Carolina Panthers

Fox to Panthers' vets: There's more work to do

CHARLOTTE -- As fine a piece of cinema as it was, the Carolina Panthers haven't watched the film from Monday's win over Tampa Bay.

In part, it's because, in a short week, they don't have the time. They're too busy getting ready for Denver.

But there's also a mandate from above at work, with Panthers coach John Fox putting out the word he doesn't want his team peaking with that one -- no matter how good.

Fox called up the elders after practice Wednesday, an 11-player huddle which lasted a good 10 minutes after the rest of the team was headed back to the locker room.

He wouldn't elaborate on the conversation -- "That'd be a negative," he replied when asked to share, "that's why it was over there."

But his point was unmistakable.

Now that they're 10-3, there's more work to do.

"We had success," tight end Jeff King said. "One game doesn't define a season just like one loss doesn't. A win's a win, and certainly it was big, but each game from here on out is going to be big. We're going to play good teams, and every game's going to be big."

Linebacker Na'il Diggs, also part of the group, said the theme was clear.

"It was just basically kind of, keep your heads on straight," Diggs said. "Nothing really severe or anything. Just make sure everybody knows that was a pretty big game and we're in the driver's seat on this thing, so we can't fall asleep at the wheel."

Such impromptu meetings are nothing new for Fox. He'll call similar caucuses -- generally captains and someone from each position group -- to take the temperature of his team. He did it two weeks ago when making the against-his-nature decision to let them practice without pads during the week.

"We are a very open team," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "There are no hidden agendas, and that's something that guys, when you come here, learn with Foxy. He doesn't hide things from you. They're close to the vest, so to speak, but his players know where he's coming from on all things. That's something we appreciate. He doesn't always do what the players want, but he'll listen to us and he'll do what's best for the team."

Delhomme still thinks the players in the locker room can "police itself," and Fox said having veterans such as Delhomme who were around for playoff runs in 2003 and 2005 help take the burden off him to communicate such messages.

Still, it's natural for the Panthers to feel good about themselves after the Tampa game. They rushed for 299 yards and four touchdowns against a team that had only given up one score on the ground.

"We knew we had to run it, but if you'd have said that, we'd have probably called B-S on you," King admitted.

With that beatdown on national television came the natural result -- increased attention for a team that would prefer none. Yes, they ran well. Yes, they control their destiny for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. But until they play again, they have no flaws in many minds, and they're all being canonized and fitted for yellow blazers.

At times such as these, the master orator Fox usually leans on his trustworthy clichés.

You'll get the traditional "one game at a time," and "any given Sunday," but over the next few weeks you're guaranteed about barbecues and how this isn't their first one, and how the games "are only bigger on the outside." You'll hear that "they're all hard," and you'll hear it more often now that they're getting harder.

While Fox wouldn't talk about the specifics of the words for his cabinet, he said there's nothing groundbreaking he tells players about handling prosperity.

"It's not a new message," he said. "It's been a message that I've used every year I've been here and probably every game I've coached here. Part of the battle in coaching is to keep your guys' minds right. One thing I think is true is you're never as good as they say you are and you're never as bad as they say you are -- they being outside of that room.

"We're probably a little bit more out in the open inside that room with things said and done. They know that. It's hard to keep your mind right. That's why it's so hard to go through this league undefeated."

Delhomme said this week -- with an unfamiliar non-conference foe on the way -- reminds him of other times this year when things looked better than they actually were. He talked about the lead-up to the first meeting with Tampa Bay (when they were 4-1) and how they "got embarrassed."

"Guys got to learn pretty quick," Delhomme said.

With a short week, he said, "you aren't going home and spending time with the family and enjoying the win because you're going home and going to sleep. Because the next day, you have to get ready. You can't really enjoy it. We didn't even watch film of this game. It's on to the next game. We've got to go."

They know there's a natural question of how focused they'll be, whether the heat of the television lights made their heads swell.

That's why Fox called them up for a talk.

"Certain things come up that you have to talk about," King said. "That's something Fox does extremely well, is communicate with us and let us know what's going on.

"Our focus is on Denver."

Fox's cabinet

Panthers coach John Fox called up his trusted veterans Wednesday to spread his message that the team has more work to do. Here's a look at who was listening:

QB Jake Delhomme, FB Brad Hoover, WR Muhsin Muhammad, LT Jordan Gross, TE Jeff King, DE Julius Peppers, DT Damione Lewis, LBs Jon Beason and Na'il Diggs, SS Chris Harris and P Jason Baker.

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