Wrap-up: Bengals 20, Panthers 7

What it means: Carolina’s problems go far beyond the quarterback situation following a 20-7 loss to the Bengals. Rookie Jimmy Clausen got his first NFL start and didn’t provide much more of a spark than Matt Moore did in the first two games. At least there’s some upside with Clausen and the Panthers might as well get him as much playing time as possible because it’s looking more and more like the Panthers should start getting ready for next year.

Tomorrow’s Talker: For a long time now, the popular debate has been if coach John Fox, whose contract expires after the season, will be with the Panthers next year. I think it’s time to change the syntax a bit and make the question: “Will Fox even last the rest of this season?’’ Yeah, things have gotten that bad in Carolina. I’m not saying owner Jerry Richardson is going to come out and fire Fox tomorrow. But, as the losses pile up and it becomes obvious there’s no way Fox returns, you have to wonder if Richardson will let this thing drag on all season. Unless there’s sudden improvement, November and December could be the time frame in Richardson has to make a move.

Could have seen this coming: Wide receiver Steve Smith reportedly was barking at Clausen on the field and on the sideline during the game. Smith was quiet and diplomatic in the locker room after the game. But a competitor like Smith, who didn’t have a catch until the fourth quarter and finished with three for 22 yards, isn’t going to stay quiet forever. Like I said, the next few months could be very interesting around the Panthers, for all the wrong reasons.

What’s next: For their next trick, the Panthers get to travel to the Superdome to play the defending Super Bowl champions, who just might feel like they’ve got something to prove after Sunday’s overtime loss to Atlanta. After that, the Panthers will hold “the inaugural Julius Peppers Homecoming Party’’ when they host Chicago Oct. 10.