Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 12:11 am

Attention, any/all Raleigh-area Panther fans

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:11 am
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Would someone please go drag Bill Cowher out of bed RIGHT NOW, drive him to Bank of America Stadium and install him in John Fox’s office before the team flight gets in from Dallas?

Thank you.


Saturday, August 29, 2009 3:50 pm

Help a band out

If you’re going to tonight’s Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium, stop by the Wendy’s booth on the upper level, Booth #528. It’s being run by the band boosters at my old high school, South Mecklenburg. Besides, you WANT one of those bacon/blue-cheese burgers. You KNOW you do. OK, well, maybe that’s just me. But still.

Monday, January 19, 2009 2:17 pm

Sadly, it’s believable

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 2:17 pm
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From The Onion, but still:

CHARLOTTE, NC—Claiming that he felt “rushed,” Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme failed to connect on a 5-foot pass to his Capital Grille restaurant valet Sunday, instead sending his car keys into the hands of the wrong parking attendant. “It’s frustrating, because I knew as soon as I let go of the keys that the throw was off target,” said Delhomme, adding that he should not have been throwing off his back foot.

Thursday, December 11, 2008 9:18 pm

Heart of a Panther

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:18 pm
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Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been put on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

That’d be his physical heart. The real heart of this man, who parlayed NFL championship money into a thriving business and then, against all odds, willed himself into the position of owner of an expansion franchise, remains healthy beyond doubt.

My prayers — and, I’m sure, those of Panther Nation — go out to him and his family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 8:49 pm

Feel the claws

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 8:49 pm
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I did not know this, but apparently the 2004 Super Bowl, involving the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, was filmed in 3-D. I’d like to see that someday. Except maybe the last little bit.

Sunday, October 26, 2008 8:19 pm

Panthers 27, Cardinals 23

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:19 pm
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I keep watchin’ and the Panthers keep winnin’.

This was a game of blown chances, and the Panthers are fortunate to have pulled it out. The Cards blew an extra point and unsuccessfully tried a fake field goal. If they’d kicked the PAT and the field goal, they’d have had a shot in overtime. On the other hand, Muhsin Muhammad dropped a pass in the end zone, so maybe not.

The first half was depressing — the offense simply couldn’t move the ball, and Kurt Warner was dinking and dunking down the field for the Cards as he has all season. The Panthers were lucky to be down only 10-3 at halftime.

But then came the third quarter, when the Panthers made up a 17-3 deficit inside of two minutes. That second TD came on Steve Smith’s immaculate deception or else one of the finest calls by an official this year — you be the judge. I thought at first he’d stepped out. Then on replay it looked as if his toe had remained inbounds with his heel not touching the ground. Adding to that impression was the divot his toe threw up — clearly green grass, not white. They don’t come any closer than that.

Jonathan Stewart was supposed to be the big, bruising, up-the-middle tailback, but DeAngelo Williams was the one who put up the numbers today, including an 18-yard TD run. Stewart had 10 yards on eight carries. That’s not how you get to start.

Warner put up a lot of numbers — almost 400 passing yards — but the defense stiffened in the second half. And then the Panthers went on a clock-eating, game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter to put it out of reach. And credit where due to Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin. He got his face smashed, literally, just weeks ago against the Jets — so badly they closed a lane of the Lincoln Tunnel to get him to the hospital faster — and this was his first game back. He was a stud, getting 9 catches for 63 yards and two scores. When that happens, even to an opponent, you have to admire his guts.

It wasn’t as pretty a win as you could want, but what you want is a win, and that’s what we got. Now, with the bye week, perhaps the battered O-line can get healthy again and build on what’s already a healthy 6-2 record.

Next up after the bye is at Oakland, who isn’t scaring anyone this year. But as they say in this league, on any given Sunday …

Saturday, October 25, 2008 5:48 pm

A bit of idolatry

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 5:48 pm

Outside Bank of America Stadium with Victoria at the Kansas City game, 10/12/08. As permanent seat license holders, Mom and Jerry have their names on the pedestal. The dot is a red balloon, not panther spit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 8:16 pm

Panthers 30, Saints 7

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 8:16 pm
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Well, we’ve accumulated some evidence in support of my hypothesis that I am the Panthers’ good-luck charm. I was able to watch almost all the game while washing and folding laundry, and the results speak for themselves. Either that, or else the good Panthers slugged the bad Panthers over the head, tied them up and threw them into the laundry closet. Whichever.

I won’t say this game had everything, but it had a lot good. Coming into the game, it was the Saints’ second-ranked offense against the Panthers’ third-ranked defense, and we got a good luck at why defense wins Super Bowls. Julius Peppers only got one sack but was in Drew Brees’ face All. Day. (And forced a fumble. Chris Harris, who recovered, must have been thinking, “Hey, that’s MY trick.”) Ken Lucas picked off a pass. And with Saints RB Reggie Bush out with an injury, the Panthers defense successfully stuffed the Saints on fourth-and-1 not once but twice, once at the goal line. How often do you see that?

Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 35 carries for 134 yards — not bad considering the patchwork nature of the O-line. Jake still had to throw a good bit on third down, though. Steve Smith had 122 yards and a score — not a bad day for any wideout. But this was the D’s day.

The Panthers’ next three opponents — Arizona, Oakland and Detroit — won’t scare anybody. If the Panthers win those games, and they should, they’ll be in commanding position heading into their rematch with Atlanta.

Sunday, October 12, 2008 8:38 pm

Buccaneers 27, Panthers 3

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:38 pm
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The Panthers need to enshrine me as their official good-luck charm, because when I don’t watch at least a significant portion of the game, bad things happen. I missed pretty much all the game yesterday while working on trim taping for the house painting, although I listened to a bit on the radio. (I heard Steve Smith fall down after a 48-yard catch that would have gone for a 72-yard TD if he’d kept his feet.) It was just ugly all the way around, a good, ol’-fashioned buttwhipping.

Now 4-2, the Panthers face the 3-3 Saints next weekend. (It looks like the Bucs and Falcons are off.) A loss ties them for bottom of the league division. A win puts them in first by a half-game. The question: Which Panthers team will show up? And will *I* show up?

Monday, October 6, 2008 4:47 pm

Panthers 34, Chiefs 0, Victoria 1

Filed under: Panthers,Victoria — Lex @ 4:47 pm
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Victoria picks up a Panthers logo before their game against the Chiefs, 10/5/08

Victoria picks up a Panthers logo before their game against the Chiefs, 10/5/08

Victoria got to go to her first Panthers game on Sunday, and what a game it was. The Panthers killed the Chiefs, primarily on the strength of their running game. It was hot, but V. hung in there. When I get a chance, I’ll add a couple of other photos that she and I took.

Update: Here’s sunset from the evening before. Both of these were shot on my cell phone — not bad quality, all things considered. (I shot them at 1280×960.)

Sunset over Lake Norman, Davidson, N.C., 10/4/08

Sunday, September 28, 2008 10:37 pm

Panthers 24, Falcons 9

Filed under: Panthers,Victoria — Lex @ 10:37 pm
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Any win is a good win, but today’s win against Atlanta was about as bad a good win as it is possible to get.

The AP this morning was very high on the Panthers’ performance. And, yes, the stats were good, particularly yards after the catch for both Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad, which boosted Jake Delhomme’s passing yardage.

But the Panthers were fortunate their 11 penalties didn’t make the game much closer, if not lose it for them. Twelve penalties inside Minnesota’s dome might just barely be understandable given the crowd noise, but 11 penalties in Bank of America stadium is just idiotic. And the football gods aren’t likely to be as forgiving if the Panthers pull a stunt like that again.

That’s particularly true if the team doesn’t get its starting tackles back quickly. Both Jordan Gross and Jonathan Jeff Otah left the game. I think I said before the season that the jobs of a whole lot of Panther staff could be riding on the health of Otah’s ankle — he was recovering from a high sprain in the offseason — and losing Gross for any length of time will damage both run game and passing protection.

Speaking of run game, Jonathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams combined for barely a hundred yards against a defense that spent a lot of time sitting back waiting for the pass. I don’t know whether that was because of the O-line problems or because Atlanta’s run defense was just that good. But it’s troubling nonetheless.

On the plus side, the D held star Atlanta running back Michael Turner to 56 yards on 18 carries. They’ll need to do as well or better against Kansas City, whose Larry Johnson rushed for 198 today as Kansas City didn’t just upset Denver, they beat the snot out of them.

I’m going, and Victoria is coming with me. This will be her first Panthers game, and she’s jazzed. Raise a child up in the way that she should go, and when she is old she will not stray from it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 7:43 am

Of Fusion, Buttercups and Panthers

Filed under: Hooper,Panthers,Victoria — Lex @ 7:43 am
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Fusion: Won 8-1. Minute to minute the game never seemed like a runaway, but that’s what it ended up being. Hooper didn’t score and spent one uneventful quarter in goal.

Buttercups: Lost 3-0. The team lacked energy and quickness, and it didn’t possess the ball much as a result.

Panthers: Lost 20-10 and stunk up the joint in the process. I was doing yard work and didn’t see the game; just as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008 8:05 pm

Panthers 20, Bears 17

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:05 pm
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I caught just the last two minutes and change, the tail end of the Bears’ final drove, when a pass on 3rd-and-1 was broken up by Chris Gamble and a run on the middle on 4th-and-1 was stuffed by at least three Panthers. Apparently the Panthers played crummy on offense for much of the game before Jake and RB Jonathan Stewart pulled together another fourth-quarter comeback. A cheap shot to Delhomme’s head apparently fired the team up, but I didn’t see it.

