Panthers should be sick of losing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Greg Hardy is sick. Not the kind of sick that had his temperature at 102 degrees and kept him out of practice for three days last week. The kind that comes with losing.

The Carolina Panthers have started 1-3 for the third straight season, their fifth consecutive at 1-3 or worse. Only the Oakland Raiders have been close to this kind of futility in that span, starting 1-3 or worse four times in the past five years.

And Hardy is sick of it.

"We've had enough losing," the defensive end said as he looked ahead to Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Minnesota, also 1-3. "I don't like losing. I'm sick of being here talking to you guys' smug faces about not losing.

"It's much easier when we're winning. I can smile and make jokes, and I don't have to be all scary."

Hardy isn't the only Carolina player tired of losing. They all are. To a man, they believe they are close to turning things around, but they've felt this way for a while and haven't been able to do it.

So frustration is turning to anger. Nobody is angrier than Hardy.

"I'm pissed," he said. "But I'm always pissed. I feel like it's a moment of calm before a storm. I feel everybody is taking it all in and just getting down to their feelings, and nobody is really satisfied or happy about what's going on, and we're going to fix it."

Wide receiver Steve Smith has asked the players to look within and find ways they can improve themselves. Quarterback Cam Newton has admitted he can be more consistent, particularly in the second half of losses, when he's completing just 50 percent of his passes compared with 63 percent in the first half.

Hardy? He's taking the fighter's mentality.

They all should.

"Hit somebody in the face," Hardy said. "Come out with aggression. Make somebody else pay for it, man. Channel this anger and this adversity we're going through into a better game next week."

The good news is the anger and frustration hasn't turned into finger pointing, as often happens on losing teams. Coach Ron Rivera actually likes that Hardy and others are angry, as long as they don't let it affect their focus.

"I'm with him," Rivera said of the losing. "I'm upset about it, too. We're better than that. We know we're better than that. ... You should play pissed off."

Coaches and players still believe the Panthers can right the ship as they tried to do a year ago when they won their last four games. But last year, the season was lost by the time the losing trend reversed. This one isn't, but it could be with a loss at Minnesota.

"If you're in a frustrated situation, you can either put it upon your teammates or put it upon the other team," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We're all pretty good at moving forward and refocusing."

What they aren't good at is winning. The Panthers have had only four winning seasons since 1995, albeit one of those ended in the Super Bowl in 2003.

But the focus shouldn't be on a winning season or a Super Bowl. It should be on a win.

"You can't look too far down the road in this league, 'cause that road, you might not be on it," tight end Greg Olsen said. "That's just the reality of the NFL. You try to plan a week, six weeks, two years ... you don't even know if you're going to be a part of that future."

Reality is the entire NFC remains wide open. Carolina is second in the South, ahead of Atlanta (1-4) and Tampa Bay (0-4) but well behind New Orleans (5-0). All four teams in the NFC East have losing records. No team in the North is better than 3-2, and the West has three teams at 3-2 or worse.

But none of these teams has experienced losing like Carolina has the past five years, with a combined record of 4-16 in the first four games.

No wonder Hardy is sick. He should be.