Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, August 15, 2021 7:38 pm

Colts 21, Panthers 18

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:38 pm

As you might expect of the first preseason game, it was ugly; at one point each team had 7 penalties, and that was before Carolina’s third-string O-line committed false starts on three consecutive plays.

The starters didn’t play on either side of the ball, so today was an opportunity to get a hard look at the second- and third-stringers. Primarily for the Panthers, that meant no Sam Darnold or his likely offensive weapons. Whether Darnold will outperform his time with the Jets and become the franchise QB the Panthers need will remain unsettled for at least another week.

The second-string defense had some really good moments. DEs Yetur Gross-Matos and Marquis Haynes, who started, had some excellent play between them, including a strip-sack and fumble recovery by Gross-Matos. The secondary looked good in spots as well, although it gave up 116 first-half yards; safety Kenny Robinson had the team’s only interception. Daviyon Nixon and Bravvion Roy both showed they could play at DT. Linebacker depth remains a concern. And Frankie Luvu forced a turnover by sacking Colts QB Jacob Eason deep in his backfield on fourth down.

P.J. Walker had a decent first half at QB for the Panthers. He was only 10-for-21, but he racked up 161 yards passing, a decent half’s work, and didn’t turn the ball over. He hit rookie second-round pick Terrace Marshall three times on five targets, and Marshall converted for 88 yards, looking about as spectacular as he did in Draft Night tape. Will Grier in the second half was a significant drop-off from Walker, going 6-for-10 for 31 yards. Were it up to me, Walker is the backup and Grier ends up on the street. In O-line news, Brady Christensen looks like he’s at least good enough to back up Taylor Moton at RT (if Moton doesn’t end up moving to LT). Other than him, though, the O-line play was not good, particularly in the second half, which will not assuage fans’ fears that last year’s anemic run game and inadequate pass protection will recur. In fairness, the line likely would have looked better if G Dennis Dailey had played with the second team, but he was excused for the weekend to tend to a family matter.

Rookie RB Chuba Hubbard looked good in the first half, getting seven carries for 80 yards, most of which was on a 60-yard run on third and short. He ran into the pile, which consisted of collapsing Panther O-linemen, then bounced back out and around right end. He should have made it to the end zone, but one of the fleeter Colts caught up with him.

Thomas Fletcher, who’s being given a look at long snapper, gave the team no reason to replace stalwart J.J. Jansen with him, but he did recover a fumbled punt. For kicker Joey Slye, every kick was an adventure. He missed a 60-plus-yarder, although he was not short, and he missed an extra point. A couple of his field goals were just inside the uprights.

Without a single starter on either side of the ball, it’s difficult to make any sweeping pronouncements about the state of the team. The practices this week with the Baltimore Ravens, and the game next Saturday in which the starters will play, should give us a much better picture.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 10:12 pm

Farewell, Cam Newton

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:12 pm
Tags: , ,

The Carolina Panthers are shopping QB1 Cam Newton in a trade, and they also have signed New Orleans backup QB Teddy Bridgewater as their new QB1 at roughly $21 million/year.

I am not surprised that the Panthers are shopping Cam Newton. His recent injury history and uncertain recovery timetable made that inevitable.

What I AM pissed about, however, is, with the benefit of hindsight, how badly the Panthers organization misused and ill-served the most talented athlete ever to wear the Panthers’ black and blue.

At almost NO time in Newton’s nine seasons with the Panthers did the team ever provide him a rock-solid offensive line. O-line has been problematic for the entire history of the franchise, so you would think the Panthers would learn a lesson, and you would be wrong.

The Panthers’ selection of complementary offensive weapons also has been inexcusably hit-and-miss. Both once- and current GM Marty Hurney and ex-GM David Gettleman bear the responsibility for that.

To the extent that, in the history of the franchise, the Panthers have been consistently competitive, that is pretty much 100% attributable to QB1, Cameron Newton. And now Hurney and head coach Matt Ruhle are going to attempt to rebuild the offense around former New Orleans QB2 Teddy Bridgewater. Well, we’ll see how that goes.

But in the quarter-century history of this franchise, the one player most consistently associated with post-season wins was Cam Newton, a guy the team never supported. I hope he lands somewhere where management will appreciate and support his talents. Sadly, that team ain’t the Panthers and never has been.

Monday, September 23, 2019 10:07 pm

Panthers 38, Cardinals 20

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:07 pm
Tags: , ,

I think my 21-year-old daughter said it best: “This game is just showing us how LONG Cam (Newton) has been hurt.” And you know what? She’s right.

In hindsight, it appears that Newton hasn’t been fully healthy since the 2015 season. Because, while the Arizona Cardinals defense is no better than mediocre, a healthy Kyle Allen was able to execute Norv Turner’s offense – and not a baby version, but much of the real deal – in such a way that the offense racked up points the way it had been expected to but had not done so far this season.

Tight end Gregg Olsen, coming off two straight seasons with foot injuries and a bad back last week, caught six passes for 75 yards and two TDs. RB Christian McCaffrey ran for 153 years, including a 75-yard TD run, the longest such from scrimmage in Panthers’ history. And WR Curtis Samuel showed signs that he’s going to have the breakout year Panthers fans had hoped for, catching five of seven targets for 53 yards. Those catches included a TD in the back right corner of the end zone and a first-down catch on the sideline at the Cardinals’ 2.

The Panthers’ O-line play was significantly better than it had been in the first two games on both run and pass plays. And the defensive front seven, supposedly the best in the league, finally showed it, sacking Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray eight times. Murray was held to 173 passing yards. The Panthers’ run D still looked questionable, giving up 121 yards, but it didn’t look nearly as bad as in Weeks 1 and 2.

I wrote earlier that I didn’t believe the Panthers’ QB2 was on the roster yet. I’m not ready to abandon that position completely. But Kyle Allen went out, executed the plan, and racked up 38 points with a wide variety of offensive teammates. I’m happy to give him that. Now let’s see how he does in his next start at Houston.



Sunday, September 8, 2019 5:45 pm

Rams 30, Panthers 27

This game was nowhere near as close as the score indicates. It was a winnable game that the Panthers gave away.

Christian McCaffrey ran 19 times for 128 yards and 2 TDs. Credit is due both to him and the greatly improved run-blocking of the O-line. He also had 10 catches on 11 targets for 81 yards.

