CHARLOTTE -- Carolina Panthers coach John Fox refused to apologize for ugly wins earlier in the season, and on Monday he declined the opportunity to suggest his defense was anything other than good enough.
The Panthers' stop-side has been strafed recently, giving up 32.7 points per game over the last three weeks. That's an alarming dip from the good work they had done before the skid which began against Detroit. Prior to that game, they were second in the league in scoring defense, allowing 14.8 points per game.
Now, that they're still seventh in that category -- but most importantly 9-3 -- was enough to satisfy Fox.
He bristled at questions about his side of the ball the day after his team's 35-31 win at Green Bay which featured them coughing up an 11-point halftime lead when the Packers reeled off 18 straight points.
"Again, I think people want to throw it 49 or 50 times a game, it can look more like that," Fox said when asked about the recent defensive struggles in general. "A few of those situations were like that.
"I just look at we score more than they score. I don't look at yards. I wish they wouldn't have scored quite as many. Our first half was better than our second half defensively, but they adjusted. They threw it a lot more in that second half, it just ended up not being enough."
Such questions aren't new to Fox -- nor are his responses -- since recent weeks have brought a parade of queries about the defense. Notably, the unit has sprung leaks against the run after being so clean in that aspect earlier this season.
The Panthers have given up more than 130 yards on the ground each of the last four games (Oakland got yards but no touchdowns). Fox addressed/didn't address that a week ago, and repeated his stock lines Monday.
"I don't know where you're really going with this, but all I'd say is we're in the top third in the league in defense. We're 9-3 and it's a team game," he said. "Yards don't win games, points do. I hope that answered all your questions in one."
When asked about their slump in scoring defense (five spots in the league rankings in three weeks), he replied: "We're seventh in the league in points allowed, so my same answer."
That he doesn't want to talk about the trend doesn't mean he's just whistling past the graveyard. He simply cares to not discuss such matters during press conferences. That's why questions about trends get bland answers, then become ammunition for him to take back to his team in ensuing days.
Asked if he was concerned by the recent tendency toward hemorrhaging points, Fox used another of his favorite stock responses.
"It all concerns me," he said. "Just not in the mood for debating statistics ... which I don't like statistics anyway."
Asked if he thought his defense was playing as well as it had, he came back with: "Playing well enough to be 9-3."
Of particular concern for the team -- whether they want to admit it or not -- is the way the pass defense has been shot full of holes. The opponents who've done the shooting rank 26th, 14th and 10th in pass offense.
Fox's theory that if teams want to pass more they can skew the stats might be valid, but the reality is teams are doing it because it's working.
There were a number of breakdowns in the secondary Sunday, with several players stepping up to shoulder the load. While last week's 45-28 loss at Atlanta was laid at the feet of cornerback Richard Marshall -- who gave up the game-changing 69-yard reception by Harry Douglas -- there were many more culprits Sunday.
Cornerback Ken Lucas struggled, both before and after leaving the game after a hard shot in the third quarter. Marshall and backup Dante Wesley appeared confused over assignments on the game-tying two-point conversion, and rookie safety Charles Godfrey had several moments when it looked like he needed a GPS.
In the end, they were bailed out by a goal-line stand which forced the Packers to settle for a field goal, then a late interception by middle linebacker Jon Beason (his team-high third of the year).
That apparently makes them more timely than efficient, but all that apparently matters to Fox is that it was just enough, yet again.