Maybe most of it has to do with the defense, and the fact that John Fox knows his Carolina Panthers are going to be in every single game they play because of it. But there's more than that. Fox is an excellent coach. He's in my top five in the league, and just think -- we're in a fairly golden age for coaches right now.
Think of the Super Bowl winners now coaching. Parcells, Belichick, the revived Gibbs, Shanahan, Vermeil, Holmgren, Billick and Gruden. And then there's Reid, Dungy, Fisher, Green, Martz, Cowher ... Almost half of the coaches in the league are veteran playoff guys. But Fox took over a 1-15 team, and in just over two seasons, has them 22-16, with one of the losses being the three-point, high-wire act to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII. No Super Bowl loser ever has exited the Big Game with a better image than last season's Panthers. Fox is so organized, so strong-willed, so much a coach you want to play for, that even when the deck is stacked against Carolina, his players have a legitimate feeling they'll win anyway.
And I'm not sure Fox has won a game in Carolina bigger than the 28-17 job Sunday in Kansas City.
"You had everything against you,'' I reminded him Monday. "Your most explosive offensive player [Steve Smith], your bread-and-butter back [Stephen Davis] is out. You're at the loudest stadium [Arrowhead] in football. Kansas City's desperate to win because the Chiefs lost their opener ...''
"And consider we stunk the joint out on Monday night against Green Bay,'' Fox added. "I didn't know what to think of us, really, after that debacle.''
"So what did you say to your team before the game?'' I said.
"I told 'em, 'Nobody defines us but us. So don't listen to anyone tell you how bad things are. Play the position you're trained to play, and we'll be fine.' ''
They were. All coaches say it, but Fox feels strongly that when you pick your 53-man roster, you'd better think that the 53rd man can literally help you win a game when the pressure's on. This is why no-names such as Kris Mangum and Mike Seidman scored touchdowns with key offensive guys missing, and why unknown defensive youngsters Kindal Moorehead, a tackle, and Colin Branch, a safety, both down-the-line 2003 draft picks, played big on defense in Kansas City.
"I tell my guys all the time," Fox said, "'No redshirt years in the NFL, boys. You better be ready to play when we call your name.' ''
The Panthers' bye week comes at a good time, because maybe Davis can return after missing another game or two. But just as there are no redshirts in the locker room, there are no Woffords on the schedule, either. In order, here's Carolina's next five games: home against NFC South leader Atlanta, at Denver, at Philly, San Diego and at Seattle. Four loseable games. But then again, you never know how a schedule is going to look two or three weeks down the road.
"When I looked at this schedule three or four months ago,'' he said, "I was thinking 1-1 after the first two. But I would have flip-flopped 'em. You just never know in this league.''
THREE QUESTIONS WITH ...
Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning, who played a vintage fourth quarter -- with a little help from his friends, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James -- in polishing off the Titans in Nashville on Sunday:
MMQBTE: You got a huge game, especially late, from James. Considering he fumbled twice in the red zone last week, would you say he redeemed himself in this game?
Manning: He's my favorite running back, as far as I'm concerned. And he really took that loss hard last week in New England. You could see it. He didn't have to say much. All he said to me was, 'Hey, Peyt, my bad.' But you could see it hurt him.'
MMQBTE: How much pressure was there to not start 0-2?
Manning:Tony [Dungy] never said a word about it, but he really didn't have to. Tony never puts pressure on us like that. But we knew it was a bigger game than the Patriots game. Like Tony says, an AFC South game counts double -- a win for us, a loss for Tennessee.'
MMQBTE: It must feel good to go into a fourth quarter with Harrison and James on your team.
Manning: Marvin's the best receiver in the league. And Edgerrin, when he's healthy, is Edgerrin James. He's my favorite back. The way we played in the fourth quarter is kind of what we used to do.
Postscript: James reported to the Colts facility Monday with a grade two hamstring strain, hurt on his 30-yard game-icing touchdown run. He could miss a week or two.
FROM THE E-MAIL BAG
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
The anti-Butch Davis Club leads off, and then the Donovan McNabb Fan Club checks in with a thoughtful e-mail. By the way, it turns out the four Browns girls were Miller Lite girls in town for a promotion, dressed like Browns cheerleaders would be if there were such people as Browns cheerleaders, which I've been told there are not.
WHY WAS WINSLOW IN ON THE ONSIDE KICK TEAM? From A. Desomma of New York: "Not sure why Butch Davis spends two high draft picks to move up one spot for Kellen Winslow and then uses him Sunday in Dallas on the onsides-kick team where he breaks his leg. Seems like a good candidate for goat of the year. Your thoughts?''
Disagree. It's one of the most important plays of the game, and when you can get a big, strong, fast athlete -- one of the best kick blockers in NCAA history -- you do it. Players aren't fine china. You've got to let them play.
