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
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
”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.