Next up: Minnesota.

Sunday, September 7, 2008 9:53 pm

Panthers 26, Chargers 24

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:53 pm
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Between painting and laundry, I didn’t get to see much of this one. But I got to see about the last half of the fourth quarter, and that was what mattered.

Just as I tuned in, the Panthers went up 19-10 when Chris Harris stripped San Diego TE Antonio Gates, one of the league’s best, of the ball just after Gates caught a short pass. The ball popped directly into the hands of CB Chris Gamble, who ran it 31 yards in for the score.

Then Philip Rivers led the Chargers back with two scores to go up 24-19 with a shade over two minutes remaining. Jake Delhomme looked like this was exactly what he had been working toward as he recovered from last year’s surgery, dinking and dunking down the field. I (and probably everyone else watching) thought the Panthers should have called their last timeout as the clock dipped below 00:15, fearing that the Panthers would get off only one more play. But Muhsin Muhammad called a timeout even before his elbows hit the ground after he was tackled with 00:02 left, giving the Panthers time for one more play. Delhomme made it count, hitting a leaping tight end Dante Rosario in the back of the end zone, threading his pass between the hands of not one but two Charger defenders. It was the kind of high-risk pass he probably wouldn’t have thrown if it hadn’t been the last play of the game.

It reminded me of how Delhomme came in off the bench to throw the late TD to Ricky Proehl in the 2003 season opener against Jacksonville, the game that established Delhomme as the starter and the season that culminated in the Super Bowl. (There was a little more time left when that play happened, of course.)

Observations: For one thing, the Panthers left seven on the table early when they failed to score on a fourth-and-goal from inside the 1. When you’ve got two running backs averaging better than five yards a carry and a completely retooled offensive line, if you’re not going to just run it up the gut then, when will you? A play like that will tell you whether your new toys are any good, even if every Charger and every fan in the stadium knew it was coming. Instead, the Panthers tried to go for the pass and it got knocked down. As that play developed, it looked to me as if Jake could have cut back to his left and run in untouched, but 1) he might not have seen that and 2) the camera angle might have been deceiving.

For another, Rosario’s performance, combined with TE Jeff King’s thoughtless illegal-formation penalty late, might mean the Panthers have a new starting TE. If Rosario can continue to play the way he played today (7 catches for 96 yards, including the game-winner), the Panthers might have found a new starting TE.

Sunday, August 24, 2008 6:49 pm

Panthers 47, Redskins 3

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:49 pm
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I only watched long enough to see the score get to 41-0. And that was enough: Wow.

That’s my first reaction. My second reaction had to do not with the Panthers, but with the Redskins: Both of their lines have major, major problems, and to the Redskin D-line add the problem of depth. That does not bode well for their season. The figure 6-8 comes to mind, and that record will leave you out of the playoffs by four games in the NFC East.

The Panthers’ O-line, on the other hand, looks very good, a dramatic improvement from last year. And between Jonathan Stewart, who has impressed as a rookie, and DeAngelo Williams, who showed flashes late last year and has only come on since, the Panthers might just run the ball all day, all season. This would not be a bad thing; for one thing, it’ll help keep Jake Delhomme healthy.

On the other side of the ball, everyone keeps saying Julius Peppers is back. He’s certainly looking better than last year, which is, for the moment, making me look stupid for having said they should release him. Let’s hope this roll continues into the regular season. Deep into the regular season. And then into the playoffs. He’s in a contract year, so he’s got everything to play for. The rest of the D-line looked good as well.

Elsewhere on the offense, Steve Smith’s most dramatic moment came on the first play from scrimmage, where he landed hard on this shoulder and left the game. This team won’t be entirely one-dimensional without him, and with that backfield, third-and-long won’t be the occasion of desperation it was last year, but for this team to play into January, Smith has to stay functional. He’s already had a concussion this season, and a separated shoulder would be misery. Muhammad is out, although he should return for the season opener. D.J. Hackett, who will have to carry the load while Smith sits out his two-game suspension, hasn’t shown much in practice (he sat out last night). And TE Dante Rosario is looking like an upgrade on Jeff King, who, with 47 catches last season to rank second on the team, wasn’t that bad to begin with.

The linebacking corps looked solid, and in Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble, the team has one of the league’s best corner tandems. Chris Harris continues to come on at safety (but also sat last night). And the special teams looked very good as well — four field goals, one from 52 yards; repeated kickoffs into the end zone (short kickoffs were a problem last year) and excellent coverage on those that got run back.

