CHARLOTTE -- To be perfectly honest, the Carolina Panthers still aren't much to look at, but they are 6-2 at their bye-week break, perfectly on target for where coach John Fox wanted them to be.
He's always hesitant to assess his own team's play midseason, and said Monday -- after their 27-23 comeback win over Arizona improved them to 6-2 and 5-0 at home -- that he was generally pleased.
"I liken it to being on the road to a final destination," Fox said. "We are on the path. We haven't gotten lost. We are kind of on target or on schedule. We've definitely not gotten there yet, but at the halfway point, we are on schedule."
Which is fine, so long as you don't ask about the gas mileage, or what kind of time they're making.
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The Panthers' record is certainly better than the sum of the parts, because if you looked at numbers, there's not a lot there that wows you.
They're 17th in total offense, ninth in total defense. In terms of points, they're 18th in offense and fifth in defense. They're 16th in rushing yards and passing yards per game. They're tied for 15th with a turnover ratio of plus-1.
On an individual level, it's more of the same, with good performances but nothing that jumps off the page.
Kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd probably comes closest to excelling on his own, leading the league with 16 touchbacks. Otherwise, the stats are just good and solid, as underrated as those two commodities might be.
John Kasay's fifth in the league in scoring (66 points), making everything this year. Wide receiver Steve Smith's seventh in the league with 613 receiving yards. DeAngelo Williams is 10th in the league in rushing with 522 yards. Quarterback Jake Delhomme is cruising right along with an 88.7 passer rating, 16th in the league.
It's a set of clean, efficient performances, not the kind that make headlines.
Heck, they've even given up the league lead in penalties they held (no pun intended) onto for so long. Now they're fourth, after committing just six in the last two games combined.
Part of the reason the stats are down is that they've won games from every angle possible. They cruised for a quarter while thrashing Kansas City. They sleepwalked for halves against Chicago and the Cardinals.
So it's a good thing Fox never cared much for stats, because his team -- when running properly -- will never pile up much in the way of things to count.
Other than perhaps wins, and that's all he's looking for anyway.
He said Monday that of all the things his young club has done this season, he's probably proudest of the way they've come together.
Coming back for wins such as the most recent, or the first one at San Diego or the one against Chicago is a signal to him that this team's made of stern stuff and built for the long haul.
"We've played as a team," Fox said. "When one side has struggled, the other side has come through, I think, in all three phases. I'm starting to see us playing as a team. Like I said, we're just on schedule; we've not arrived; we've not hit our target yet. But we are on target and on schedule and we definitely have work to do."
While it's hard to put a finger on the formula, all they know right now is that things are working, so they're hesitant to talk about the individual parts much.
Fox was asked about specific players Monday, and he kept leaning on his "on schedule," analogy, refusing to get dragged into micro-analyzing his team.
"I'll say the same thing -- we're on schedule," he responded to a Jake Delhomme query. "I can say that positionally, sides of the ball. There is a lot of room for improvement. We've not arrived yet; we're on schedule."
It was a general approach, and he carried it to its extreme. Asked what his team needed to do to sustain success, he gave an answer he could have scripted (and might have) during the offseason.
"Stay healthy," he began. "Continue to work hard. Not get complacent. Probably what a lot of other coaches are saying right about now -- bye or no bye."
Be sure to visit Herald reporter Darin Gantt's Panthers blog and listen to his weekly podcast for Panthers updates at heraldonline.com