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NFL: Fox has seen these swoons before

By Mike Cranston
Associated Press
CHARLOTTEó Carolina Panthers coach John Fox’s head is full of cliches and cheesy motivational sayings used to calm, motivate and educate his players.
Some, like, “It’s not where you start the race, it’s where you finish it,” have been in vogue in the past week. And while only three teams since 1990 have recovered from the Panthers’ current predicament of 0-3 to reach the playoffs, Fox’s words hold some weight.
He was part of the biggest turnaround in the modern era, serving as an assistant in San Diego in 1992 when the Chargers started 0-4 only to win 11 of their final 12 games to win the AFC West.
“We had a lot tougher obstacles that year than we do right now,” Fox said.
The Panthers returned from their bye weekend for meetings on Monday. They won’t return to practice again until Wednesday and host Washington on Sunday in a critical game to keep their hopes alive.
Fox said he spent last week looking up 1992 record. Quarterback Jake Delhomme said players have been made aware of the Chargers’ turnaround.
“John has brought that up,” he said.
Fox was 37 when he left a job as Pittsburgh’s secondary coach to take the same job for new Chargers coach Bobby Ross. San Diego hadn’t made the playoffs in a decade and went 4-12 a year earlier.
The Chargers then scored only 29 points in their first four games in 1992, including a 27-0 loss to Houston that dropped them to 0-4.
“You don’t go in some place because they had such great success the year before,” Fox said. “So I’m not sure the landscape was a real positive winning type of landscape.”
Stan Humphries threw two touchdowns a week later in a 17-6 win over Seattle ó whose only points came from ageless Panthers kicker John Kasay’s two field goals.
After a bye week, San Diego won three more before a 16-14 loss to Kansas City left them 4-5.
The Chargers then hit stride behind running back Marion Butts and a dominant defense that included defensive end Leslie O’Neal and a young Junior Seau.
“We ran the table, so we won 11 of our next 12, and I believe it’s the only team in history to ever do that,” Fox said of being the only modern club to start 0-4 and reach the playoffs.
The Chargers blanked Kansas City 17-0 in the wild-card round before getting pounded 31-0 to Miami to end their season. Fox spent one more season in San Diego before stints in Oakland, St. Louis and the New York Giants. He got his first head coaching job with Carolina in 2002.
Turning things around in Carolina won’t be easy. The Panthers have a minus-8 turnover margin, are allowing 182.7 yards rushing per game and can’t seem to tackle anybody.
But the next three games are against the struggling Redskins (2-2), Tampa Bay (0-4) and Buffalo (1-3). Fullback Brad Hoover (back), safety Chris Harris (knee) and linebacker Na’il Diggs (ribs) all hope to return Sunday, too.
So maybe Julius Peppers can channel his inner O’Neal, who recorded 17 sacks in 1992. Maybe a youngster can make an impact like Seau. Maybe the Panthers can start looking like the 2008 NFC South-winning club.
History ó and Fox’s stories ó prove it’s possible.
“We’re not the lone ranger,” Fox said. “I don’t want our team to think that they are. We’ve got an opportunity, and what we do with it is going to be key.”

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