Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, November 14, 2021 9:05 pm

Panthers 34, Cardinals 10

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:05 pm
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If there weren’t going to be butts in stadium seats for next week’s Panthers home game against the Washington Football Team before, there will be now.

In limited action in his first appearance at QB for the Panthers since Week 2 of the 2019 season, Cam Newton ran for one touchdown and threw to Robby Anderson for another. The plays were sandwiched between a Cardinals fumble forced by Hasaan Reddick, a turnover on downs, and a Cardinals interception and, with a Zane Gonzalez field goal, put the Panthers up 17-0 before the Cardinals, 8-1 coming into this game, even knew what was going on. (Gonzalez hit all four of his attempts today. Can I say what a pleasure it is not to have every Panthers field goal be an occasion for drama?)

Newton would touch the ball only a couple more times, but his impact put the league on notice: This team, with Newton (at least in short-yardage situations) and a fully healthy RB Christian McCaffrey, is not the team that lost five of its last six and lay down and died the past few weeks. Prior to this game, the Panthers had scored one touchdown in 12 quarters. Today, they scored twice in under 12 minutes and cruised to victory, evening their record at 5-5.

In fairness, Arizona QB1 Kyler Murray is still out with an injury. But Colt McCoy ran that team’s offense creditably last week. Certainly, there was no indication that the Cardinals would roll over the way they did.

McCaffrey looked like his hamstring wasn’t bothering him: He got 23 touches (13 rushes for 95 yards, 10 catches for 66 yards) and was pretty much uncontainable on the outside.

But this win was a complete team win. Even the O-line, arguably the league’s worst, played well today, with Pat Elflein replacing the injured Matt Paradis at center, and at one point the Panthers had accumulated 16 first downs to the Cardinals’ three. The defense, which came into the game second in the league overall, was ferocious, allowing the Cards only 149 yards, forcing three turnovers on downs, and garnering four sacks, with Reddick getting 1.5, to go with their interception and fumble recovery.

The Panthers return home next Sunday against Washington, whose coach, Ron Rivera, and general manager, Marty Hurney, held those same positions with Carolina when the team drafted Newton first overall in 2011. Bank of America stadium will be packed, and I can’t even imagine the energy it will contain when Newton, the 2015 MVP who led the Panthers to a Super Bowl that year, takes the field. The team still likes P.J. Walker in a backup role, and he was 22-for-29 today for 167 yards, but his interception was ugly and probably sealed his fate as the starter.

As I said a couple of days ago, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this team. But they would get a wild-card slot at 5-5 if the season ended today, and today all three of their divisional rivals lost. The Panthers play Miami after Washington, then get a bye before their last five games of the season. They will play divisional rivals in four of those games, so after the bye their fate could be very much in their own hands.

Friday, November 12, 2021 11:33 pm

Steve Bannon has been indicted. Hallelujer!

Why are so many people so overjoyed that Steve Bannon has been indicted (on two counts of contempt of Congress, for failure to testify and failure to provide subpoenaed documents)?

Simple. People elected Joe Biden president by 8 million votes and gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress because they wanted two things: action and accountability.

They’ve seen action, such as COVID relief (for which exactly zero Republicans voted) and the bipartisan infrastructure agreement (where the Republicans who voted for it are now being threatened by House GOP leadership with being stripped of their committee assignments). The country still needs for the Build Back Better Act to be passed, and it desperately needs some legislation protecting voting rights to be passed before 2022. But Biden and the Dems already have done more for American families than any president since FDR.

But Bannon’s indictment is the first bit of accountability for anyone important that those voters have seen since Biden’s inauguration. That matters, not just today but also for Dems’ 2022 and 2024 election hopes — and for the future of U.S. democracy.

The return of Cam

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:34 am
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Given Cam Newton’s injury history and the worst offensive line he has ever played behind, his return as QB1 for the Panthers could mean nothing — or a playoff berth.

Talk about a game changer. While the results on the field have yet to manifest, the return of former NFL MVP Cam Newton as quarterback for the Carolina Panthers has put a whole new positive spin on what had been shaping up to be a dismal season.

Even if Cam is not the magical Cam of 2015 anymore, he’s likely still a significant upgrade on current starter Sam Darnold (expected to be on injured reserve for four to six weeks with a cracked shoulder blade), P.J. Walker, and Matt Baxter, the other QBs on the roster. But more on the on-field aspect of this in a second.

For one thing, Cam Newton will provide a huge jolt to a Panthers locker room (particularly the offense) that it has needed all season. For another, the hope that Newton represents has sent fan enthusiasm through the ceiling. That translates into more butts in stadium seats, which makes for a better home environment for the team and more money for owner David Tepper, which is what he’s all about. Newton’s likely home debut will be Nov. 21 against the Washington Football Team, whose head coach and general manager were with the Panthers during Newton’s previous tenure, and whose roster features some former Panthers. It’s an instant rivalry game. And perhaps most critically for a rebuilding team, it stops the hemorrhage of draft picks in exchange for quarterbacks.

Now, about on-field performance.

Newton is 32. While he is a generational talent, it is unlikely in any event that he would be able to rekindle the performances of his youth — and extremely unlikely given that he is working behind arguably the league’s worst offensive line, a line worse than any of the bad ones he played behind after the magical Super Bowl season of 2015.

On the other hand, he has the league’s best RB1 (now that Derrick Henry is out) in Christian McCaffery and a talented stable of receivers, from DJ Moore, who has quietly become one of the top four or five wide receivers in the game, to emerging pass-catching tight end Tommy Tremble. If anyone can revive the moribund WR Robby Anderson, who had 1,000 receiving yards last year even without catching many deep passes (because Teddy Bridgewater, now with the Broncos, didn’t throw many) but has been an utter dud this year, it’s Newton.

And let’s not forget Newton’s running ability, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He scored 12 rushing touchdowns with New England last year, to run his league career record for QBs in that category to 70. But even beyond those situations, Newton and McCaffrey, or Newton and rookie RB Chuba Hubbard, can run run-pass options all day. In short, this offense with Newton at the helm has the potential to keep itself on the field, and thus keep opposing offenses off the field, for big chunks of time. That also provides more rest for that talented defense.

I’ll admit I have no idea what will happen. This team has dug itself a big hole, and it’ll likely get deeper Sunday against Arizona (Newton won’t be playing and may not even be active). But I’ll give you my worst- and best-case scearios. keeping in mind that the back half of the team’s schedule will be significantly tougher than the front half was.

My worst case is that Newton badly underperforms his potential and/or gets injured again, a nontrivial possibility behind this putrid offensive line. The team, now 4-5, could finish 4-13 or 5-12.

My best-case scenario looks something like this: The team’s offensive production goes up by 7-10 points per game and the defense continues to hang tough, keeping the Panthers in at least mathematical contention for a playoff spot entering Week 17, the season’s penultimate week. At that point, for the Panthers, who will finish the season at divisional rivals New Orleans in Week 17 and division leader Tampa Bay in Week 18, it could be win-or-go-home in both games. Those are long odds, but in one game, anything can happen.

Friday, November 5, 2021 6:45 pm

Friday Random 10

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 6:45 pm

Tunes wafting in on the breeze, barely (if at all) audible, from the pregame festivities at my kids’ high school a mile away:

Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train
Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
Tag Team – Oops, There It Is
Smashmouth – All Star
Gap Band – You Dropped a Bomb on Me
Blink 182 – All the Small Things
Bill Conti – Rocky theme
Bruce Springsteen – Glory Days
Black Sabbath – Iron Man

lagiappe: Van Halen – You Really Got Me

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