CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It's amazing how one weekend can change everything.
The Carolina Panthers entered Sunday's game against Chicago as one of the NFL's hottest teams and ranked fourth in scoring average. One day later, coach John Fox faced questions about his team's perceived offensive problems after the 13-3 loss snapped a six-game winning streak.
Fox was peppered with questions about the team's failure to use running back Stephen Davis, the lack of a consistent No. 2 wide receiver to star Steve Smith and - most glaring - the eight sacks his offensive line allowed to the Bears.
But while Fox refused to sound any alarms - his team is still tied for first in the NFC South with Tampa Bay at 7-3 - the message was clear: the Panthers need to get better, and soon.
Fox believed many of the problems on Sunday stemmed from Jake Delhomme's two first-quarter interceptions that led to two early Chicago scores.
"When you're playing a good team at their place, you're at a little bit of a disadvantage as it relates to pass protection," Fox said. "To spot them 10 points and have to play catch-up from the first quarter on makes your job tougher for the day."
The line didn't help Delhomme. The Panthers had given up more sacks in a game only once - in their first game as an expansion team in 1995. Fox said the problem was partly technique and missed assignments, but refused to say the Bears were more physical.
The line also didn't open many holes for Davis and DeShaun Foster. Davis had just 6 yards on four carries, while Foster had 41 yards on nine carries. Fox said he wants to get Foster more carries, but was careful to say he's not lost any confidence in Davis, who is averaging 3 yards per carry.
"Most of that was decided before we went into the game as far as packages and groups that we were going to use," Fox said of Foster getting the bulk of the work. "That's just the way it fell (on Sunday), just like there have been packages where we highlighted Stephen more in games prior to this."
In the passing game, Smith had a club-record 14 catches for 169 yards. That was as many receptions as the other starting receiver, Keary Colbert, has for the season. But Fox said he's not unhappy with Colbert's play, despite the fact Colbert had 47 catches in 15 games as a rookie.
If anything, it's a sign of how good Smith has been, he said.
"It's not that the other guys aren't ever open," Fox said. "There are things that come into play. If they are singled up (in coverage), Steve has proven pretty worthy. I don't think that's a negative."
Delhomme pointed out that the team needs to remain positive despite Sunday's outcome.
"If we win, everything is going to be a moot point," he said. "We lost so every (problem) is going to be glaring.
"We played a bad game on Sunday, no doubt. But we're still 7-3 and that is the positive thing about it."
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