straight at home dating back to last year. Any dreams of the playoffs are long gone with their horrible play, and now looking ahead is all that's really left.

They've had longer losing streaks under coach John Fox (six in 2004 and eight in 2002), but none when so much more was expected.

To put this one in perspective, it takes looking back to times when things spiraled out of control, like 1998 and 2001, when regime change hung in the air as it chilled into December.

"Honestly, you don't even want to go there," said defensive end Mike Rucker, who's witnessed all three administrations here, when asked to put Sunday in context. "Those are dismal times. When you've been down that road once, you don't want to go down it again, and you want to learn from it.

"I know we don't want to go down that road."

Maybe not, but they're certainly standing on the gas as they move that direction.

This game got out of hand quickly, as a decent first half was wasted in a hurry, and bad play begat a bad break which begat more bad play.

They were down 10-6 at halftime, staying in the game despite quarterback David Carr's continued inability to lead the offense. They then proceeded to make it worse with everyone getting involved.

DeShaun Foster fumbled twice and finished with minus-5 yards on nine carries. The defense, which had been acceptable of late, started taking on water as soon as it started raining at halftime. The Saints then swamped them with a handful of big plays, and all that was left to consider was the wreckage.

Near the top of that list would be Carr's career, though they tried their best to throw him a preserver.

"I know everyone wants to pin it on the quarterback," Panthers coach John Fox said. "I think there's evidence that it's not just the quarterback.

"My take on it right now is that we are not a very good football team. ... Right now we are just not playing well as a football team, and the buck stops here."

There's been no word as to whether he'll get a chance to fix things next year, as ownership hasn't bypassed numerous requests to talk. And honestly, given the carnage at the quarterback position in particular, it's probably no more fair to lay it solely on Fox than it is to make Carr the pariah.

Honestly, the Panthers' chances to beat the Saints dimmed significantly Sunday when presumed starter Vinny Testaverde was unable to play. Roll that around in your head for a moment. His 44-year-old back locked up on him Saturday morning, and no one found the key to it or the offense the rest of the day,

Of course, the defense wasn't much better. The Panthers' stop-side allowed a 21-point third-quarter outburst that rendered the rest of the day moot.

It really began on a third-down play on the Saints' first possession, when they got caught in the wrong defense, cornerback Ken Lucas couldn't get a time out, and Drew Brees hit Devery Henderson for a 33-yard strike that was the first of many cuts.

"For us to lose five games in a row is unacceptable," Lucas said. "Right now we're probably one of the worst teams in the NFL right now, by the way we're playing. I know we're not talent-wise, it's just not showing on the field.

"We've got to get this thing fixed, at least end this season in a positive fashion. But a lot of things will have to change in how we're playing."

The obvious one will be at quarterback. Assuming they can straighten out Testaverde, he'll almost certainly start as long as he can. But after pulling Carr in favor of rookie Matt Moore in the fourth quarter, they might have ended his unspectacular run here.

More changes will doubtless follow, though they're reaching the point of running out of alternatives.

That's why the answers were mostly clipped and frank Sunday.

When you've hit this point in the year, there's not much left to say.

"We are just not real good right now," Fox said. "We've got to coach better. We've got to play better."

At such junctures in the past, Fox has blistered his team, letting them have it. Sunday's message didn't seem to carry the same fire.

"He's disappointed in us," fullback Brad Hoover said. "As a staff and players, we're just not playing very good right now. And it's very obvious. I was playing in the game, and it's just horrible. Guys were making mistakes, and it's coming over and over. We're all guilty, because we're all a team here and we're all accountable for our actions.

"But bottom line, it just can't be this way. We have to play better in all phases, every position, and we've all got to be accountable and step up and own possession of what we've done so far."

And boy, have they done it.

They're three games out of first place in a bad division, and now all that's left to really do is play spoiler, plan ahead and try to maintain employment. They get their best chance next week against San Francisco, in what could be their best chance, such as they have them.

"It's tough when it's one in a row. It's tougher when it's two," running back DeAngelo Williams said as he trudged to the locker room door. "But that's when the man stands up and the child sits down."

New Orleans 0 10 21 0 -- 31

Carolina 3 3 0 0 -- 6

• Panthers notebook • 6B

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