This season has been an incredible one for the Carolina Panthers.
They're 10-3 for the first time in franchise history, they've won all seven home games at Bank of America Stadium, they are ranked as the No. 3 team in the NFL, and they've set a number of NFL rushing records with their DeAngelo Willams/Jonathan Stewart "Smash and Dash" duo.
I've read articles this season attributing this unexpected season to certain players on the team: Jake Delhomme and his leadership, Julius Peppers and what people are calling his "comeback" season (did he ever really leave?), and of course, Williams and Stewart.
These players are great, and together with the rest of the players on the Panthers' roster, they make up an excellent team for sure. But how can the success of an entire team be attributed to one player?
It can't. While it is incredibly cheesy, the saying "there is no 'I' in team" is a cliche for a reason. No one player is completely responsible for how the team performs from week to week.
At this point, I know what you have to be thinking. "Okay Chris, we get it. The Panthers play as a team. You wrote an article on this already, you won Pick of the Day for it, and now you're going to try it again and see if you get lucky. Lame."
All right, so I've already given you the "Panthers are a team" spiel. What I want to do now is try to point out the other reason the Panthers have been so successful: the Panthers' head coach, John Fox.
For two seasons, Fox has had to endure criticism from fans who did not agree with the emphasis he placed on the run game. They wanted passes in third-and-long situations.
Fox was pushing the run in these situations. For two seasons, fans got angry. For two seasons, Fox ignored them and did what he knew was best for the team.
Now the Panthers are 10-3 and looking at a Super Bowl run. Fox's critics have finally been silenced, and Fox is finally getting the credit he deserves.
Now you're probably getting annoyed. "Pistone," you're thinking, "You've written this article as well. You're just repeating yourself."
I'm going to call it summarizing my last two articles to make another point. Stay with me for a few more paragraphs, and you'll see where I'm going.
John Fox is a great coach.
Okay. That was only one sentence. But do you see how I came to that conclusion?
In a few months, Fox has taken this team from being highly disappointing Super Bowl favorite which didn't even make the playoffs to being the team no one took seriously that now has a 10-3 record.
The way he did this was by sticking to his game plan (a strong running game) through what had to be too much criticism, and building a team of players who all play for the team instead of for themselves.
As I watched the Panthers defeat the Buccaneers on Monday night, my mom and I couldn't help but notice certain players making sacrifices for the team.
After winning the game, Delhomme slapped John Fox on the back with a look of exuberance on his face, even after hurting his personal record by throwing two interceptions (both of which lead to Tampa Bay scores) in the game.
Whenever Smith or Muhammad makes a big play (which essentially takes away from the others' statistics), the other is right there celebrating with them along with the rest of the team.
Probably the greatest example of individuals sacrificing for the team is with Williams and Stewart. They have had every reason not to like each other from the onset of the season.
The only possible thing Stewart was going to do was take away from Williams' carries, and vice versa. Instead of disliking each other, however, they will always celebrate on the sidelines when one of them makes a touchdown.
Their TD celebration, where they both bend backwards in slow motion with their arms flailing, is quite possibly one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Yeah, that kind of reads weird, but you know exactly what I'm talking about and you know that I'm right.
I have a lot of respect for anyone who can stick to their guns through criticism (or even when their job is possibly on the line) because they know they're doing the right thing.
I also have a lot of respect for a man who can keep 53 players focused on something bigger than themselves. Coach John Fox has somehow achieved both of these things in his tenure here in Carolina. I've said it once before, and I'll say it again:
John Fox is a great coach.