Injuries, or lack thereof, will be key. Knock wood, the Panthers haven’t lost anyone key for the season, which is a departure from recent preseasons. One big key to their Super Bowl season in ’03 was that the O-line played the same people in the same positions almost every game (and had Stephen Davis in the backfield).

Snoop says he’s “excited” about the Panthers’ chances this year. I won’t go quite that far, but then I never do. I will say that the team had glaring weaknesses at the end of last year, and with one exception — the jury is still out on backup QB, so let’s hope we don’t have to find out about that — the team appears to have addressed them all.

The final preseason game is meaningless for the starters; it’s mainly for the coaching staff to decide whom to keep for special teams, whom to keep for the practice squad and whom to cut outright. The opener at SD will be a strong test, particularly without Smith. That game should show us what we’ve got.

Sunday, August 3, 2008 5:19 pm

Punching out

Filed under: Panthers,Uncategorized — Lex @ 5:19 pm
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So Panthers WR Steve Smith has been suspended for two regular-season games (presumably the first two, 9/7 at San Diego and 9/14 home at Chicago) for punching cornerback Ken Lucas.

Good. And bad.

Good in that, although details were a little hard to come by, it seems as if the punching took place not on the field in the heat of the moment but on the sidelines after the helmets had come off. In other words, there was an element of cold premeditation involved. I don’t care how many Pro Bowls you go to, that’s just not acceptable. It hurts the team, and — oh, by the way — in the real world it constitutes criminal assault. I suspect there may also be a fine involved, and perhaps even a personal audience with team owner Jerry Richardson that begins along the lines of, “Steve, do you want to play here or not?”

Bad in that, in a year on which many of the team’s jobs are riding, this team did not need this distraction. The level of punishment Smith received attests to just how bad this distraction — by which I mean Smith’s behavior, not anyone else’s — really was. I find it telling that, according to my colleague Ed Hardin’s account, Lucas was greeted as a hero in the team locker room on Saturday. Given the normal level of, well, animosity that often exists between offense and defense even on the same team, that suggests that even Smith’s colleagues on offense felt he had stepped over the line.

So good for the team for dealing with this swiftly and, I hope, even more severely than is now apparent. Now, the Panthers need to get their heads in the game. They’ve got depth problems on the D-line, a completely reshuffled O-line to break in and a secondary that needed a shakeout even before Lucas got his nose broken. In other words, their plates are full and Indianapolis is up on Saturday. This team has work to do to ensure that this season doesn’t blow up in their faces before it even starts.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 6:25 pm

The job marketplace

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:25 pm

The New York Giants, clearly displaying a strong reluctance to repeat as Super Bowl champions, have signed QB David Carr. (An acquaintance says it is a one-year, $1.1-million deal, although I haven’t found confirmation of that at the moment and don’t know where he heard that.)

Given the way Carr played for the Panthers this past season, I’d start “Kristen” ahead of him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 12:08 pm

Muhammad a Panther again?

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:08 pm
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Gerald says the Panthers have gotten WR Muhsin Muhammad back from the Bears. Interesting if true. It may yet be true, but I doubt it’s true yet: The free-agent signing period doesn’t start ’til Friday.

If true, what would it mean? Looking past the nostalgia, it’s tempting to think that Muhammad is on the down side of his career. His numbers during his past three seasons in Chicago:

2005: 64 catches, 750 yards, 11.7 ypc, 4 TDs
2006: 60 catches, 863 yards, 14.4 ypc, 5 TDs
2007: 40 catches, 570 yards, 14.3 ypc, 3 TDs

Only the yards-per-catch numbers are really respectable. That said, Chicago’s offense wasn’t exactly pass-happy.

But if his skills haven’t atrophied too much he might still be the kind of big possession receiver who could take some of the heat off Steve Smith. The team still needs another true deep threat, of course.

UPDATE: It’s a done deal, and unsurprisingly, David Carr has been cut. A good move.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008 12:20 pm

Two non-changes

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:20 pm

It’s official: Panthers head coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney will return in 2008. I’d thought so, but after the team went 7-9 in a year it was expected to reach the Super Bowl, you never know.

Thursday, January 3, 2008 7:15 pm

Moving in March

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:15 pm

If the Panthers want to improve in 2008, they’ve got a lot of work to do.

But as Peter King of Sports Illustrated points out, they’ve got huge constraints (scroll down to “stat of the week”) on what they can do.

As of early December, only three teams — Washington, Baltimore and Atlanta — had less room under the salary cap than the Panthers’ $6.05 million. And if Atlanta can get back some of the bonus money it paid or owes Michael “Inmate” Vick, it will be in even better shape. On top of that, the Panthers have only 35 players under contract for next year, meaning they’ll need to do a lot of deals. Only Arizona, with 34, is in worse shape.

