TAMPA — John Fox has heard the whispers before and he tries not to pay attention.
The Carolina Panthers will miss the playoffs for the second straight year and that led to rumors about the job security of both Fox, the head coach, and the general manager Marty Hurney.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told NFL Network analyst Cris Collinsworth last week that both were "fine" and would be back in 2008.
It's hard to tell if Fox even noticed the vote of confidence.
"I've been doing this for 17 years and I've never thought about that," Fox said. ‘I'm in this to win and to compete. I don't do it for the security of it. Sometimes when you sign up for that your family doesn't. That's always hard. My group (family) has seen these words before so they're handling it just fine."
The Panthers have endured a season that began with a 2-1 start and a lot of promise. But it derailed quickly after the elbow injury to starting quarterback Jake Delhomme.
David Carr was brought in during the offseason to back up Jake Delhomme. But Carr proved incapable of handling the offense, including his first start against the Buccaneers. That led the Panthers to make Vinny Testaverde and later Matt Moore the starter.
"It's new and different (for David)," Fox said. "When you come in new at quarterback, our intention was for him to sit and learn for a year. Unfortunately for him and for us, it didn't work out that way."
Defensive end Julius Peppers — now out for the rest of the season with a knee injury — underperformed all year, struggling to muster a pass rush and be the impact player of years past. He finished the year with only three sacks, the worst total of his six-year career.
The defense took a further hit when it lost MLB Dan Morgan for the season in October.
It all seemed to drag down the Panthers, who lost five straight games at one point but managed to remain in the playoff race until last week when it lost to Dallas.
Fox didn't want to blame it on injuries, but he admitted that was a key factor in the team's slump this season.
"I'd say that's the most glaring thing," Fox said. "You hate to admit to that. The guys have hung tough. We've broken two NFL records for the oldest quarterback to ever win a game. We may have even broken the record for having a fourth starting quarterback and still winning a game. It's not all been negative. At the end of the day, when you talk about the expectations of your fans and the whole business side of football, people don't want to hear about that (injuries). We have to improve and that will be our goal next season."
Three things to watch out of Carolina on Sunday:
Is the undrafted rookie auditioning to be Jake Delhomme's understudy next year? Or Delhomme's eventual replacement?
He isn't likely to play, but it's likely to be his last NFL game. It'd be nice to see the former Buc make a cameo of some kind.
The rookie made an impact last week in place of the injured Julius Peppers. He'll be asked to do so against this Sunday.
Listen to Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com's exclusive team media center for Postins' archived appearances.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.