But after a great-looking opening drive that was strangled by a lost D.J. Moore fumble in the red zone, the passing game never really got going. Cam Newton finished just 25 of 38 for 239 yards, no TDs and two turnovers, a pick and a lost fumble. He completed only four of nine targets to the guy who’s normally his favorite target, tight end Gregg Olsen, throwing off his back foot and over Olsen’s head twice on consecutive plays. The O-line allowed three sacks against a Rams D that didn’t blitz much.

As for the Panthers’ D, after the team finished 28th in sacks in 2018, the much ballyhooed, remade front seven had zero sacks and only three tackles for loss. (Corner James Bradberry had the fourth, to go with a pick.) First-round edge rusher Brian Burns had one tackle for a loss, and although it was impressive, it was his only tackle of the game.

This team was built to win it all this year, but today’s game made clear that this not a Super Bowl team. It’s hard to say what the Bucs will do, but if the Falcons get their awful defense to be even a little better, the 2019 Panthers might not even be a wild-card team. And if they’re not, the reckoning that will follow, and the losses during rebuilding that will follow that, will be so ugly that this team might not make the playoffs again for another few years.

Saturday, April 27, 2019 7:33 pm

Hot take on the Panthers’ 2019 draft

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:33 pm
Tags: ,

GM Marty Hurney abandoned his usual best-player-available approach to fill specific needs — because if this year’s team doesn’t go deep into the playoffs, he, head coach Ron Rivera, and a number of other coaches will be out on the street.

If you had any doubt that the Panthers will be playing more 3-4 defensive sets in 2019 than they have since 1997, you need only look at their first- and fourth-round picks: LB/DE Brian Burns from Florida State and LB/DE Christian Miller from Alabama. They come from the SEC and the ACC, probably the two fastest conference in the nation. Carolina had to improve its edge rushing after an abysmal 2018 and the retirement of future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers, and they may well have done it here. That’s important because the Panthers’ defense is predicated on both stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback, reducing strain on their secondary, which, historically, has not been the best part of their D. (And more on that in a minute.)

Another big need for the Panthers was an O-line that can keep Cam Newton healthy — the team, which started strong in 2018, finished 1-7 after Newton was injured in the Pittsburgh game. Second-round pick Greg Little, a tackle from Ole Miss, certainly understands the high expectations the franchise has for him, telling fans bluntly, “I’m going to keep Cam safe.” With the re-signing of former Pro Bowl right tackle Daryl Williams, who returns from an injury-truncated 2018 at right tackle, the Panthers’ tackles appear secure, with third-year man Taylor Moton available to step in at either position if Little or Williams goes down.

The third-round pick addressed the team’s desire to 1) improve the quality of depth behind Cam Newton if QB1 does get injured, and 2) begin exploring options for a quarterback of the future with Cam on the cusp of turning 30. They turned to Davidson Day School product Will Grier from West Virginia, who will be competing against Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. (The latter played a great game in 2018 in his only appearance but was injured and didn’t finish.) The team insists that Newton remains QB1 for the foreseeable future, and I see no reason to doubt that.

I confess that the Panthers’ fifth-round pick, RB Jordan Scarlett from Florida, puzzles me: I’m not at all sure that he’d be any improvement on Cameron Artis-Payen, currently RB2 behind Christian McCaffery. The Panthers also have Elijah Hood from North Carolina and Reggie Bonnafon from Louisville on the roster.

The sixth-round pick, OT Dennis Daley from South Carolina, appears to have been a depth pick. And as noted before, if either starting tackle goes down, Taylor Moton probably gets the call.

With their last pick in the seventh round, the Panthers drafted Georgia wideout Terry Godwin. Godwin does not have game-breaking stats, but he averaged 16.8 yards per catch his junior year, and, to prove it was no fluke, he averaged 16.7 yards per catch his senior year — more-than-respectable numbers.

The pick puzzles me only in this sense: I kept hearing analysts say the Panthers needed WRs, especially to replace Devin Funchess. But honestly? I’m not seeing it. DJ Moore, drafted in 2018, lived up to his yards-after-the-catch hype and, if not for injuries, likely would have been mentioned in rookie-of-the-year conversations. Jarius Wright provided not only experience but also a reliable possession receiver. Curtis Samuel blossomed in his second year in the league in 2018, particularly as a deep threat, and figures only to get better this year. Veteran Torrey Smith, another reliable wideout, returns as well. Do the Panthers have a wideout with Funchess’s specific skill set — height, jumping ability, bulk? No; at 6’2″, Andre Levrone is the tallest receiver on the roster. But Funchess was drafted in the hopes that he would be a Cris Carter receiver — “all he does is score touchdowns” — and he never became that. And, frankly, given the talent on the roster now, barring a rash of injuries, I think the Panthers are all set at this position.

Which brings me to a few positions they’re not set at.

Perennial Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil retired, and I had thought the Panthers might try to draft a center of the future. In point of fact, probably the best center available, N.C. State’s Garrett Bradbury, got picked up by the Vikings two slots after the Panthers drafted Brian Burns, and the Panthers simply had more pressing concerns. So Tyler Larson remains the presumptive starter, with Matt Paradis and Parker Collins also on the roster for now. Whether Larson can both lead the run game and protect Cam Newton from blitzes up the middle consistently remains to be seen.

In other news, a gaping hole remains at safety. Eric Reid is set, but who the other safety will be definitely remains to be seen — six other safeties currently occupy roster spots, including players who saw time last year like Cole Luke and Rashaan Gaulden, but it is entirely possible that the Week 1 starter isn’t yet on the roster. (Colin Jones, nominally a safety, is perennially a key special-teams player who likely wouldn’t be called on to start.)

And I had thought the team might try to address linebacker depth in the draft, given the retirement of Pro Bowler Thomas Davis. Not this year, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they snap up an LB or two among the team’s signings of undrafted free agents in the next day or two.

The experts gave the Panthers an “A” for their Day 1 and Day 2 draft (the first three picks). I’m not sure yet what grade they’ll give the team for Day 3 and overall. On paper, at least, it looks as if the team addressed some pressing needs, as it had to.

My concern goes beyond that. As a Panther fan from the beginning, I know that this team’s successes rise and fall with the quality and consistency of its O-line. We added what appear to be quality parts, but a lot of questions remain: Will Daryl Williams return from injury at or close to his former Pro Bowl performance level? Will Greg Little be able to keep his promise to keep Cam Newton safe? Can guard Trai Turner continue to perform at a high level — and who will be the other starting guard? And can Tyler Larson at center shoulder Ryan Kalil’s mantle, leading runs up the middle and protecting Newton from defensive surges over his position?