I’ve talked in other posts about what the team’s needs are. Now the question is how to fill them, and what to fill them with. That will take money, and to make that money available, some Panthers, including some fairly expensive ones, are going to get gone.

I don’t have any particular insight into who they might be, but I think two obvious ones are David Carr and Dan Morgan. Carr — and I’ll admit this surprised me — was a disaster as a backup quarterback. It’s hard to imagine any future in football for Morgan after his long record of injuries. (No one remembers this, but he was drafted in part because he had been so durable during his college years.)

While this might strike some as sacrilege, I would also think hard about letting Julius Peppers go. He has a year left on his contract if I recall correctly, but after the year he has just had, I honestly wonder whether he is worth keeping. He clearly hasn’t responded to team owner Jerry Richardson’s call to step up and become a team leader, and for all his natural gifts, I’ve long wondered whether he has the desire to become the player his gifts could make him.

DE Mike Rucker might retire. FB Brad Hoover may well be gone. But however it shakes out, a year after attempting to stand pat personnel-wise, the Panthers are headed toward a major housecleaning.

Monday, December 10, 2007 8:19 am

Jaguars 37, Panthers 6

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:19 am

I didn’t see this one, either, and it’s just as well. Kiss the playoffs goodbye. The question now becomes what the Panthers will do in the offseason to address the team’s serious problems. There are so many of them that this will not be a one-year project.

First, hope is not a plan. We all hope Jake Delhomme comes back from surgery as good as ever, but if he doesn’t, we need better talent than David Carr or (bless him) Vinnie Testaverde as backup. Is Matt Moore the answer? I don’t know, but with playoff hopes out the window, now might be a good time to start finding out. It’s hard to think Moore couldn’t have done better than 84 yards versus what was supposed to be a fairly porous pass defense.

Speaking of the passing game, yet again we see nobody able to step up as a No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith, who was held to 44 yards on 6 catches. Drew Carter, 4 catches for 26 yards won’t do it.

And the secondary has been a disaster, on a par with the Doug Evans years. It was particularly bad against the run, allowing Fred Taylor an 80-yard TD score. “The scouting report on those safeties was to just run into them and force them to tackle,” Taylor told reporters. That’s a big problem, and one not fixable overnight.

Last offseason, the salary cap made standing pat personnel-wise a virtue born of necessity. In the offseason to come, perhaps it will make shedding a lot of dead weight a similar virtue. This team needs immediate help, and it will take some hard decisions to get it.

Monday, October 29, 2007 8:33 am

Colts 31, Panthers 7

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:33 am

I saw about one minute of this game around the end of the first quarter, but that was it. Just as well. Next, on the road to Tennessee.

Sunday, October 14, 2007 9:55 pm

Panthers 25, Cardinals 10

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:55 pm

I’ll take any win, especially a win in which you pull away in the fourth quarter. Arizona was fourth in the conference in scoring coming in, so holding them to 10 is admirable. But this game was closer than the score indicates. Take away a few big plays and the Panthers were mediocre, in danger of losing to another mediocre team also in quarterback trouble.

The biggest big play was probably Deke Cooper’s spectacular juggling interception with less than 3:30 to play. How that ball stayed off the ground long enough for Cooper to finally secure it will always be an NFL mystery.

Second biggest was the TD bomb to Steve Smith, a score I chalk up directly to poor coaching by Whisenhunt. Memo to him, straight from the 2005 Seahawks: If you want to control Smith, double-team him and hit him at the line. (Not that I am advocating that. By all means, follow Whisenhunt’s example so Smith can score.) Carolina’s other receivers are essentially the same as they were in 2005: incapable of breaking games open if Smith is neutralized. (The one exception might be TE Jeff King, who’s a definite improvement as a target over the now-retired Kris Mangum.)

Here’s the bottom line: If you took away the bomb, Smith’s numbers would have been 9 catches for 61 yards, or 6.8 yards per catch — not even mediocre.

Deshaun DeAngelo Williams’ 75-yard run helped a ton. Take it away, and he still averaged 5.1 yards per carry, better than respectable. But the feature back, Deshaun Foster, managed 2.5 yards a carry. You want that number up around 4.2 or better. For much of the game, the Panthers’ O-line looked like it couldn’t manage to push the Cards’ D-line around much.

Finally, all hail Vinny Testaverde. He looked damn good and probably just bought himself a starting job for the rest of the season. (UPDATE: Not so much, apparently. Which is why John Fox is head coach and I am not.) As my mother the former Latin teacher said, “Vinny, vidi, vici.”

