Loss To New England, Puts Focus On Fox

The Carolina Panthers lost 20-10 on Sunday in cold, rainy Foxboro to fall to 5-8 on the season. The team's postseason hopes are as cold now, as the weather on Sunday. Now John Fox and company have some decisions to make as the Panthers finish out what's left on their schedule. The team also has a decision on what to do with Fox.

All that is left now for the Carolina Panthers are questions about next season.

Like, who'll be the head coach, John Fox or someone else? Who'll be the starting quarterback? Who'll be the No. 2 receiver? Will Julius Peppers be back? And what will the San Francisco 49ers do with Carolina's first-round pick which, by the way, is nicely shaping up to be a top-10 selection?

At 5-8, the eulogy on this season can now be written after the Panthers were all but eliminated from NFC playoff contention following yet another lackluster effort on offense in a 20-10 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium, assuring a fifth non-winning season in eight years under Fox.

Not unlike 2004 and 2006, the Panthers failed to follow up playoff appearances by making it back to the postseason. They went 7-9 in '04 and 8-8 in '06, but they'll really have to catch fire down the stretch to be anywhere near that.

"I mean everything falls back on the head coach," veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. "It's probably unjustified that it does fall back on him."

Muhammad said Fox isn't the only one to blame for the poor season.

"I mean, everybody's got to hold a little responsibility in the whole thing," Muhammad said. "You can't point one finger here and there and say it's one thing or another. It's a little bit of everybody. Everybody's got to take ownership of it. In this situation, you've got to look at yourself first."

Tackle Travelle Wharton said players haven't tuned out Fox.

"Definitely," Wharton said. "It's on us to play well. They have put together a game plan in the past and we've been successful with it. It's on us as players to come out and play well."

Added safety Chris Harris: "John Fox is a great coach. Guys respect him around here. I expect him back."

TRENDING: The Panthers are starting to get sloppy. They were victimized by penalties all day, flagged nine times for 92 yards against New England. Three of those penalties came on illegal shifts on offense, two on back-to-back plays. Fox said a noisy stadium contributed to the penalties, but added, "I'm not sure we were set at the line before (we went in) motion, and that's what they were getting on us."

Also, James Anderson had a costly 30-yard pass interference penalty that led to a New England touchdown, Captain Munnerlyn was flagged for defensive holding in the end zone and Everette Brown was flagged for running into the kicker.

Brown's penalty stood out because it came late in the fourth quarter and allowed the Patriots to keep their drive alive and eventually kick a field goal to make it a two-possession game.

"It was just a mistake, you know," Brown said. "I was going full speed. It wasn't the smartest thing to do. You don't ever want to give the offense 15 yards."

LINEUP WATCH: Defensive end Charles Johnson started at right defensive end for Tyler Brayton, while Dan Connor started at strong-side linebacker for Na'il Diggs. Brayton has a concussion and Diggs was nursing sore ribs. Both Brayton and Diggs should return next week.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES
--CB Chris Gamble took the team lead with his fourth interception of the season. The Panthers have caused 11 turnovers in their last three games, but the offense simply hasn't take advantage.
--WR Steve Smith caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore when he had rare one-on-one coverage.
--DT Nick Hayden struggled against the run as the Patriots racked up 185 yards on the ground. Hayden got blown off the ball quite a bit.
--CB Dante Wesley saw action at linebacker, working as a spy on Tom Brady.
--OT Jeff Otah left late in the game with a leg injury and was replaced by Geoff Schwartz. Otah's injury is not believed to be serious.

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