If the answers to all or most of these questions are positive, the Panthers will be able to hang a lot of points on people. That might not translate to wins, but it’ll mean they’ll be both competitive and fun to watch.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers must, as always, 1) stop the run, and 2) pressure the quarterback. Adding two edge rushers appears likely to help with pressure, but the Panthers’ previous experience with the 3-4 in late 1996 and 1997 was that it couldn’t stop the run. Maybe, with younger talent, that will change. It had better.

And the Panthers’ secondary remains a question mark. CB1 James Bradberry remains a middle-of-the-pack cover corner and, arguably, a liability against the run. Corn Elder and Donte Jackson came on last year, but neither has yet shown the greatness needed to be a real NFL cover corner. And I’ve already talked about my concerns at safety.

In conclusion, the Panthers definitely helped themselves in the draft, but so did their divisional rivals. This team is going to have to work very hard, and be lucky to avoid many injuries, to achieve its short-term goals. And if it does not, it will face a massive rebuilding project in what likely would be the waning years of Cam Newton’s career. The stakes are always high in the NFL, but in the particular case of the Panthers, they might be higher this year than at any other time in the franchise’s history.


Monday, February 9, 2015 8:01 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 9

So because I think Binyamin Netanyahu is a sociopath who has led Israel down a dangerously self-destructive path and who (as is true of any other head of state) has no business addressing our government without an invitation from the head of that government, Joe “Ratings Lower Than Whale Poop in the Marianas Trench at High Tide” Scarborough thinks I’m anti-Semitic. Fortunately, Dave Winer, the Godfather of Blogging, has a response: “Let me jewsplain that for you: chuck is a goy schmuck asshole schmeggegey nazi idiot dick.”

Some people just don’t have the temperament to be lawyers. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, not for the first time, is demonstrating that he is one of those people, ordering officials in that state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 legalization of same-sex marriage there. Coming into today, Alabama was 0-2 in nullification contests, and it began losing again today not long after county offices opened for business. Sorry, Roy. And screw you with a fence post, bigot.

“[I]f memory for events is strengthened at emotional times, why does everyone forget what they were doing when the Challenger exploded?” Memory is damned tricky. And our criminal justice system, for good or ill, needs to take better stock of its shortcomings.

A month or so ago I had to give New York Times op-ed pecksniff Ross Douthat credit for being right about the Charlie Hebdo incident. Now, I must give New York Times op-ed pecksniff David Brooks credit for being right about President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments. Verily, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming up the driveway and here I am all out of hay.

If Mike Freaking Huckabee blows that dog whistle any louder, he’s gonna owe me for some new windows.

So, Godwin’s Law with respect to privatization? Totally bogus:

They say that the first person in any political argument who stoops to invoking Nazi Germany automatically loses. But you can look it up: According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the English word “privatization” derives from a coinage, Reprivatisierung, formulated in the 1930s to describe the Third Reich’s policy of winning businessmen’s loyalty by handing over state property to them.

(Seriously. I had no idea.)

There might be a case for not publishing some of the Charlie Hebdo images, but outgoing NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos utterly fails to make it.

Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has a fiancee. His fiancee has advised the governor on some of the same energy issues on which she works as a paid consultant for private interests, and there’s roughly zero chance Kitzhaber was unaware of this major conflict of interest. I imagine there are roughly 4 million Oregonians who don’t give a damn what I think, but I think Kitzhaber should resign. I imagine a district attorney and a U.S. attorney there also don’t give a damn what I think, but I also think Kitzhaber should go to prison.

WRAL-TV catches Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam lying about Medicaid. Stop the presses.

A former chairman of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, Jim Womackgets all butthurt over the fact that a Lee County coffee-shop owner doesn’t want Duke Energy’s coal ash dumped in her back yard. Because Womack was having trouble understanding the owner’s position, I wish she’d’ve spooned some coal ash into his coffee.

I was wrong; Carolina Panther Greg Hardy won’t be convicted on domestic-assault charges in a jury trial after all. The complainant has skipped town amid rumors of a civil settlement. I stand by my prediction, however, that Hardy has played his last game as a Panther.

Here in Greensboro, a patron at New Orleans Bar & Grille on Big Tree Way was unsatisfied with his steak Saturday night and started filming a review, when restaurant employees not only interrupted but also stole their phones. My wife’s from Louisiana, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before we set foot in that place. This deserves to go viral so hard that not even the owners’ grandchildren’s grandchildren will ever be able to try to start a business here. And the restaurant employees need to go to prison.

Let it never be said I’m not tough on crime. Y’all have a good evening.


Sunday, February 8, 2015 10:30 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 8

A Fox News guest, Jonathan Hoenig, tells viewers Saturday that mandatory vaccinations will lead to forced abortions. Host Eric Bolling says nothing (of course), leaving it to guest Nomiki Konst to say, “Oh, my God,” and inform Hoenig that 48 of 50 states mandate vaccinations for schoolchildren.

The biggest American labor strike in 34 years is widening. The United Steel Workers are striking, and their membership includes the work forces at some oil refineries, so this could hit you right smack in the wallet. What’s that, you say? First you’re hearing about it? Well, go figure; it’s labor news. Charlie Pierce offered some perspective a few days ago.

As Andrew “objectively pro-terrorist” Sullivan rides off into the blogging sunset to, sadly, sickening and near-universal applause, Driftglass does us all a favor by recalling for us a far worthier blogger who didn’t retire but died … and who never got his due.

I’ve little to say about the passing of Dean Smith, but only because you’ll find much more and much better stuff if you go look for it. While I think it’s all but certain that he either knew or should have known about the academic shenanigans that apparently were taking off as his career neared its end, his stand for integration at a time when his job might not have been the only thing at stake will secure his reputation.

Just my opinion, so no link, but: No way do the Carolina Panthers re-sign Greg Hardy, even if a jury exonerates him (which I also don’t think will happen). Someone will sign him, but not the Panthers. Their front office has moved on, and fans should, too.

RIP Joe B. Mauldin, bassist for Buddy Holly’s band, The Crickets. (h/t: Fred)

Thursday, December 27, 2012 1:02 pm

How the NFL just got on my sh*t list; or, America: NOT a meritocracy

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 1:02 pm
Tags: , ,

I understand that the Panthers are 6-9, already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and now playing only for pride. I get that. (Indeed, if you don’t know me, you may have no idea just how painfully I get it.)

But among the team’s few bright spots this year has been Luke Kuechly, this year’s first-round draft pick. Projected as an outside linebacker, he began playing in the middle — the spot he played in college — after an early, season-ending injury to starter Jon Beason.