Next: two weeks to prepare for Indianapolis. Reminds me of ’96, when we had 2 weeks to prepare for San Francisco. Maybe it’ll help. Maybe.

Monday, October 8, 2007 8:56 pm

Panthers 16, Saints 13

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:56 pm

I’ll take the win, but it easily could have gone the other way. A healthy Olindo “Cripple” Mare likely wouldn’t have had a 30-yard field goal attempt blocked by Julius Peppers, and sending him out to attempt a 52-yarder when he’s too ailing even to do kickoffs strikes me as a questionable decision at best.

That said, the Panthers did muster something of a running game and, well, I didn’t get to watch the whole game, but at least they seemed to be moving the ball.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the rest of the schedule looks very strong — much stronger than it looked in the preseason. Arizona is up next, and they’re 4th in the conference in scoring. The only wins I would bet serious money on the rest of the year are Atlanta and New Orleans again and maybe Jacksonville. We get Dallas on a Sunday night, and the way they’re playing right now, it looks as if the Panthers’ almost unbroken tradition of humiliation on national TV might well be continued.

UPDATE: Jake will miss the rest of the season after deciding to have his elbow operated on. Gosh. Good thing we’ve got David Carr as a backup. And that he’s not wracked with back pain after being sacked yesterday. This is where the O-line has to suck it up and earn its money; neither Carr alone nor Deshaun Foster alone will scare anyone.

Monday, October 1, 2007 8:38 am

Bucs 20, Panthers 7

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:38 am

Another game I didn’t get to see, but apparently that’s just as well: The Panthers were only one garbage-time TD from a shutout. DT Kris Jenkins is calling the team’s play “garbage.” The offense mustered 99 rushing yards and 155 passing yards, with WR Steve Smith held to just 32 yards. The defense let the Bucs run almost at will and got no sacks again. QB Jake Delhomme was nursing a sore elbow while David Carr played, but Jake would have made little or no difference.

This was the Houston game all over again, with the difference being that Bucs QB Jeff Garcia didn’t need to pass but for 176 yards. His TD was rushing.

The Panthers, in a way, don’t need to worry about their secondary anymore. They need to worry about the run, because they absolutely cannot stop it. It’s not clear how much difference the absence of MLB Dan Morgan makes, but if this team cannot stop the run, it will spend the rest of the season looking at one ground-gaining, time-consuming drive after another. And that would turn this likely-mediocre season into an awful one.

Monday, September 24, 2007 8:10 am

Panthers 27, Falcons 20

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:10 am

I didn’t actually watch this game. But a perusal of the game center suggests that luck and a tired Atlanta d-line in the waning minutes of the game had a lot more to do with the Panthers’ win than skill did. I mean, c’mon, how often does a team give up 67 yards in penalties in one drive? And DeAngelo Hall gets both a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike? C’mon.

The Panthers’ secondary continues to be a problem. If I’m counting right, the Panthers gave up almost 250 passing yards in the first half. Discount the 69-yard touchdown catch-and-run, and that’s still on pace for a 300-yard game.

A win is a win, and I won’t refuse this one. But this was a win against a division rival expected to be fairly weak. It was a win the Panthers should have gotten just to make 8-8, and the fact that they pulled it off on hostile turf doesn’t erase any of the doubts I raised last week about this team’s abilities. The potential injury to Steve Smith raises even more doubts, inasmuch as none of the other receivers have shown .

The Panthers are home next week to the Bucs, who beat the Rams 24-3 today. That’s the same Rams team Carolina beat in Week 1. The game winner might well win the division.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 6:10 am

Swinging a dead cat

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:10 am

When the Panthers announced during the free-agency period that they wouldn’t be making any big moves because they were confident they could do well with the players they had, I was pretty sure that was just making a virtue out of necessity: With two exceptions, they had the lowest room under the salary cap of any team in the league at that point.

Turns out they were serious … and, based on the Houston game, dead wrong. The only place they improved was at backup quarterback.

I predicted before the season started that they’d be weak in 2007; right now, I’m specifically predicting 8-8. The NFC continues to look weak, so that still looks likely, but they’re a Steve Smith groin pull away from 4-12 or worse.

With all due respect to Houston’s Andre Johnson, one of the league’s top receivers, the secondary got torn apart. The front seven, so respected in recent years, clearly has lost a step — Julius Peppers and Dan Morgan looked ordinary on Sunday and positively horrible against the run, and for all the noise about former All-Pro Kris Jenkins showing up to camp in shape and ready to play, his number didn’t get called much either.

On the offensive side, the team has managed to start yet another season without a No. 2 receiver capable of forcing opponents to put single coverage on Steve Smith. Keary Colbert and Drew Carter had, by my count, four drops; Carter’s drop was on a bomb that could have led to a score and kept the Panthers in the game.

