Coach John Fox can only hope his Carolina Panthers play as well in their final eight games of the season as they did through the first eight.
The Panthers look to start the second half the same way they ended the first, aiming for a third straight victory Sunday in a road matchup against the lowly Oakland Raiders.
Carolina (6-2) headed into last week’s bye after posting consecutive home victories, most recently rallying from a two-touchdown deficit for a 27-23 win over Arizona on Oct. 26.
The NFC South-leading Panthers return from their week off with the second-best record in the conference behind the New York Giants, who are 7-1.
“I liken it to being on the road to a final destination. We are on the path, we haven’t gotten lost,” said Fox, whose team went 7-9 last season to miss the playoffs a second straight year. “We’ve definitely not gotten there yet, but at the halfway point we are on schedule.”
Fox’s team has held opponents to 15.9 points per game, but opens the second half following one of its worst defensive performances. The Panthers have allowed an average of 305.6 yards per game, but gave up a season-high 425 to Arizona. They also allowed 375 passing yards - their most since surrendering 396 versus the Cardinals on Oct. 9, 2005.
But Carolina overcame those inefficiencies behind quarterback Jake Delhomme, who went 20-for-28 for 248 yards and two touchdowns - including the go-ahead 65-yard pass to Steve Smith with 2 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Guys are excited. Guys feel good, and we should be,” said Delhomme, who has a 122.3 passer rating over his last two games. “But there are still a lot more things that we think we can get done.”
Delhomme, though, has struggled in his last two road games, leading to both of Carolina’s losses. He did not have a touchdown pass while committing five turnovers in those defeats, and Carolina was held to a combined 87 yards rushing as it was outscored 47-13 at Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
Visiting an Oakland team in turmoil presents the Panthers with a good chance to avoid a third straight road loss. Following this game and next week’s matchup with winless Detroit, however, Carolina plays four of its final six games on the road and none of those opponents have a losing record.
“We’ve been in the low spots; we’ve been in the high spots,” Fox told the Panthers’ official Web site. “It’s all hard - whether you’re the team or it’s the team you’re playing. The best you can do is just prepare and be ready to execute the best you can on game day.”
The Raiders (2-6) have not been executing well, getting outscored 100-29 in four games since Al Davis fired coach Lane Kiffin in favor of offensive line coach Tom Cable.
In another personnel shakeup, the Raiders cut ties with former Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall on Wednesday, waiving him less than eight months he was acquired from Atlanta and given a $70 million contract.
Hall was beaten 40 times for 552 yards on 66 passes thrown his way, part of an Oakland defense which allows 373.9 yards per game to rank 28th in the NFL.
The offense has been no better, with a league-low 13.4 points per contest and an average of 282.6 yards.
Oakland gave up a season-worst 453 yards, and managed just 77 of their own - its fewest in 37 years - in a 24-0 loss to visiting Atlanta on Sunday.
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell went 6-for-19 for 31 yards with an interception and was sacked four times - the worst start of his young career.
“You just keep grinding and pushing forward,” Cable said. “We don’t like the steps back by our football team. JaMarcus is just part of our football team. In the big picture, as a team, we took a step back. So, we have to address that.”
On Thursday, Russell was unable to finish practice due to tendinitis in his right knee, but he is expected to play against the Panthers.
Oakland is 2-1 all-time versus Carolina, winning 27-24 on the road on Nov. 7, 2004 in the teams’ most recent matchup.
Blog Coverage from SB Nation
Tyronne Green G, Stephen Hill WR, Kelvin Benjamin WR, Frank Alexander DE, Davonte Wallace T, Arthur Miley DE, Nate Chandler T, Charles Johnson DE, Charles Tillman CB, Josh Norman CB, Jonathan Stewart RB, Thomas Davis LB, Mike Tolbert RB, Corey Brown WR, Dwan Edwards DT, Jerricho Cotchery WR, Luke Kuechly LB, Amini Silatolu G, Daryl Williams T