And all he has done in that spot is lead the league in tackles.

Players are chosen to the Pro Bowl by fans, coaches and players themselves, each group’s votes counting an equal amount. I can understand the fans being ignorant of who, exactly, is leading the league in tackles. I can even understand fans being “homers,” people who vote only for players on their home team. And, of course, I understand that the Charlotte market is nowhere near as big as the New York or Washington or Boston or Houston or Dallas markets. But coaches are going to know the stats for sure, and the players probably will as well. So: really? Really? The guy who leads the league in tackles doesn’t get to the Pro Bowl?

Someone please explain this to me: How does a guy who leads the league in tackles not make it to the Pro Bowl?

Just to put this in perspective, absent serious off-field problems, would any guy who led the league in TD passes, rushing yards, receiving yards or field goals NOT be named to the Pro Bowl?

Yeah. I thought not.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:07 pm

Should Randy Moss become a Panther?

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:07 pm
Tags: , ,

Tom Sorensen at the Charlotte O makes an interesting, but by no means compelling, case.

The upside is that at his best, Moss has been among the best WRs  ever to play his position, and the Panthers’ need for a receiver who can stretch the field the way Steve Smith does AND take double-teams off Smith could be a boon for the offense and a blessing for Cam Newton.

The downside, though, is formidable. Moss is 35 and didn’t play in 2011. His performance in 2010 was subpar. He has a history of off-field problems and fomenting locker-room discontent. The Panthers think WR Brandon LaFell may be about to blossom, and they have WR David Gettis coming back from injury, and they have WR Legedu Naanee, who performed well in 2011 but whose contract is up. They’ve also got the best pair of tight ends in the league in Greg Olson and Jeremy Shockey, although Shockey, too, is aging and will need a new contract. And the contracts matter, because the team has damned little wiggle room under the salary cap.

The Panthers have a history of overpaying past-their-prime superstars (**cough ReggieWhite cough**), true. But that history is mostly in the last century. In this one, the past-their-prime stars have been people like Stephen Davis and Jeremy Shockey, big upgrades at their position. Even Keyshawn Johnson wasn’t awful, just mediocre. And although owner Jerry Richardson shied away from problem children after the Rae Carruth disaster, his measured gambles on Cam Newton and Shockey have come up big. (That said, although I was skeptical of Newton’s ability to play in the NFL, I generally thought his father was a much bigger off-field problem than he  himself was.)

My guess is that the salary cap alone means this won’t happen; Moss is nowhere near enough of a sure thing to make the Panthers go through the hassle of restructuring several other players’ contracts. They’ll be doing enough of that anyway, plus cutting or not re-signing some good people, as it is.

But if it were up to me, and in the absence of any better affordable options in the draft or free-agent market, I might do what Sorensen suggests: Bring Moss in for an interview, and if Moss can convince me that he’s going to give me body and soul on every down he plays and keep his behavior between the white lines in the locker room and after hours, offer him a one-year contract heavily weighted toward back-end incentives on both health and performance, some of them unlikely enough not to count against the salary cap. If he takes it, great. If he doesn’t, no hard feelings. If he takes it and underperforms, you’re not out a ton of money, and if he takes it and greatly exceeds expectations, he’ll be worth the money without being a huge hit against the cap.

Cam Newton needs weapons. If — and that’s a big if — the Randy Moss of old returned for even a single season, the fireworks those two would create could light the division’s entire geographic footprint.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 12:25 am

Yes, we Cam

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:25 am
Tags: ,

Was curious about whether Cam Newton really got snubbed for the Pro Bowl, so I checked NFL.COM stats. I learned that through Week 16, his NFC ranking was:

– 9th in QB rating (which factors in a lot of affirmative stats as well as how well you avoid mistakes)
– 10th in completion percentage
– 7th in passing yards
– 7th in passing touchdowns

So, no, I don’t think you can say he was snubbed.

However, he did accomplish some remarkable things. In addition to the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a QB and passing yards by a rookie QB, he also ranks 20th overall, and 2nd among QBs behind Vick, in rushing yards per game, and 2nd overall in rushing TDs with 14.

One other interesting fact: In Newton, Williams and Stewart, the Panthers had three backs who each carried the ball 100+ times and averaged more than 5 yards per carry. If any other NFC team did that this year, I missed it. In fact, I may be wrong, but that might be a first in NFL history. Anyone know? That speaks not only to the talent of those backs but also to the hard work of the offensive line, only one of whose members, Ryan Kalil, is going to the Pro Bowl.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 8:18 pm

Quote of the day

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:18 pm
Tags: , , ,

Emptywheel, in her new digs, on the pending settlement of the NFL lockout:

This is all proof, I guess, that Eric Cantor is a bigger [expletive] than even Jerry Jones.

Which I would have said violated the principles of simple Newtonian physics, but there we are: Football! Which is, of course, far from the same thing as the Panthers’ having a decent season, but at least the No. 1 overall draft pick is likely to be under contract when camp opens.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:13 pm

Will everyone in Charlotte please leave in orderly fashion via the closest available exit?

Filed under: Fun,Panthers,Sad — Lex @ 8:13 pm
Tags: ,

Miami Herald:

“Panthers and orchids are sentinels,” Richardson said. “They are not guards; they are watchdogs of the environment. We should be watching them just as closely. When they decide to leave, we should too.’

Currently, the Panthers are last in the league in points and yards and next-to-last in passing yards. I think it’s pretty clear they’ve decided to leave.

Sunday, September 26, 2010 1:00 pm

What my Sundays will be like if the Panthers don’t start winning

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 1:00 pm
Tags: ,

Sunday, September 19, 2010 5:44 pm

By the jet exhausts’ red glare

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 5:44 pm

Jet fighter flyover before Bucs-Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, 19 Sept 2010. I still get goosebumps during these things. Also, I forget her name, but the 11-year-old girl from Raleigh who did the national anthem was excellent.

Unfortunately for the Panthers and their fans, this was pretty much the high point of the afternoon.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 9:52 pm

The 2010 Panthers …

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:52 pm

… are gonna suck eggs, if you believe the NFL’s stable of prognosticators. The best anyone predicts is 8-8 and 3rd in the conference, several say 6-10 and one says 5-11.

Me? I think a defense as good as the Panthers’ D has looked in the preseason will take you places. The big question mark was the D-line, and it has played well against the run and gotten a serious pass rush on. It sucks that MLB Jon Beason had to move outside to replace the injured Thomas Davis, but 1) Beason is gonna get tackles no matter what position he plays, and 2) Davis apparently may yet play this year.

