CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers are now finished with their two-week homecoming, having had to work to beat a pair of teams with a combined record of 2-18.
But you better not let Panthers coach John Fox hear you say that.
Fox bristled at the notion of his team needing to ratchet up their effort down the stretch, since he's been working so hard at not letting his players think of Oakland and Detroit as teams incapable of winning.
"I keep saying this, but that's how you guys look at it," Fox said Monday. "You don't play the game. They have to play the game, so they're all hard. They didn't look at those last two like they were a walk in the park, and they weren't. So if you asked Miami yesterday, who played Oakland, I don't they thought it was a walk in the park.
"These guys know different. It (this week's trip to Atlanta) is a division game, and right now, the only thing we're assured is 8-8, and every one of these is going to be important, and the only one we're focused on right now is this week's against Atlanta."
Fox has been banging on his players the last two weeks, using several different versions of "we don't look at records, we look at tape." It's clear the way his players answered such questions that they're parroting the message he's drilled into them for weeks. Defensive end Julius Peppers went to great lengths to talk about the skill of the winless Lions, and star receiver Calvin Johnson and the spark quarterback Daunte Culpepper's giving them.
Of course, to listen to them talk, you wonder how the recent opponents aren't making playoff pushes of their own.
Fox won't have to worry about that any longer, as they have no more games against sub-.500 teams, and the cumulative record of their remaining six opponents is 38-22.
Not that their records matter, of course -- though there's a good chance the film they watch the next few weeks looks more like "Citizen Kane" than "The Longest Yard."
• WHY FOX HATES STATS: The Panthers coach, who popularized the phrase "stats are for losers" fell back on one Monday when asked about the team's passing effort against the Lions. Quarterback Jake Delhomme was 10-of-19 for 98 yards and a touchdown during the franchise-record rushing day.
"I think probably one of our highest quarterback ratings in the history of this franchise we threw seven passes that day," Fox said of their 2006 trip to Atlanta in which Chris Weinke was limited both physically and by the playbook. "That was pretty efficient. We were 4-of-7 and one touchdown."
Asked if that was a stat, Fox laughed.
"Just the highest quarterback rating in team history," he said. "That's a stat."
Weinke's 108.3 rating that day was quite good, but actually was just the 24th highest-rated game by a quarterback since Fox took over here in 2002.
Delhomme's exceeded that number four times this year already, and 20 times overall (including the playoffs) here. David Carr, Rodney Peete and Weinke each topped that mark once each as well.
• THAT'S A LOCK: Fox chuckled a bit when asked about tight end Gary Barnidge's roughing the kicker penalty -- which he incurred by getting kicked in the head by Lions punter Nick Harris.
Fox said the rookie, who's relatively new to special teams, had a chance at a clean block but was hampered by a bad punt.
"That's the ruling, and it would get called like that probably 10 out of 10," Fox said. "We would like to have it back. I think he would like to have it back. He did have an opportunity to block it. The guy shanked it off to the left so bad he didn't have an opportunity to. We'll work on that. He's kind of new to that team, and that's as much our fault as anybody's."
• EXTRA POINTS: Fox said backup tackle Jeremy Bridges was doing better after being diagnosed Sunday morning with an irregular heartbeat. Bridges said after the game he was headed to Carolinas Medical Center to get checked further, but Fox said Monday everything was pointing in the right direction.
"I don't think it's anything real serious," Fox said. "Although all of that is serious, but from what I understand, he's making improvements."
Pressed for details, Fox replied: "That's what I know. Much more than that, I'd be making it up. I think they have that under control, and we'll evaluate it come Wednesday as far as his availability for Atlanta."