The offensive line couldn’t move Houston’s front off the ball, and Deshaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams couldn’t move the pile to make up the difference. As I’ve said before, as many years as the O-line has been a problem for this club, you’d think they’d learn.  But no.

For the record, lest anyone start calling for David Carr to start, Delhomme shares no blame for this mess. He has done his job.

The irony is that Houston is the team that Carolina, under John Fox, wants to be and has tried to be throughout Fox’s tenure. The Panthers, on the other hand, are just bad. The only question is whether they’ll have a mediocre season or another 2001 death march.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 11:05 pm

‘bye, Mike, and thanks for all the hits

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 11:05 pm

As a minister, Mike Minter often hit his knees. But now, finally, his knees have hit him.

Minter, a 10-year safety with the Carolina Panthers and defensive captain for the past five, has retired. He had planned to retire anyway after this season, but he decided his knees were too far gone to play even one more down.

In a league predicated on legal violence — roughly 100% of players who last more than a season or two eventually end their careers with some kind of permanent disability — Minter was a particularly hard hitter. At 5 feet 9 and 190 pounds, he had to be just to play the position, and as free safety, he was the defense’s on-field traffic cop.

He leaves the Panthers as the leader in tackles, games started, interception yards and returns for TDs and fumble recoveries and is tied for forced fumbles. Less tangibly, he was the outspoken leader of the defense, a role that men of greater natural talent perhaps passed up. According to the Charlotte Observer story, team owner Jerry Richardson personally challenged All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers to fill Minter’s shoes in this regard. Peppers is basically a very quiet, very rural Down Easter, but he has the talent to take the role if he can somehow find the voice.

Best of luck to Minter, and the next time Richardson ponders whom else to cast in bronze for permanent repose outside Bank of America Stadium, his period of reflection should start and end with Minter.

Monday, December 11, 2006 11:00 pm

A season in ruins

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 11:00 pm

I didn’t post after the Panthers’ losses to Washington and Philadelphia because what I saw, particularly in the Washington game, so sickened me that I just couldn’t find anything positive to say and I felt it unfair to write an entirely negative post.

But after going down to Charlotte and seeing the team’s dismal performance against the Giants, I said, “Screw it.”

First things first: The season is over. Although the Panthers are not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they were the only 6-6 team going into this past weekend to lose. Philly, Atlanta and the Giants were all ahead of them, and now, having lost to all three, the Panthers would lose a tiebreaker to any one of them. They have another game against division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans, but the Saints are so far ahead at this point it’s over.

But more important than the elaborate permutations and combinations of the NFL’s tiebreaker system for determining playoff spots is this: It’s December, and the Panthers are playing lousy, lousy football.

The people who know the game best know it, too. On the drive back, we were listening to the WBT-AM post-game show. Of the three announcers, only Ethan Horton, a standout at UNC and with the Raiders, had played pro ball. The other two announcers were trying to put the best face on things. Horton was having none of it: This team, he insisted, is done. And I couldn’t agree more.

We’ll start with the injuries. Tony thinks Delhomme’s sprained thumb was just a fig leaf for a benching. I think Tony is delusional. No one who suffered through the 1-15 season in 2001 could seriously think you could bench Delhomme for Weinke and expect anything good to happen. If he’s not playing, it’s because he really can’t grip the ball, end of story.

In front of Delhomme is that patchwork offensive line. Only one guy, Mike Wahle, is playing where he started the season, and Wahle is playing hurt. Losing left tackle Travelle Wharton was huge, not only because he’s formidable in his own right but also because it meant filling in for him with the best right-side lineman we had.

That, in turn, created serious problems for the running game. Which, given that DeShaun “Stutter-Step” Foster is the featured back, already had serious problems. I wondered whether the team was making the right decision in giving Foster the big bucks and the starting job. That little mistake not only is going to cost them millions of dollars, it’s also going to cost them this season.

On the other side of the ball, losing middle linebacker Dan Morgan — and his career might be over —  was huge, too. Few middle linebackers in the league combine a nose for the run with sideline-to-sideline speed the way he does. (Ironically, one of the reasons the Panthers made him a first-round pick was his durability: He never missed a game in his University of Miami career. Go figure.)

Losing corners Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble to injury hurt, although Lucas, at least, should be back Sunday against Pittsburgh. In their stead, rookie Richard Marshall has struggled a bit; he did much better earlier in the season as nickel back. At safety, much as it pains me to say it, I think Mike Minter has lost a step, and that makes him more vulnerable in his current position at free safety than it did when he was strong safety. But either way, it’s a problem.

But not as much of a problem as the fact that we are just flat unable to stop the run.