Special teams appear solid, with John Kasay and Jason Baker quite reliable and the kick/punt coverage appearing to be significantly improved from last year. But kick/punt returns are still a big question mark.

The problem is that the offense, which the team didn’t do a lot to revamp in the off-season,  has serious problems: Not only can Matt Moore not find a receiver, but nobody, nobody has emerged as a viable alternative to Steve Smith. (For yet another year.) Worst of all, the O-line, which was thought to have enough spot-for-spot talent to match up with anyone in the league, appears to be having serious problems playing as a team.

Based on what I’ve seen this preseason, this team is not going to score many points. And the best defense in the league can’t help you all that much if it’s on the field too much. Against a dramatically improved division, that spells trouble.

So: If Steve Smith says healthy, I predict 8-8, which may not be good enough to keep the Panthers out of the NFC South cellar.

Sunday, June 13, 2010 3:55 pm


Filed under: Panthers,Sad — Lex @ 3:55 pm
Tags: , ,

I would appreciate it if the Carolina Panthers could actually make it into their first training camp session of 2010 before losing key players for the season to injury. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:12 pm

Hey, Google Calendar!

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 8:12 pm
Tags: ,

The NFL released its 2010 schedule 42 whole minutes ago. Why aren’t the Panthers’ games on my calendar yet, you slackards??

Friday, March 5, 2010 5:38 am

Call me stunned but delighted

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 5:38 am
Tags: ,

The Panthers have cut Jake Delhomme after seven seasons, numerous thrilling fourth-quarter comebacks and a Super Bowl. I’d thought since the end of the season it would be the right thing to do, but after they put the franchise tag on Peppers last year I also thought they wouldn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, particularly since they will still owe Jake roughly $12M this year. I guess the lack of a salary cap can be a freeing thing. Still, it became a lot more likely after they gave Matt Moore the $3M+ tender offer earlier this week. (Getting Matt and LB Thomas Davis re-signed are both very good ideas.)

They also cut DL Damione Lewis, although that appears to have been more to save money than anything else — he’d have cost $5M this year. But the loss of Peppers and Lewis leaves them thin on the D-line, which was thin to begin with and then, as they say, riddled with injuries last year. Tyler Brayton and Hollis Thomas also are unrestricted free agents, and Brayton, in particular, is sure to be picked up by someone else if we don’t make him a good offer pretty quickly.

Still, management is acting as if they understand what the problems are and are making good-faith efforts to fix them. This is a good sign.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 11:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/29

Gettin’ back at ’em: Wall Street’s 10 Greatest Lies of 2009 and 10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You. For informational purposes only; no endorsement implied. IANAL. Void where prohibited. Etc.

Waykewl pitchers: Time’s “The Year in Pictures 2009,” National Geographic’s “Top Ten Space Pictures of 2009.”

Denzel in the house: Denzel Washington came to the Davidson-Penn game last night to watch his son’s team lose to the Wildcats. (Malcolm Washington converted a 3-point play for the Quakers’ final points of the game.)

Connecting the dots: Fecund Stench does an excellent, if scary, job of it.

I’m sure the Right-Wing Noise Machine will apologize to the Dixie Chicks right after it excoriates Ted Nugent.

Following in the footsteps of the other death merchants: Like the tobacco industry before them, the health-care industry, not satisfied to mess things up at the national level, is now also messing things up at the state level.

Attention, deficit hawks: Despite what you may have learned in Right-Wing Math Class, a $900 billion health-care program that’s paid for is NOT as big a problem as a $9 trillion unfunded liability.

Chase and Citibank are dropping out of the FDIC 4K program. Uh, what does that mean, you ask? Basically, they’ve found a way to do more gambling with your money.

Two Panthers are going to the Pro Bowl, RB DeAngelo Williams and DE Julius Peppers. RB Jonathan Stewart’s final stats may outshine Williams’s. Peppers, on the other hand, is tied for 305th in the league in tackles through Week 16, with 39; ranks tenth overall, and sixth among defensive ends (fifth among DEs in the NFC), in sacks; tied for 177th in passes defended (eighth among DEs), with five. In his defense, he is tied for third in the league with five forced fumbles and is among only four DEs in the league who have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Carbon gap: All the blather about a carbon/environment/clean-energy bill is overshadowing an ominous fact: China is going to eat our lunch in this arena … if we let it.

Quote of the day, from Bruce Schneier: “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” So let’s 1) stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year on equipment and people that don’t do what they’re supposed to do and 2) stop making flying commercial any more of a miserable experience than it absolutely has to be. Thank you.

Another quote of the day, from Osama bin Laden, which we really ought to look at again before rushing off to start new wars in Yemen and Somalia: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

John Dugan owes us trillions, and if he can’t pay, I say we have the Mafia (who pay sales taxes, if nothing else) break his legs.

Pat Buchanan: Still crazy.

Speaking of crazy: It’s time to stop giving Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., air time. He handles it worse than I handled Jell-O shots, which is pretty bad.

I wouldn’t call it a “fix,” but it’d definitely be an improvement: NYU online-journalism guru Jay Rosen suggests the Sunday talk shows start fact-checking their guests. Unlike Jay, however, I wouldn’t wait ’til Wednesday to post the corrections. That ought to be happening in real time, online and with live screen crawls.

Speaking of fixes, if we want to fix the terrorism problem, we have to start with the engineers. They’re dangerous, I tell you. Including my brother.

Mashup du jour: This is genius.

Attention, police: You can’t Taser people just because they don’t do what you want them to do anymore. Not that all that many of you were doing that to begin with, just as almost none of you hit people over the head with your batons just for the hell of it. But those few of you who have been doing this are now on legal notice that you need to stop.

Elections have consequences, and the biggest consequence of the 2008 election so far is that the people who worked hardest to elect Barack Obama president have been serially and collectively screwed.

Reasons to freak out: Number of Americans who’ve died this year for lack of health insurance: about 45,000. Number who’ve died from salmonella: about 600. Number who’ve died from terrorism, including all those at Fort Hood: 16. Let’s keep this in mind before we soil ourselves, shall we?

Parker Griffith didn’t just take a congressional seat with him, he also took some of the Alabama Democratic Party’s voter-registration data. His primary is June 1, so get your popcorn early.

And I’ll bet you thought the story of Orly Taitz and the birthers couldn’t get any weirder: BZZZT! Wrong!

