Sorensen: Fox uses Panthers’ home-field disadvantage to his advantage

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comNovember 11, 2012 

— This one was the worst. The New York Giants dominated the Carolina Panthers even more thoroughly than the Denver Broncos did.

But the New York loss was in September. Thirteen games remained.

Now seven do. Despite the rumors, the Panthers aren’t going 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.

Denver’s defense was better than its offense. The Broncos sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton seven times. They picked off two of his passes.

I don’t want to embellish linebacker Von Miller’s performance. But last season’s defensive rookie of the year played like the greatest linebacker in the history of organized football.

It was as if the Panthers threw a party in their backfield, and the Broncos were invited. Miller went straight to the VIP section.

Anybody who criticizes fans for leaving Panthers games early doesn’t understand the concept of private property. Sunday was a stunningly beautiful day, and there were hundreds of places more interesting than the stadium.

The stadium was interesting only to fans of Denver and of Denver coach John Fox. Fox, the head coach of 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.

Here’s proof:

Less than four minutes remained, the Broncos clung to a 15-point lead and they had the ball third-and-seven 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 Friday night, dined at Del Frisco’s with his family, held the walk-through practice at Ardrey Kell High School, 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?

Outside the locker room, Fox’s wife, Robin, and a large group of family and friends waited. Most wore orange.

Orange is the national color of the Netherlands, and there was so much orange in the hallway it looked as if the Netherlands had invaded.

The Netherlands won.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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