CHARLOTTE -- Head coach John Fox was within seconds of making a clean getaway from the practice field before the question was lobbed at him -- whether Jake Delhomme remained the Panthers' starting quarterback.
"I didn't even think that was a question," Fox said. "But if that needs to be clarified, yes, with a capital 'Y.'"
But such queries were part and parcel of the Panthers' day as they reconvened for the first of two practices heading into the bye week. With no wins, a minus-50 point differential and a three-game deficit in the NFC South race, the defending division champions understood that while public discussion could be harsh, their own analysis of their play could be worse.
"You win a couple of games, the weeks go by like days. You lose a couple, the weeks go by like months," Delhomme said. "That's kind of the way it is."
If days seem like months, then the weekend offers ample opportunity for reflection and reaffirmation.
"We haven't reached our full potential," wide receiver
Before that, the Panthers had to face a fusillade of questions that were polite, but pointed.
"When you're 0-3, questions are going to be raised," Delhomme said. "I haven't played that well -- and that's part of it. You've got to win to keep people quiet. We all know that."
Delhomme's numbers in the first three games paint a painful picture for the veteran quarterback. He ranks 22nd in the league in completion percentage, 26th in touchdown passes, 32nd in quarterback rating and is the only passer in the league with seven interceptions this season. But his are far from the only issues that have rocked the Panthers through three games.
"We're fortunate because the big eye (camera) in the sky doesn't lie," Fox said. "I can turn on tape and I can talk pretty honest with players in that (meeting) room. That hasn't changed in the past and won't change moving forward."
When asked what the offense needed to work on this week, Delhomme was direct.
"Everything," he said. "You score seven points as an offense, you've got to try and get better.
"Guys are working. It's close," he added later. "It's so easy to say, but it's true; you see it. We've just got to keep working and trying to turn it around."
Delhomme was equally resolute in stating that Fox was still in firm command of his players and their attention.
"I promise you, there's one voice in that team meeting room that's in charge, and it's his," said Delhomme, who's experienced a season where the head coach lost his players -- although he declined to name the coach, team or season involved.
"I'd rather not say when and where, but it was lost, and it was lost and everybody knew," said Delhomme, who spent five seasons with the New Orleans Saints before joining the Panthers in 2003. "You just knew it. It was evident ... There (was) no pilot. All there (was) were passengers. We still have a pilot. I don't know any other way to put it. That's not even remotely close."
WHAT THE BYE WEEK OFFERS first and foremost is a chance to rest and recuperate from injuries and the collective nicks and cuts of the previous eight weeks that began with the opening of training camp on Aug. 3.
Some of the injuries, like fullback
"It's something I hadn't done in a while," said Hoover, who lost a streak of 64 consecutive games played. "I haven't missed very many. It was bad enough that I couldn't go."
"It's the first game I've missed since my freshman year of high school," added Brown. "It's tough, but it makes it that much better when you're back out there with the guys."
The idea that their absences could have long-term benefits is almost as painful as the aching parts of their bodies, but by Wednesday afternoon, Hoover understood.
"Maybe I could have played," he said, "but in the long scheme of things, there's 13 more weeks."
Long-term considerations also helped keep Brown out of action; he first tweaked his ankle during the second quarter against Philadelphia, but persisted through the pain, playing seven days later at Atlanta.
"I got rolled up on pretty good, but I continued to play through it," Brown said. "It just wasn't healing as quickly as we thought it was, so we made the decision to take care of it early in the season so we could be ready to roll through the rest of the season with no problems."
Both Brown and Hoover expect to be ready for the Washington Redskins on Oct. 11.
"I think I should be (ready)," Hoover said. "A lot can happen between now and then, but right now, it's definitely a step forward."
Added Brown: "Bye weeks are always critical, but I did get a little extra time, and it helped the healing process for the rest of the season, when I don't have to deal with it anymore."