OK, maybe the world really WILL end in 2012, because it sure can’t keep going like this: DougJ at Balloon Juice for the win: “Let’s be frank: at this point, there is no real difference between Michelle Malkin and the Washington Post editorial page, none between Marc Ambinder and Matt Drudge, none between the Republican Congressional delegation and RedState. We have Jim DeMint holding up the confirmation of the head of the TSA while simultaneously acting as the point man for Republican criticism of the TSA … and he’s getting a lot of traction in the very liberal media. Maybe there is no value in saying this over and over again, but our public dialog really, really sucks.”

And, finally, just because it’s cool and you deserve a reward for reading this far:

Monday, December 28, 2009 11:14 pm

In baseball, a .375 career might land you in the Hall of Fame

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 11:14 pm
Tags: ,

But John Fox has the misfortune to work in the NFL, where, as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, he has taken his team to the playoffs just three times in eight years, never two years in a row. So the news today that he still has a job for 2010 if he wants it (ditto general manager Marty Hurney) needs to be understood as the good news/bad news it is.

The good news, for Fox, is that he still has a job. Earlier in the season, when a team that had been expected to compete for the Super Bowl went winless in preseason, lost its first three in the regular season and then hit 5-8 without ever reaching .500, a lot of people, including me, were calling for his head. And the fact that Bill Cowher, who won multiple Super Bowl titles in Pittsburgh, is currently out of football and living just down the road in Raleigh, was positively tantalizing.

The bad news for Fox is that although he has only one year left on his contract, owner Jerry Richardson apparently hasn’t said a word about negotiating an extension. If Fox’s job were truly secure, that extension likely already would have been inked.

Fox had a near-death experience with Richardson after the disappointing 2007 season, and he and the team responded in ’08 by going 12-4 and winning the NFC South and a first-round bye. But QB Jake Delhomme gave the divisional playoff game against Arizona away in a flood of turnovers, and his turnover problems continued until he broke a finger in this season’s Miami game, ending his season and quite possibly his Panthers career.

No one knows how differently things might have turned out this year if Fox had benched Delhomme sooner. But the fact that Fox still has a job indicates that Richardson believes this team’s problems didn’t start or stop with Fox and Delhomme.

From the outside looking in, I’d have to say that’s true. All the money tied up in making Julius Peppers the franchise player for ’09 left the team little room under the salary cap to address problems in the return game, the lack of a second wideout fast enough to free Steve Smith from double-teams, and depth issues — particularly on the D-line, where the Panthers scrambled for healthy players well into midseason after putting four defensive tackles on injured reserve.

And the fact is that of Carolina’s eight losses so far, only one, the season opener, was an embarrassment (38-10 to the Eagles) and only one other, to the Cowboys in Week 3, was by more than 10 points. Since Matt Moore took over for Delhomme, the team has gone 3-2. The defense had played well for most of the year, but since the Miami game it has stepped up, allowing an average of only 7.6 points a game. The offense, which had struggled all year, finally started to gel, running up big numbers against heavily favored Minnesota and New York in the past two weeks. The offensive line, so often a problem in this team’s history, has delivered outstanding play despite the loss of both starting tackles, one of them a Pro Bowler.

Whether the Panthers beat New Orleans this Sunday or not probably won’t decide anyone’s future, nor should it. Steve Smith broke his arm against the Giants and won’t play. A solid performance by Moore probably makes him the starter going into the ’10 minicamps. I don’t recall enough about the details of Delhomme’s contract (if in fact I ever knew enough of them) to know whether Carolina would do better under the salary cap by keeping him or cutting him, but I do know that the new contract he signed last year is paying him starter’s money at a time when he probably ain’t the starter anymore.

The rest of the offense? Steve Smith and his healed arm should be back and fine by minicamp. The offensive line should be fine for next year if — always a crapshoot — it can avoid injuries. In particular, if he stays healthy, look for Jon Otah to make his first Pro Bowl. In Dante Rosario and Jeff King, the Panthers have the best pair of tight ends in the league: Neither is a Tony Gonzalez, but both, particularly Rosario, are dangerous targets. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the best pair of RBs in the league and are capably backed by Tyrell Sutton (5.7 ypa, 10.3 ypc in limited action). Brad Hoover remains one of the league’s better blocking fullbacks as well as a pass-catching threat. The ageless Muhsin Muhammad is still a capable possession receiver and one of the league’s best blocking wideouts — a factor in big gains by Williams and Stewart. All that remains, as has been the case for several years now, is a wideout credible enough as a deep threat to take the double-teams off Steve Smith.

On the defense, the biggest question, for the second straight year, is Julius Peppers. After playing part of the season with a broken hand, he has still amassed 10.5 sacks (his best is 14.5, in ’08) and has forced five fumbles, tying his season best, despite frequent double-teams. He so dominated Minnesota’s offense on national TV Dec. 20 that Vikings coach Brad Childress apparently tried to take QB Brett Favre out of the game for his own protection in the third quarter, while the Vikings were still winning 7-6. But this past year has made clear that Peppers’ inconsistency — the longtime knock on him — isn’t going to bring him the megadeal he apparently seeks, particularly from one of the few teams that use the kind of scheme he wants to play in. Carolina can put the franchise tag on him again in 2010, but doing so would mean paying him about $20 million, which it simply cannot afford. Peppers either takes a huge pay cut or he’s gone, and I hope the front office won’t agonize long over this because it simply has too much else to do.

Elsewhere on the defense, it’ll be a huge boost if Kemoeatu is able to return, but hope is not a plan and putting four DTs on IR in one year should already have gotten the front office’s attention. The linebackers lost starter Thomas Davis and his replacement, Landon Johnson, to injury, but both should return. All six corners have played well. Strong safety Chris Harris continues to impress, and at free safety, rookie Quinton Teal played well enough in relief of the injured Charles Godfrey to make a lot of people, including me, wonder whether he shouldn’t have gotten the starting job permanently. At any rate, I don’t think the Panthers need to be in the DB market this year with so many other pressing needs.

The players themselves are saying publicly that Richardson shouldn’t clean house. And I don’t think he intends to. But for this team to have a shot at the Super Bowl, Matt Moore has to be the quarterback he has appeared to be for the past two weeks — a guy who can manage a running offense efficiently and use play-action deep passes opportunistically. In addition, one way or another (or both), the team is going to have to clear enough salary room to firm up the D-line, provide depth, find a second deep threat at last and improve its patchy kick and punt coverage. That list is formidable, but the team can do it — if it shows Jake and Julius the door. After that, I think Fox either takes the team to the conference championship game, at the least, or he’s gone. I see no way Jerry Richardson — who, remember, fired both his sons this year — gives Fox a third stay of execution.