It starts with the tackles. Kris Jenkins’ career is done. After two knee operations, it appears unlikely that he will ever return to his former Pro Bowl form. His left-side counterpart, the expensive free-agent acquisition Maake Kemoeatu, has been an expensive bust. As far as the ends go, Julius Peppers gets held and/or double-teamed a lot, granted, but for the first time on Sunday I saw him taking some plays off. And where in *hell* has Mike Rucker been? In 2002 when Peppers was suspended, Rucker stepped it up. This year, he has stepped out.

As for the linebackers, Chris Draft tries hard, but he’s simply no Dan Morgan. And Na’il Diggs is no Will Witherspoon (a salary-cap victim after 2005).

But even with these injuries, the team might still be in contention if its head were still in the game. But it isn’t.

Let’s start with the wideouts. Folks, it doesn’t matter if you have the best group of wideouts in the National Football League if they can’t hang onto the damn ball, and our guys cannot: Every one of them had at least one drop Sunday. Keyshawn has been dropping the ball all season long, and so has Steve Smith.

Then there’s Foster again. He needs to forget the stutter-step. If you’re Emmit Smith, you can “let the play develop,” but mere mortals like Foster need to cut out or cut back, and if there’s nothing there they at least need to move the pile a little. He also dropped at least one pass on Sunday.

Honestly? I think the team has given up. The only people I saw really playing with a sense of urgency were linebacker Thomas Davis and wideout Steve Smith. Smith was at least trying to make things happen after the catch; it looked to me like everyone else was content to be tackled on the spot. Davis was on fire. I saw him on one play get blocked behind the runner and yet, somehow, catch up to the runner and take him down from behind. That’s the kind of football that keeps you playing into January.

But he’s about the only person on the roster playing it, which is why this team won’t be playing in January.

And if the problems ended there, that’d be one thing. But it could be worse next year.

John Fox’s philosophy is simple: You win by running the football and stopping the run. Andy Little over at runs down just what the team has done over the past couple of years in this regard — and how little, particularly on offense, the team has to show for it.

There are a lot of expensive busts on the roster. And the Panthers, as it now stands, have only $3.5 million under the cap for 2007. Only two teams have less, and almost 20 teams have $20M or more to spend. $3.5M buys you about one and a half good wideouts.

But maybe this negative will be a positive. Maybe it will force the team to take a hard look at the return it has gotten, or not gotten, on some of its investments and cut some people who really need to be gone.

Whether it does or not, I’d be surprised if 2007 turns out much better than this year. It may be 2008 before the team contends again.

Monday, November 20, 2006 7:56 am

Panthers 15, Rams 0

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:56 am

Lest I be construed as churlish, let me say that a win’s a win.

But let it also be said that the Rams had to be the worst 4-5 team in league history. The Panthers tried to give them the game. Fortunately, the Rams wouldn’t take it. That fact, combined with Saints and Falcons losses yesterday, puts the Panthers in a tie with the Saints for tops in the division at 6-4, and the Panthers have an edge at the moment because of their earlier defeat of the Saints.

It helped that the Rams’ run defense was even worse than advertised. Even Deshaun Foster was able to rip off an 18-yard carry at one point and had nine carries for 63 yards before leaving the game with what radio said was a hyperextended elbow. Deangelo Williams finished with 114 yards, and Nick Goings and Brad Hoover had 34 yards. Each. Looks like offensive coordinator Dan Henning decided to reward Hoover for his game-saving touchdown last week against the Bucs, and it looks like Hoover responded.

Delhomme didn’t have a great game, but then he didn’t need to. He threw one dumb interception into double coverage, balanced by a terrific 62-yard TD pass to Steve Smith (who has been making up for fewer yards after the catch this year with some spectacularly acrobatic catches, including this one).

I hope everyone who has been calling for Henning to be less conservative was happy when Keyshawn Johnson took an end-around, then attempted to throw into the end zone and got picked.

On defense, the team looked much improved, but in fairness, with the Rams’ All-Pro left tackle, Orlando Pace, done for the year with a torn triceps, it was a different Rams offense. The Panthers got six sacks, including two by right DE Mike Rucker, one of which went for a safety with a little more than two minutes left in the game. The Rams amassed only 31 rushing yards, and although All-Pro Torry Holt had seven grabs, they went for a combined 68 yards, barely more than two-thirds his average yards-per-catch.

With six games left, the Panthers are where they need to be: in first place and in control of their own destiny. But four of their last six games are on the road, starting with back-to-back games against Washington Sunday and then at Philly the following Monday night before returning to Charlotte to play the Giants. The ugly loss to Dallas will really hurt the team’s wild-card chances if it doesn’t win the division. But more than that, the Panthers left a lot of points on the table Sunday against an awful team. Against the remaining schedule, they will need to cash all those points in.

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