Panthers beat Cardinals 19-12; Fox gets game ball

Panthers beat Cardinals 19-12; Fox gets game ball

Credit: Jeremy Igo

(Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010)

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by MIKE CRANSTON / Associated Press

WCNC.com

Posted on December 19, 2010 at 5:45 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 4:32 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Seconds after Carolina recovered Arizona's last-ditch onside kick attempt on Sunday to seal a 19-12 victory and end a demoralizing seven-game losing streak, Jordan Gross tracked down the equipment manager.

He wanted the game ball and knew who needed it.

Gross and coach John Fox had been together since 2003, when the rookie left tackle was part of Fox's biggest accomplishment, a Super Bowl berth. They were around for the playoff seasons in '05 and '08 and they've been paired in this miserable year that's almost certainly Fox's last in Charlotte.

Gross, an offensive captain, secured the ball and handed it to Fox in the locker room after the season's final home game.

"I've been here almost as long as him. I know what he's meant to the organization," Gross said. "It's unfortunate that the season has gone the way it has, but it's just so nice to win today.

"As a guy who's been here with them, I thought it was neat to give him some recognition."

The win wasn't pretty -- nothing has been this season for the NFL's worst team -- but it didn't stop an emotional postgame experience for Fox, who secured an overall winning regular-season record while eliminating Arizona (4-10) from playoff contention.

Fox, in the last year of his contract after being denied an extension, raised his arms and clenched his fists as he walked off the field. He paused briefly to interact with some of his few remaining loyal fans left in a stadium that started out about half empty.

"That little corner, I've gotten close to them, too, after nine years," Fox said of the fans near the tunnel. "Signed autographs, just kind of the same thing I do all the time. It was an emotional day."

And the victory didn't even hurt Carolina's chances of securing the No. 1 overall draft pick and perhaps Stanford star quarterback Andrew Luck for the next coaching staff. Cincinnati also won Sunday, leaving the Panthers (2-12) still a game up in the race for the league's worst record.

"It meant a lot to us, but for (Fox), he was a little choked up," said tight end Jeff King, who caught a touchdown pass. "It was great seeing smiling faces again in the locker room."

Jimmy Clausen outplayed John Skelton in a matchup of rookie quarterbacks, throwing his first TD pass since Oct. 3. John Kasay kicked four field goals and Jonathan Stewart rushed for 137 yards as Carolina built a 19-3 lead -- it's largest of the season.

"Anytime for us this season when we score a touchdown it's a big thing," said Fox, whose wife, Robin, was in the media room for his postgame press conference. "I was happy to see that happen. ... Like always, we made it interesting in the end."

Arizona (4-10), which was finally eliminated from the weak NFC West, mustered 43 yards rushing in its eighth loss in nine games. In his second start, Skelton threw an interception and lost a fumble, a big drop-off from his turnover-free performance a week earlier in a win over Denver.

"I think it's just forcing the ball sometimes. I threw an interception on a ball that should have never gone to (Stephen) Spach," said Skelton, a fifth-round pick from Fordham. "Those are plays that at a lower level, you can get away with, but when you come here they are going to make plays on defense.

"Even on other plays when I went the wrong place with the ball, there were drops or incompletions, but still they are plays I need to make."

The Cardinals got within 19-9 when Steve Breaston recovered teammate Tim Hightower's fumble in the end zone with 5:41 left. The 2-point conversion failed.

Jay Feely's second field goal with 54 seconds left got Arizona within a touchdown. But the Cardinals, who failed to recover a surprise onside kick to start the second half, saw Jordan Senn recover their second try to seal Carolina's victory.

"It's hard for anybody to find their rhythm when you make mistakes," Breaston said. "It's all about consistency and right now we don't have that as a unit and we find ourselves losing games."

Larry Fitzgerald, 27, caught nine passes for 125 yards to go over 8,000 yards receiving. Only Randy Moss reached the milestone at a younger age. But the Cardinals got only 16 yards rushing from Hightower a week after he went for a career-best 148 against the Broncos.

"Seemed like every time we had a chance to do something, we made mistakes," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

That's what the Panthers have been doing most of the season, too. On Sunday, they did just enough to give their coach a going-away gift.

"We develop a lot of relationships here," Fox said. "There are a lot of high character guys in that locker room that I appreciate. It means a lot to me."

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