Odds and ends for 12/27

Hmm, what else can we screw up in a way that screws poor people worst? Hey, I know! The estate tax!

John Fox can have another year if he wants: So say the Panthers, although they’re not talking any kind of contract extension with him now (he has a year left). I have mixed feelings about this, upon which I’ll elaborate in a separate post.

Utterly un-self-aware: Jonah Goldberg presumes to pass judgment on someone else’s competence.

Utterly un-self-aware, cont.: Before Republicans criticize Democrats on national-security issues, they need to take a few history lessons, starting with the 9/11 commission report.

Related memo to Joe Lieberman, on the off-chance that he can read: How ’bout before we start a third war, let’s take a minute and figure out how this would-be airplane bomber got a visa? (Newsweek offers the strong beginning of an explanation.) Because the purview of the Senate Homeland Security Committee you chair does not extend to foreign policy or strategic (let alone tactical) military planning. You ass.

At least one legitimate criticism can be leveled at the Department of Homeland Security, and John Cole levels it.

One thing liberals applaud Obama on: Tightening restrictions not only on lobbying, but also on when and how ex-industry officials can go to work for the government, so that agencies aren’t “captured” by the companies they’re supposed to regulate. Watch that change get undone the second a Republican retakes the White House.

Which is fine, except that I haven’t heard them come up with an alternative solution to the problem: Blue Dogs Bayh, Landrieu and Conrad say cap ‘n’ trade is DOA. Relatedly, chemicals from power plants in their states are killing trees in the mountains of mine.

Your tax dollars at work: Despite the recent removal of caps on taxpayer assistance to Fannie and Freddie, which already totals $111 billion, they’re resuming foreclosures next week. You’re welcome, guys.

Not just no, but, hell, no: Not content to throw women’s rights under the health-care bus, the evangelistas are now trying to get the failed policy of abstinence-only sex education incorporated into health-care reform. Guys, we tried your flavor of Teh Stoopid once already and got a big jump in unwed pregnancy to show for it. Go. Away.

Tremors: The last time Iran got this shaky, the Shah was ousted. That may or may not mean the current regime will fall. But it almost certainly means blood in the streets, much of it likely innocent. Great.

Antiterrorism 101, which means most current and former government officials probably haven’t read it: Spencer Ackerman: “It’s never sufficient just to observe that a terrorist group has a presence in Country X. We have to ask ourselves: what are the conditions that allowed for said terrorist group to take root? If we don’t, we simply can’t devise an effective strategy against the terrorist group; and we come close to guaranteeing that we’ll flail and make the situation worse.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009 11:36 pm

Panthers 26, Vikings 7

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:36 pm

1 bag Nacho Cheese Doritos: $4.49
1/2 bag Double-Stuffed Oreos: $2.21
4 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese: $1.02
1 can Spaghetti-Os with meatballs: $.99
3 bottles Samuel Adams Winter Lager: $3.24
Spending a cold winter’s night enjoying beer and junk food as the Panthers salvage a little bit of pride: almost priceless.

Sunday, November 29, 2009 10:00 pm

Jets 17, Panthers 6

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:00 pm

I suppose the Panthers’ game against the Jets today could have been uglier, but it was a double-bagger just as it was.

Jake Delhomme couldn’t keep his roster spot for next year now if he threw 4 TDs and no picks every game for the rest of the season, except for one thing (besides his contract): The Panthers have no one with whom to replace him and no first-round draft pick in 2010. He could still be gone, but getting rid of him and getting a replacement in will both be expensive.

Is Coach John Fox gone? I’m guessing probably so. He had a near-death experience after 2007 and responded by taking essentially the same team, plus Jonathan Stewart, to the playoffs in ’08. The problem is that owner Jerry Richardson expects the team to be a perennial contender — owners are funny like that — and this franchise, which has been to the playoffs three times under Fox, has yet to make the playoffs in consecutive years. It is mathematically possible that the Panthers could make the playoffs this year if they won out and got help, but a far likelier scenario is that they don’t win another game and finish 4-12. Realistically? I think they can beat Tampa Bay and maybe the Giants, but they could easily lose by 20+ to New England, Minnesota and New Orleans. Barring a miracle, I think they finish 5-11.

For sure, key injuries have played a huge role, and the team’s decision to give Julius Peppers the franchise tag, and the accompanying $16.67 million salary, meant there was no room under the salary cap to address the obvious depth problems at a number of positions. I’m sure Fox had input into that decision, but it was the responsibility of team management. It would be unfair of them to hold Fox responsible for the consequences, but the NFL ain’t always about fair.

Besides, this Panther team has the best running-back tandem in the league, one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league, a cohesive offensive line (until Jordan Gross’s season-ending injury) two former Pro Bowl wideouts and, in Dante Rosario, an up-and-coming pass-catching tight end. Even without Delhomme, it should have been able to score more than it has. And the blame for that does, in fact, belong at Fox’s feet. If Richardson hasn’t already called Bill Cowher, I’d be stunned.

Next year figures to suck as well: The team is even less likely to find a taker for Peppers if it puts the franchise tag on him again, and doing so would suck up money that’s badly needed to fill gaps elsewhere, including elsewhere on the D-line. And that’s to say nothing of what a quality QB would cost, whether obtained through the draft or via free agency.

So we’ll likely be looking at a team next year with a caretaker QB (Delhomme or otherwise), no first-round draft pick and a new coach with a new system. This team does have experience with consecutive losing seasons, and my guess is it’s going to get some more.

Sunday, October 25, 2009 8:53 pm

Good news, bad news

Filed under: Fun,Hooper,Panthers,Wizards — Lex @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , ,

First, the good news: Hooper finally scored a goal today in a real game. And he did it with authority. He got passed the ball while all alone out on the right wing, a good 20+ feet from the goal. The keeper edged over toward him, and he unleashed one about two inches over the grass that found the far back corner of the net like it had eyes.

So V., Hooper and I had milkshakes to celebrate.

The bad news: The Panthers are done. If your offense can’t score but one TD against the worst rushing defense in the NFL, you are in bad, bad shape. And this is the easy part of the 2009 schedule. After Arizona next week, the Panthers start playing real teams again, and they were going to have to be 4-3 at that point to have a shot at a playoff spot the way New Orleans is playing. Now they’re 2-4.

So what are the problems?

