Panthers coach, GM can return
Injury-riddled and out of the playoff race before December, the Carolina Panthers seemed certain to have their first season of at least 10 losses under coach John Fox.
Instead, they're playing their best football of the season, just in time for the embattled Fox to have a shot at returning in 2010.
A day after the Panthers (7-8) routed the New York Giants for their third win in four games, The Charlotte Observer reported Fox and general manager Marty Hurney will be "offered the opportunity to return next season" by owner Jerry Richardson.
However, the report said Fox will not be given a contract extension. He's due to make more than $6 million in 2010, the final season of his deal.
The team declined to confirm or deny the report. Team spokesman Charlie Dayton said Fox and Hurney are under contract for next season, and he's heard nothing to indicate they won't return.
Fox's Monday news conference came before the report, and Hurney didn't immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press. Recovering from a heart transplant on Feb. 1, Richardson hasn't spoken to reporters in months.
Fox has been heavily scrutinized since starting the season 0-3, a year after Carolina went 12-4 and captured the NFC South before an ugly 33-13 home playoff loss to Arizona.
It follows a familiar trend. While Fox led Carolina to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season two years after inheriting a 1-15 team from George Seifert, he's never had consecutive winning seasons in his eight years on the job. The Panthers have also never finished worse than 7-9.
They were 5-8 this year before stunning wins over Minnesota and the Giants the past two weeks. Backup Matt Moore has thrown six touchdown passes and no interceptions in those games.
Fox is 75-60 in Carolina, including three playoff appearances.
HOLMGREN WILL DECIDE LATER ON MANGINI'S FATE
New Cleveland president Mike Holmgren has not decided if coach Eric Mangini will be back next season.
Holmgren, who signed a five-year contract to try and fix the Browns, said he will wait until he arrives in Cleveland next week before making any changes. Holmgren plans to meet with Mangini after the Browns (4-11) complete their season. He said it would not be fair to discuss Mangini's status with one game left.
"He's at the end of finishing his first season, the team is doing well and responding to him," said Holmgren, who was in Arizona yesterday and spoke to reporters on a conference call.
Holmgren did not provide any clues as to which way he's leaning. He appreciates how tough it can be for a coach to transform a team in one season.
"I'm not a big fan of the quick hook," he said. "I never did that with quarterbacks when they played for me and I really don't think one year is enough to prove what you're trying to get done. I wouldn't be a big fan of just allowing a guy to coach just one year and out. But having said that, I haven't made any decisions yet."
The 61-year-old Holmgren said he will evaluate the entirety of Mangini's first season in Cleveland, and won't decide based solely on the team's current three-game winning streak.
"I feel I have some time to think about this and I want to do what is right for the organization and the Cleveland Browns," he said. "That's my charge. I want to see the team's record better. I want the organization to be functioning properly. I want the fans to be very proud of their team."
The Browns host Jacksonville on Sunday.
ASSISTANT INTERVIEWED BY OWNER SNYDER
Washington has interviewed one of the team's assistants for the head coaching position, the head of the group that monitors the Rooney Rule said yesterday.
Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said secondary coach Jerry Gray interviewed with owner Dan Snyder several weeks ago for the job that is currently held by Jim Zorn.
Wooten said the interview satisfies the Rooney Rule that requires teams to talk to a minority candidate when filling a head coaching position. Wooten said it didn't matter that the job is not yet vacant.
"Dan Snyder handled it the way it should have been handled," Wooten said. "He made a call in and he did it the right way."
The news reaffirms the expectation Snyder will fire Zorn next week and replace him quickly. Former Denver coach Mike Shanahan is considered the favorite to get the job.
Zorn is nearing the end of his second season with the team. The Redskins are 4-11 with one game to play.
Last week, Gray gave confusing answers when asked whether he had interviewed for the job. He initially appeared to deny he had interviewed, then later amended the answer to "no comment."
Eagles: Philadelphia center Jamaal Jackson will miss the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Sunday's win over Denver. Jackson made his 71st consecutive start against the Broncos and had been Philadelphia's only offensive player to play every snap until he got hurt in the first half.
Bills: Buffalo starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will test his sore ankle this week to determine whether he can play in the Bills' season finale against Indianapolis. Interim head coach Perry Fewell was optimistic that Fitzpatrick can play Sunday after missing one game, a 31-3 loss to Atlanta this past weekend.
Dolphins: Miami inside linebacker Channing Crowder will miss the rest of the season with a right foot injury, a person familiar with the case said. The person said Crowder underwent an MRI exam yesterday, but a decision had not yet been made regarding whether he needs surgery. Crowder was hurt on the second play Sunday against Houston.
Rams: For a month, Steven Jackson carried St. Louis' offense on his aching back. Jackson was a surprise scratch for Sunday's loss at Arizona, and confirmed after the game that he's been playing with a herniated disk that will not require surgery. But he expects to return for the finale against San Francisco.
Buccaneers: Running back Earnest Graham and defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson will miss Tampa Bay's season finale after being injured during the upset victory over New Orleans. Graham tore a ligament in the big toe on his right foot Sunday. Wilkerson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Broncos: Denver will be without left guard Russ Hochstein and returner Kenny McKinley for the season finale after both suffered injuries at Philadelphia. McKinley hurt his knee on a kickoff return in the first quarter, while Hochstein apparently injured his knee in the second half.