In some places, mediocrity is the standard.
In the college ranks, winning half of your games gets you a spot in the postseason.
In Carolina, winning half of your games has turned out to be acceptable, or so it seems.
So what steps need to be taken by the Panthers' front office if they decide that mediocrity is no longer acceptable? It seems obvious to me: Either fire the coach or get rid of the quarterback.
It's certainly easy to throw the first stone at Jake Delhomme, who has had one of the worst seasons for any starting quarterback in recent memory. In fact, one website's latest news release on Delhomme says, "Jake Delhomme is now in a place where he can't throw an interception. He's on injured reserve."
I doubt, however, too many would be surprised if he threw a pick from there. Delhomme threw 18 interceptions in only 321 attempts this season, a statistic completely mind-boggling considering Delhomme only played in 11 games. To put that in perspective, Delhomme has thrown more picks this season than Kyle Orton and Tony Romo combined, while throwing about 200 fewer passes.
Delhomme has also thrown seven fewer touchdowns this year than he did last year. While he played in fewer games this year, an 8-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't good any way you slice it.
To top it off, Delhomme's passer rating this season is a paltry 59.4, putting him next-to-last among NFL starters, ahead of only Jamarcus Russell. Even rookies Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez boast a better quarterback rating.
Yet as bad as Delhomme has been this year, some of the blame needs to be placed on his boss, John Fox.
Coming over from the Giants eight years ago, Fox brought a defensive swagger that had not been seen before in Carolina. In his first season, Fox led the Panthers to six more wins than they had the year before. His second year in Carolina saw the Panthers make a run to the Super Bowl before losing by a field goal to the Patriots.
Fox has had other winning seasons during the decade, but the 2009 season will be the fifth time since taking over as the Panthers' coach that Fox will have a team with seven or eight wins. Seven or eight wins won't put you in the playoffs.
Based on record alone, however, Fox's numbers aren't bad. The knock against Fox is his questionable decision this year to stick with Delhomme as the starting quarterback despite his continual problems with turnovers. It wasn't until a Week 12 injury to Delhomme that Fox was forced to make a change at quarterback.
Much to Fox's delight, Matt Moore has come in and played lights out in his three starts. But with such a small sample to draw from, we don't know if Moore is a flash in the pan or a reliable, consistent starter.
After an impressive 2008 season in which the Panthers finished 12-4, it appeared Carolina was en route to setting up another NFC title run before things went awry in a home game against Arizona. Entering this season, many thought Carolina would be a lock for a wild card spot. However, ranking 30th in total offense and 24th in total defense won't get you there. Probably the most puzzling thing is that this is nearly the exact same team the Panthers fielded last season and they haven't had to deal with as many injuries.
The front office in Carolina has already said that Fox and the entire staff will be given a chance to return in 2010. With the amount of talent on the roster, not making the playoffs next year will be inexcusable and heads will roll.
I have to wonder, though, if heads will roll this year.