Panthers 19, Cardinals 12

Over nine seasons as coach of the Carolina Panthers, John Fox

has made it a point to hide his emotions behind an avalanche of

cliches, guarded answers and a tough guy persona.

Sunday was different.

Minutes after his league-worst Panthers celebrated the end of a

seven-game losing streak with a hard-to-watch, but quite gratifying

19-12 win over the punchless Arizona Cardinals, Fox took a minute

to soak in what was almost certainly his final home game on the


Securing an overall winning regular-season record, Fox left the

field with his arms raised and fists clenched. He then hustled to

the locker room, where captain Jordan Gross was waiting to hand him

the game ball.

”We develop a lot of relationships here. There are a lot of

high character guys in that locker room that I appreciate,” Fox

said. ”It means a lot to me.”

Later, Fox quickly grabbed a water bottle as he appeared to be

on the verge of choking up.

”It was an emotional day,” he acknowledged.

Denied a contract extension the past two years and seemingly at

odds with the offseason roster-gutting that left the Panthers

(2-12) short on talent and experience, Fox is coaching out the

string in the last year of his deal.

This time, his youngsters came through for him in a performance

that was just good enough to beat a similarly dysfunctional unit.

And it didn’t even hurt Carolina’s draft positioning, as Cincinnati

also won to keep the Panthers a game up in the race for the No. 1

overall pick.

Jimmy Clausen outplayed John Skelton in a matchup of rookie

quarterbacks, throwing his first touchdown pass since Oct. 3. John

Kasay kicked four field goals and Jonathan Stewart rushed for 137


Arizona (4-10), which was finally eliminated from playoff

contention in the weak NFC West, mustered 43 yards rushing in their

eighth loss in nine games. In his second start, Skelton threw an

interception and lost a fumble.

”I think it’s just forcing the ball sometimes,” Skelton said.

”I threw an interception on a ball that should have never gone to

(Stephen) Spach. Those are plays that at a lower level, you can get

away with. But when you come here they are going to make plays on


The Cardinals got within 19-9 when Steve Breaston recovered

teammate Tim Hightower’s fumble in the end zone with 5:41 left. The

2-point conversion failed.

Arizona got a late field goal with 54 seconds left. But the

Cardinals, who failed to recover a surprise onside kick to start

the second half, saw Carolina’s Jordan Senn recover their second

try to seal Carolina’s victory.

It was then that Gross told the equipment manager to save the

game ball.

”I gave it to Fox. It was neat because he’s given out a lot of

game balls and he’s not a guy that really talks about his own

accolades and things,” Gross said. ”I think it meant a lot to


The game served as a painful reminder of how far and how quickly

these franchises have sunk thanks to poor quarterback play. Less

than two years ago the Cardinals forced six turnovers by Jake

Delhomme in a 33-13 rout of the Panthers in the NFC divisional

playoffs on their way to a surprise Super Bowl appearance.

Clausen was good enough get his first win in eight tries,

completing 13 of 19 passes for 141 yards and no turnovers. Stewart

took advantage of the league’s 30th-ranked rushing defense, and

Carolina pounced on Arizona’s mistakes.

Skelton, a fifth-round pick from Fordham who got the job with

Derek Anderson (concussion) sidelined, didn’t get the help he

received a week earlier, when the ground game and special teams

dominated in a 43-13 win over Denver.

Skelton’s interception led to a TD and a 13-0 deficit. He

finished 17-of-33 for 196 yards.

”It seems every time we had a chance to do something, we made

mistakes,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, ”whether it was turnovers,

running into the kicker, our onside kick was short.”

Leading 6-0, the Panthers caught a break when Skelton

inexplicably floated a pass into double coverage toward Spach that

was easily intercepted by Sherrod Martin. On the next play, Clausen

found an open Jeff King for a 16-yard touchdown, ending Clausen’s

streak of 202 passes without a TD.

By batting down a pass in the end zone on third down and

recovering Skelton’s fumble, Tyler Brayton led a solid Carolina

defensive effort hours after the news he was fined $15,000 for

leveling Atlanta’s Chris Owens from off the field on a punt return

in a 31-10 loss last week.

Those kind of days had become commonplace in a miserable season.

It made Sunday that much more satisfying on an emotional day that

still had its limits. Fox dismissed a suggestion he got sentimental

on the drive to the stadium.

”I’m not quite that soft,” he said.

Notes: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, 27, caught nine passes for

125 yards to go over 8,000 yards receiving. Only Randy Moss reached

the milestone at a younger age. … Cardinals KR LaRod

Stephens-Howling left with a hamstring injury. Replacement Andre

Roberts had a 47-yard return. … Panthers CB Chris Gamble sat out

with an ankle injury. … Panthers DE Charles Johnson had a sack

for a fifth straight game.