One day after Carolina suffered its fourth straight loss, coach John Fox was asked to talk about a pooch punt that went awry.
In a scoreless game Sunday, Fox had the Panthers line up for a would-be 52-yard field-goal attempt by John Kasay, only to have his kicker pooch punt the ball in an attempt to pin the Packers down inside the 10. The Packers seemed to know it was coming and Tramon Williams picked it up and ran 94 yards to give Green Bay the early 7-0 lead.
It turns out the Panthers only had 10 players on the field.
Fox, who rarely singles out his players for their mistakes, clearly put this one on the shoulders of punter Jason Baker, who was in charge of making sure all 10 guys were on the field. He also named Jeff King as the absent player.
"We've done it before, and it's been executed well," Fox said. "They overplayed the guy to the left. John (Kasay) did a good job of kicking it right. If we had one more guy over there, we think it's a huge difference. Any time they've got 11 and you've got 10, it's not a good deal. If that were a field-goal attempt, we would call timeout. On a pooch punt or any kind of a plus-50 punt situation, our holder is trained to count 11. If there are not 11, you wait for him to get on. If he doesn't show up, you just get delay of game."
When asked if Baker miscounted or simply failed to count, Fox replied, "I'd say he probably didn't count. He's a pretty smart guy and knows how to count to 11."
The irony of the play is that Fox was trying to play it safe.
Instead of risking a missed field goal and giving the Packers the ball at their own 42, Fox wanted to pin them deep in their own end. The Panthers ran the play twice earlier this season and both times it worked well.
"It's not all just linemen (failing to cover the kick)," Fox said. "There are other guys. The tight end, which we were missing, is key. Then our holder is a good athlete. Really as it was, I felt like it was a great play by that guy (Tramon Williams). He took it all the way back to the other side of the field, and that's where we were short."
Teams have sent returners back on the Panthers before when they've tried long field goals.
"Yes. They do it on a field goal. When they think it's a long field goal and in that direction on that day, the 34-yard line is a long field goal. I know some people don't realize the conditions of the game, but at that point going that direction, we had to get it around the 30-yard line. When you're at the 34 and line up for a field goal, a lot of people have (somebody back). I think there was one just last week that was returned about 109 yards on a long field goal. Whether it's a long field goal or pooch punt, you really have the same situation."
When asked why he didn't just go ahead and punt, Fox cited the element of surprise.
--Coach John Fox questioned a couple of calls by the officials after Sunday's loss to Green Bay.
The first was a non-call in the first quarter on John Kasay's pooch punt.
Fox felt that center Justin Hartwig was blocked from behind by Johnny Jolly while attempting to cover the punt. If the officials had thrown the flag, it would have nullified Tramon Williams' 94-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Packers an early 7-0 lead.
When asked if he felt that Jolly's block was legal, Fox replied, "Personally, no -- but that doesn't make much difference now."
The other play that bothered Fox was that officials didn't rule a fumble on Julius Peppers' sack of Packers quarterback Brett Favre later in the first quarter. Fox challenged that play, but still lost.
After reviewing the tape, officials determined Favre did in fact fumble the ball, but said it was inconclusive as to who recovered -- even though Peppers emerged from the pile with the ball. Therefore, they did not rule it a turnover.
"That's another one I had a different opinion about," Fox said. "They ruled it was a fumble, but they could not see anybody come out of the pile with it cleanly on the review screen. They saw it on the field, but said that didn't count."
On Monday, after watching the film, Fox said, "I can't really comment on that. I saw what I saw, and our avenues for that are to send it to the league and that's where that is right now."
--Carolina's offense, which came into the game ranked 28th in the league, was without its best player in Steve Smith.
Fox said he knew early Sunday morning that Smith would not play and the former Pro Bowler did not even bother to warm up before the game. Smith injured his shin in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons and did not practice last week.
"I think there is a much better chance this week than say later in the week last week," Fox said of Smith's chance of playing this week vs. New Orleans. Carolina has defeated New Orleans in the last three meetings.
--Despite gaining 160 yards and nine first downs, the Panthers managed just three points in the first half.
"We need to start faster," said running back DeShaun Foster. "That is the whole key to our offense, I think. We sputtered a little bit and then in the second half, we came out better. But we have to start faster in the first half."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--CB Chris Gamble may or may not have a broken right thumb, according to coach John Fox. Fox said he should know more Tuesday.
--KR Ryne Robinson is playing with more confidence each passing week.
--DE Julius Peppers had a sack (he now has 2.5) and blocked his second field goal of the season. Peppers now has seven career blocked field goals.
--The Panthers had been 16-0 when RB DeShaun Foster ran for more than 70 yards in a game -- but not after Sunday's loss to Green Bay. Foster had 87 yards on the ground in the loss.
--CB Patrick Dendy is playing pretty well as Carolina's fourth cornerback.
REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Let's start by saying this: The Panthers were playing without Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, so the expectation level coming in clearly was lower. Vinny Testaverde threw for 258 yards and two scores, but it was his three turnovers -- two interceptions and one fumble -- that really hurt. After the game, Testaverde took blame for the loss, but it was hardly all his fault. It was nice to see Drew Carter come up big. He had five catches for 132 yards, the second-highest mark of his career. Dwayne Jarrett played decent but allowed a Green Bay defender to strip him of the football as he was coming down in the end zone for what would have been a touchdown. He needs to be stronger and play more aggressive. Look for Smith to be back next week vs. New Orleans (4-6).
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Panthers actually ran the ball pretty well against the Packers, totaling 131 yards on 29 carries. DeShaun Foster ran very hard, picking up 87 yards on 20 carries, but he still has yet to break that big run. Oh, by the way, remember that new stat about the Panthers being undefeated when Foster runs for more than 70 yards in a game? Well, make that 16-1 overall. It's worth mentioning, especially since he rarely gets much publicity, but fullback Brad Hoover did an outstanding job of blocking for Foster.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Brett Favre only threw for 218 yards, but the three touchdowns were killers. Tight end Donald Lee hurt the Panthers with five catches for 49 yards and two touchdowns, the first time he's done that in his career. Greg Jennings had seven catches for 48 yards and the other score. Carolina managed just one sack, keeping the Panthers on pace to record 16 for the season.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Panthers did well against Ryan Grant except for two long runs (23 and 16 yards) when their pursuit broke down. Julius Peppers saved a touchdown on one of Grant's runs. Eight times the Panthers held Grant to less than one yard and three times they tackled him for a loss. Still, Grant finished with 88 yards on 20 carries and the Packers had 103 yards on 27 carries, a 3.8-yard average. Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu and Kris Jenkins were pretty solid up front.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The Panthers blew a pooch punt with some terrible coverage, resulting in a 94-yard touchdown return for the Packers and a 7-0 lead. That was a huge blow because the Panthers had some momentum early in the game. Justin Hartwig appeared to get blindsided on the return and coach John Fox hinted he thought the block might have been illegal. Later in the game, the Panthers surrendered a 67-yard kickoff return to Koren Robinson.
OVERALL: C -- You know what, let's face it -- nobody expected this game even to be close, especially after the Panthers declared Smith inactive. Overall, the Panthers did a decent job of running the football and they even made some plays in the passing game, although most of them came in the second half. Still, this team didn't give up and showed some fight until the end. They were clearly outmanned, but at least they didn't get blown out. However, they need to figure out a way to end this four-game slide because the season is quickly slipping away.