CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers might have problems, but coach John Fox insisted Monday that dealing with adversity wasn't among them.
After Sunday's 27-3 loss at Tampa Bay, veteran receiver Muhsin Muhammad compared the loss to the one at Minnesota. That day, a sack-fumble-touchdown by Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield turned the game. Sunday, it was a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a quick score following an interception that spotted the Buccaneers a 14-0 lead.
"Well, we've got to find a way to make adjustments on the road, just overcome adversity," Muhammad said. "That's our challenge right now. That's what we haven't done in the two games we lost."
Asked about that comment Monday afternoon, Fox didn't buy the basic premise.
"I don't know if that's true. You'd have to ask Moose," Fox replied. "But I think we had some bad plays against Chicago happen to us. We were down 17-3 in the third quarter. That one turned out a little different. Without going through a history lesson -- I like to keep it simple -- I don't know if that's a real important trait at this point, or substantial."
Perhaps not, but it's clear that twice this season, they've been caught on the wrong side of the avalanche and were buried.
And because, as Fox tells us, every team has its own personality, this year's is still feeling its way through dealing with such situations.
"It's definitely difficult -- It's not impossible, we've made it look kind of impossible this season so far," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "The Minnesota game, for example, we're up 10-nothing, they make the big play and that was the end of it. Hopefully it's all a learning experience for us.
"We're not going to be blowing everybody out the rest of the season. It should be close games, and hopefully we learn from this and it doesn't happen anymore."
The common thread in both losses was the lifelessness after the momentum-swinging plays.
Winfield's play at Minnesota happened just before halftime, and when the Vikings got the ball to start the third quarter, they drove the length of the field for a touchdown. Then, stung by penalties and an errant passing game, the Panthers were unable to respond.
Sunday, they might as well have packed the bus at the break, as the Panthers gained seven yards on a pair of third-quarter possessions, never giving the faintest hint of threatening.
Fox bristled at the contention his young team wasn't well-equipped to handle such situations.
"We've won a lot of football games, this year and years past, as far as falling apart every time something bad happens. I don't agree with that notion," he said.
"Sometimes they're harder to recover from. When you spot a good team 14 points, like yesterday, it changes how they play the rest of the game. It's a hard thing to overcome against good football teams. We didn't deal with it mentally. The reality is it's 14 points and that's not easy to overcome for any football team. Not just ours."
Fox said players have to "have a short memory, and you've got to get onto the next play."
They've done it before, and this season. San Diego took the lead with 14 straight points in the fourth quarter before Jake Delhomme led a game-winning drive. And he pointed to the 17-3 deficit against Chicago that was overcome when they started creating turnovers and running the ball in the second half. He also mentioned not unraveling when their interception-touchdown against Atlanta was overturned early.
"I don't think our guys are any stranger to adversity, if that's what you're insinuating," Fox said. "I don't feel like in games when something goes bad that our guys crawl up in a hole somewhere."
Gross could sense a difference Monday, when players came in to dissect the film and analyze how they got their collective doors blown off.
"Nobody's in here pointing fingers, really," Gross said. "We all really do have a pretty good sense of team here. That's what gives me optimism about the season."
If you seek out a silver lining -- and other than Gross' assessment, it's hard -- at least the Panthers have responded well in the past.
Since Fox took over in 2002, they've absorbed 10 losses by 20 points or more (including Sunday's) and are 6-3 in the nine games following.
Fox doesn't tailor the speeches to the team any differently post-beating.
"The message doesn't change very much from my perspective," Fox said. "When we win it's pretty much X, and when we lose it's pretty much X. Really, in this league, they don't keep style points. Whether you lose by 40 or four, it still goes in as a loss. I don't think anybody in that locker room ... is pleased with the way we performed. I can honestly say I don't think there was much of a different feeling against Minnesota.
"Reality is, we've played well enough to win in four of them and not well enough in the other two. Now we've got to get ready for next week. We've got this day to admit mistakes, correct mistakes and hopefully not let them happen again."