DESPITE THE rumors, the Carolina Panthers are not moving to Los Angeles. But they are headed toward the bottom of the standings. It’s as if they have a standing reservation.
They finally won a game last week, but whatever momentum they hoped to generate faded Sunday after another Denver sack or another Peyton Manning completion, another Carolina turnover or another Panthers’ special teams error.
The Panthers are 1-4 on the road and 1-5 at home. They will catch a break because they have more road games than home games remaining. They lose by an average of 0.25 points on the road. At home, they lose by 10.4.
The Broncos had the Panthers where they wanted them — at Bank of America Stadium. After giving up a touchdown on Carolina’s second drive, Denver scored 29 straight points and won 36-14.
The Broncos might be one of the NFL’s best teams. But nobody should win as easily as they did. Peyton Manning was 27 of 38 for 301 yards. Manning is among the best quarterbacks of all time, so such precision is expected.
Bank of America Stadium was interesting only to fans of Denver and of Denver coach John Fox.
Fox, who coached the Panthers for nine seasons, is the most successful major league coach Charlotte has had in any sport. And he wanted this game as desperately as anybody who knows him would have expected.
Less than four minutes remained, the Broncos clung to a 15-point lead and they had the ball third-and-7 on their 49. They did not call a draw play. They did not throw a short, safe pass. Manning went deep to Demaryius Thomas down the right side for 46 yards.
The Broncos scored on the next play. To Fox’s credit, he did not call an onside kick.
The acrimony between Fox and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson undoubtedly is permanent. When the game ended and as the Broncos left the field, Fox hugged players and coaches and everybody else in Broncos gear. He might have hugged the equipment manager. He might have hugged the equipment.
This was a homecoming for Fox. He stayed in his estate at Quail Hollow on Friday night, dined at Del Frisco’s with his family, held the walk-through practice at Ardrey Kell High, returned Sunday to the stadium in which he worked nine seasons and won big.
Fox’s postgame news conference was predictably and intentionally boring. So, I asked him if Peyton Manning was the best quarterback he’s had as an NFL head coach.
“Yeah, I think,” Fox said candidly beneath a severely orange Broncos’ cap. He almost laughed.
Later, away from the cameras, Fox joked and laughed and smiled. He was thrilled. Why pretend he was not?