YOU'VE GOT TO GIVE MCNABB HIS DUE. From Demian of Jacksonville, Fla.: "If a guy posted these kinds of stats (54.8 percent completions, 73 TDs, 62 INTs) over four seasons, and led his team to three conference championship games, what would you say about him? Is he a mediocre passer who happened to play on some good defensive teams? Do you think that guy would win an MVP award during that span and someday go to the Hall of Fame? Do you think you would have called that guy out, or would you have taken a look at his subpar running game, average receivers and less-than-stellar offensive line and maybe given him props for lifting his team to contender status? So here are Donovan McNabb's stats for the past four years (57.9 percent completions, 79 TDs, 42 INTs). Oh, by the way, the other guy was John Elway.''
Very good point. Allow me to make a couple of my own:
1. In 1986, the average NFL completion percentage was 54.8 percent, which was Elway's average from 1986-89, the period you're referring to. In 2003, the average NFL completion percentage was 58.8 percent, a point higher than McNabb's in the period you're talking about. McNabb plays in the West Coast offense, the most quarterback-friendly offense (other than the run-and-shoot) of our time. Elway played in a run-run-then-pass-on-third-down offense in Denver when Dan Reeves was the head coach. Elway's accuracy was average for his day playing in a tough system for a quarterback to be accurate. McNabb's accuracy is subpar for his scheme.
2. McNabb lost his three title games, 29-24, 27-10 and 14-3. Elway won his three title games in the span you mentioned, 23-20, 38-33 and 37-21, and in the first one drove the Broncos 98 yards on the road in Cleveland to tie the score and send the game to overtime. In those three games, Elway led his team to 98 points with 910 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. McNabb's Eagles scored 37 points in the three games. He threw for 514 yards, with one touchdown and five picks. In short, Elway in his first seven years was more clutch in January and won the big games more often than McNabb has in his first five years.
I SHOULD HAVE BEEN SPECIFIC. From Mike Masse of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan: "Love your column. What is it about Daryn Kagan that you've been writing? Is she getting married or something? What is it?''
Daryn, my former colleague at CNN and a heck of a good person, is dating Rush Limbaugh. Gasp.
From Adam Mace of Phoenix: "How can that be so for Daryn Kagan? How does something like that happen? Can we get Don MacLean to write a song about it?''
Love is a many-splendored thing, my friend.
PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS VERY NICE TO ME. "I was intrigued by your story of your encounter with a patron at a Cleveland bar last Saturday night. My question is this: Do things like that happen to you a lot? As an avid football fan (Seahawks for me -- I, too, am on the bandwagon), I find it hard to believe that someone, especially a Browns fan, would not recognize you thanks to the success of your column and your appearances on television. Also, if similar things have happened before, have other patrons every gotten heated with you if they have recognized you out in public? I don't know why these questions intrigue me so much, but as I enjoy your stories about the road, your Red Sox obsession, and the goings-on of your family, I just got to wondering what being out in public like that as a well-known football expert must be like, especially when Football Fans With Liquor Nearby are involved.''
I occasionally get recognized, but it's nothing like you think. Maybe once or twice a football weekend. And I never get into it with fans if they disagree with me. That's what makes it fun. The only time I usually don't like to talk with people at any great length is if they're drunk. People are 99.9 percent cool, and all they want to do is talk about their team, and that's what I do most of the day anyway.
TWO FOR TUESDAY THINGS I THINK I THINK
1. I think it's absolutely absurd that the football world is wringing its hands over the end of the Jerry Rice consecutive-game receiving streak. I say: big hairy deal. When's the last time, before it ended Sunday, you ever heard a soul saying anything about this streak, like, "Gee, I wonder if Rice will keep his streak alive today,'' or "Well, that's an incredible record"? It's neither an incredible record nor a significant streak. If you're a starting receiver on great offensive teams for a long time, you should catch two or three or seven or nine balls every game. When you don't catch a ball, it should be cause for yawning, not outrage.
2. I think, for the record, here was Bill Belichick's reaction to MMQB and the Michael Holley book at his news conference yesterday: "The publisher has sent out some stuff, and obviously this is to hype the book. I'm not part of that. I'm not part of hyping the book. I'm not on that hype program, so I think you could talk to the person who wrote it or talk to the publicist who sent it out or whatever and see what kind of hype they want to put out, but that's not really what I'm about and what I'm doing. A lot of those things took place a year to two years ago. A lot of those stories have been written and talked about, and I'm here to talk about our team and the Arizona game and moving forward on this season. I haven't read the book. We're taking two or three comments here and saying, 'Well, you know, let's blow this up into a big story.' There is no story with me. Again, a lot of that took place a long time ago, and whatever it was it was. I don't think there's too much in there that hasn't been covered and covered pretty thoroughly in the last few months.''
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.