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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Injury-riddled and out of the playoff race before December, the Carolina Panthers seemed certain to have their first season of at least 10 losses under coach John Fox. Instead, they're playing their best football of the season, just in time for the embattled Fox to have a shot at returning in 2010.

A day after the Panthers (7-8) routed the New York Giants for their third win in four games, The Charlotte Observer reported that Fox and general manager Marty Hurney will be "offered the opportunity to return next season" by owner Jerry Richardson. However, the report said Fox will not be given a contract extension. He's due to make more than $6 million in 2010, the final season of his deal.

The team declined to confirm or deny the report. Team spokesman Charlie Dayton said Fox and Hurney are under contract for next season, and he's heard nothing to indicate they won't return.

Fox has been heavily scrutinized since starting the season 0-3, a year after Carolina went 12-4 and captured the NFC South before an ugly 33-13 home playoff loss to Arizona. It follows a familiar trend.

While Fox led Carolina to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season two years after inheriting a 1-15 team from George Seifert, he's never had consecutive winning seasons in his eight years on the job.

They were 5-8 this year before stunning wins over Minnesota and the Giants the last two weeks. Backup Matt Moore has thrown six touchdown passes and no interceptions in those games.

"He played well. I think he's gotten better each week," Fox said. "He's got more comfortable managing the game. I think there are certain things he's a little more comfortable doing that we've had to tweak a little bit."

Fox stubbornly stuck with Jake Delhomme as his quarterback despite a horrendous 18-interception season until he broke the middle finger on his throwing hand against the New York Jets on Nov. 29. The Panthers are 3-1 with Moore, who could challenge Delhomme for the starting job next season despite Delhomme's big contract.