|ESPN.com: NFL Nation||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The biggest gamble the normally-conservative John Fox will take this season has already paid off.
The decision to suspend the team's best player, Steve Smith, for the first two regular-season games exposed Fox to potential disaster. The coach already was starting the season on the hot seat. Now, he's officially off it.
The Panthers are off to a 2-0 start and they, somehow, did it without Smith. They went to San Diego last week and won and they did it again at home today with the Bears. They'll have Smith back next week when they travel to Minnesota and Fox's handling of the Smith situation has turned out to be perfect.
Suspending Smith was a difficult call because it left the Panthers open to the very real possibility of starting 0-2. But not suspending Smith for punching out teammate Ken Lucas in training camp would have been worse. If Fox had given Smith star treatment, he might have lost his team.
Now, Fox has the respect of his team, his best player coming back and a 2-0 record.