Road to reclamation starts Sunday

Ken Lucas still can't believe the NFC South standings. "We were first in our division and now we're second (behind Tampa Bay)," Lucas said. "We're a wild-card team. That is so disappointing and kind of embarrassing. If you're ashamed of something you have to do something about it."

The Panthers hope they can begin to do something about it this Sunday when they travel to Baton Rouge, La., to face the New Orleans Saints.

But the reality is the Panthers need help if they're to win the NFC South.

It doesn't matter that Carolina and Tampa Bay have identical 9-4 records, because the Bucs have a better division record and would need to lose for the Panthers to have any shot at the division crown. Meanwhile, Carolina cannot afford to stumble again.

Had Carolina beaten Tampa Bay, it would have had a nearly insurmountable two-game lead in the division with three games to play. Furthermore, by virtue of Chicago's loss to Pittsburgh, the Panthers would have had the second-best record in the NFC, which would earn a first-round bye.

But if the season ended today, the Panthers would only get in as a wild card, the No. 5 seed overall, and would have to play on the first week of the postseason at Tampa Bay.

Now it's time to regroup, and the Panthers have had plenty to work on this week.

The biggest problem on Sunday was third downs, when the Panthers allowed the Bucs to convert 10 of 17 attempts, while the Panthers converted only 2 of 11 on offense.

Another problem will be getting their run game together.

Whether it's stubbornness or pride, Fox appears ready to stick with the running game led by DeShaun Foster, though the Panthers have had only one 100-yard rusher all season.

That decision comes in the midst of some criticism.

After Sunday's game, veteran receiver Ricky Proehl told a group of reporters he'd like to see the Panthers be "more aggressive" in their play-calling and perhaps use more three receiver sets to spread out the defense.

Fox, who obviously doesn't like his players questioning the coaching staff, was asked about Proehl's comments on Monday and replied, "What I wonder is what aggressive with the play-calling means. Do they mean passing means more aggressive than running?"

Then Fox said, "Hey, you know, again, (the Bucs) ran the ball 35 times. Maybe they had the right idea."

Carolina ran it 22 times.

Fox has long been a proponent that running ball and becomes irritated when observers question the decision to run it even when a team is in an obvious passing situation. A run, he has said in the past, "doesn't mean an offense isn't trying to score."

He used Carnell Williams' 10-yard touchdown run late in the game on a third-and-9 as an example.

"They scored a touchdown on third-and-9 with that unaggressive run," Fox snipped.

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