Super Bowl hangover

Carolina coach John Fox talks Panthers-49ers and starting 1-7 after last year's Super Bowl season:

Q: How is this losing season wearing on you after last year's Super Bowl season?

Fox: Well, it's wearing. But we still have half of a season left. We haven't played very well in the first half and we're getting some continuity in some guys even though they are new faces. Hopefully we can get them oiled up and finish off stronger than we started.

Q: Why haven't the Panthers played well this year?

Fox: I think it's a combination. Injuries are a funny thing and that it's not just that you lose some key guys; it's getting the new people schooled up in what you are doing. We have six guys on our roster that weren't even with us in training camp. So, that's not an excuse. It's just reality. We're getting further along in that area and we are much like what San Francisco is going through and that we've been in a lot of games and come up short. The difference between winning and losing in this league is a very fine line and just getting over that hump is the real test.

Q: What do you have to do to turn this season around?

Fox: My first year here we lost eight in a row and won four out of our last five to finish 7-9. So a lot of the core players that were there were here last year. We even had a spell last year where we lost three in a row. I think guys understand that there is a fine line. Our guys' attitude is great. They continue to practice hard and work hard and now hopefully soon we can see the benefits of that.

Q: Do you see many parallels between what you and the 49ers both are going through this year?

Fox: I'm not nearly as familiar with them as I am with us. I have some familiarity because we are studying them now. I can't really speak for them. I just know that the records are similar. It is frustrating and it does wear on you. But you have to push through it.

Q: How has former 49er Brentson Buckner been doing for you this season?

Fox: He's been really good, both on and off the field. He's the leader of that group and has been steadfast in his approach. He's had a wide array of guys around him, but he's done a good job of keeping that group solid and continuing to improve.

Q: Is the defensive line still the strength of your team?

Fox: I think so. Really, we've gotten a lot of criticism because our sack total is down and the rush yards are up. But people more familiar with football understand that they aren't throwing the ball on us a lot. And it's not just the defensive line's problem in the running game. I still think that this would be the strength. I think our front seven in general is.

Q: What do you have to do to beat the 49ers this week?

Fox: When Tim Rattay is in there he's done an excellent job. He's got a quick delivery and is very accurate. Kevan Barlow is an excellent running back. He's got good burst and very good vision in cut-back running. And they have some young receivers that run well and have been productive. Defensively they have had some injuries, but they are keeping them in games. They were ahead in the Jets game. It makes you understand what a fine line this really is weekend after weekend.

Q: How has rookie Keary Colbert been coming along at receiver?

Fox: He's very mature for his years, meaning he understands the game very well. He had a very consistent career in college at USC. He understands how to run routes and he's got a great understanding of the game. I think that's paramount as far as guys stepping in early in this league. He had the opportunity after the first game. I mean, he didn't even get in uniform for our opener against Green Bay. Then Steve Smith broke his ankle and was out for the year and he stepped in against Kansas City and he had a big day and caught a touchdown pass. He prepared all through camp and he's been a bright spot. He's started for us ever since and continues to improve.

Q: Is there a substitute for experience in regards to younger players?

Fox: No, there really isn't. You can sit in meetings, but those are air-conditioned and quiet. That's not football. So the carryover into actually going out and doing it between the lines on Sundays at the highest level in the world, there is no substitute for that.

Q: You are so banged-up at running back. What will your situation be there on Sunday?

Fox: Well, just like we've done it in the past. We have Joey Harris, Brad Hoover and we have Brandon Bennett who we picked up a few weeks ago and is now familiar with the offense. That's pretty much the way our workload goes as far as our running back situation.


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