Well, they certainly start with Jake Delhomme. Thirteen interceptions in six games is a killer. Neither of today’s was run back for a TD, but they gave the Bills a short field with which to work. Carolina had 20 first downs to Buffalo’s 9 and 425 yars of total offense to 167 for Buffalo, but when you start on your opponent’s 12, how good does your offense have to be?

But the problems do not end with Delhomme. For one thing, we’ve known since at least 2005 that pretty much every opponent will double-team Steve Smith pretty much all the time. And yet in the intervening years, the Panthers have never found another receiver who could make opponents pay for that double-team. The announcers said today that the Panthers’ O-line is better at run-blocking than at pass-blocking; that’s both true and unimportant. What’s important is that NO line can protect a QB forever when the receivers are covered. And no Panther besides Smith has demonstrated a consistent ability to get free.

Special teams also are killing us. Kenneth Moore’s muffed punt was just today’s most horrendous example. The team does not have a capable returner, and its coverage of kickoff and punt returns is lame. Coach John Fox pays attention to field position for a reason. And while I don’t mean to criticize John Kasay personally, I do have to ask: When was the last time Kasay missed two field goals from inside 45 yards in the same game?

This game will end up being the one for John Fox that the ’98 game in which Kerry Collins took himself out was for Dom Capers: the last straw for Jerry Richardson. John Fox is gone. And as nice as it would be to think that Delhomme would be gone with him, the fact is that the Panthers have no 1st-round pick in 2010 and, at least as of now, very little room under the salary cap to go after a quality free-agent QB, should one even be available. So we could be stuck with Jake for at least another year.

Sunday, October 18, 2009 10:56 pm

The toll of the bell(-ringing)

This week’s New Yorker has an article in it by Malcolm Gladwell that, apparently prompted by the return of QB Michael Vick to the NFL after his prison term for dogfighting, asks how similar football and dogfighting are.

He argues that they are similar in that both dogs trained to fight and NFL players are “selected for gameness” (along with Marines and physicians) — their respective systems weed out those unwilling to continue trying to persevere even in the face of great pain and suffering. The dogs do it out of love for and devotion to their owners, which is why during dogfights, the owners maneuver around the pit to stay within their dogs’ fields of vision. The players do it for more complicated reasons — a mix of love of the game itself, camaraderie, money and a long list of other enticements, tangible and intangible.

The difference, of course, is that NFL players 1) have a choice and 2) are highly compensated — even those making the league minimum are making substantially more money than most Americans.

Until recently, or at least so we thought, there was one other difference: No dog, no matter how aggressive and well-trained, will live forever. Sooner or later, it will age or slow or just catch a bit of bad luck and go down to another dog. NFL players, on the other hand, almost all walk away from the game relatively intact, or so most fans think. (The less glamorous reality, which the NFL doesn’t talk much about, is that a large percentage of NFL players who play in the league any length of time leave with some sort of permanent injury or disability.)

And although there’s no conclusive proof, Gladwell writes, there is some disturbing evidence that NFL players as a group may be at far greater risk than the general population for a form of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) because of the pounding their heads take during the course of a career. C.T.E. presents, as the doctors say, a lot like Alzheimer’s, but it’s caused by brain injury and the brain cells of its victims look different from those of Alzheimer’s patients. It gets worse over time. And as with Alzheimer’s, there’s no cure.

Two neuropathologists are looking at this particular question. One is Dr. Ann McKee, who is doing the neuropathology research associated with the long-running Framingham heart-disease study, which has been following a large group of patients for decades. She also is involved with the New England Centenarian Study, which looks at the brains of people who lived an extraordinarily long time. (“I’m looking at brains constantly,” McKee says.) In the course of her work, she has run across close to two dozen brains of former athletes — mostly football players, a couple of boxers.

The other is Dr. Bennet Omalu, who has found cases of C.T.E. in several former NFL players. Both are disturbed by their findings, although both also say they haven’t seen enough cases yet to decide anything.

The league also has been looking, and what it has found is disturbing:

… late last month the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research released the findings of an N.F.L.-funded phone survey of just over a thousand randomly selected retired N.F.L. players—all of whom had played in the league for at least three seasons. Self-reported studies are notoriously unreliable instruments, but, even so, the results were alarming. Of those players who were older than fifty, 6.1 per cent reported that they had received a diagnosis of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease.” That’s five times higher than the national average for that age group. For players between the ages of thirty and forty-nine, the reported rate was nineteen times the national average. …

“A long time ago, someone suggested that the [C.T.E. rate] in boxers was twenty per cent,” McKee told me. “I think it’s probably higher than that among boxers, and I also suspect that it’s going to end up being higher than that among football players as well. Why? Because every brain I’ve seen has this [damage]. To get this number in a sample this small is really unusual, and the findings are so far out of the norm. I only can say that because I have looked at thousands of brains for a long time. This isn’t something that you just see. I did the same exact thing for all the individuals from the Framingham heart study. We study them until they die. I run these exact same proteins, make these same slides—and we never see this.”

McKee’s laboratory occupies a warren of rooms, in what looks like an old officers’ quarters on the V.A. campus. In one of the rooms, there is an enormous refrigerator, filled with brains packed away in hundreds of plastic containers. Nearby is a tray with small piles of brain slices. They look just like the ginger shavings that come with an order of sushi. Now McKee went to the room next to her office, sat down behind a microscope, and inserted one of the immunostained slides under the lens.

“This is Tom McHale,” she said. “He started out playing for Cornell. Then he went to Tampa Bay. He was the man who died of substance abuse at the age of forty-five. I only got fragments of the brain. But it’s just showing huge accumulations of tau [a protein that damages brain cells, found in both Alzheimer’s and C.T.E. patients and detectable only at autopsy — Lex] for a forty-five-year-old—ridiculously abnormal.”

She placed another slide under the microscope. “This individual was forty-nine years old. A football player. Cognitively intact. He never had any rage behavior. He had the distinctive abnormalities. Look at the hypothalamus.” It was dark with tau. She put another slide in. “This guy was in his mid-sixties,” she said. “He died of an unrelated medical condition. His name is Walter Hilgenberg. Look at the hippocampus. It’s wall-to-wall tangles. Even in a bad case of Alzheimer’s, you don’t see that.” The brown pigment of the tau stain ran around the edge of the tissue sample in a thick, dark band. “It’s like a big river.”

McKee got up and walked across the corridor, back to her office. “There’s one last thing,” she said. She pulled out a large photographic blowup of a brain-tissue sample. “This is a kid. I’m not allowed to talk about how he died. He was a good student. This is his brain. He’s eighteen years old. He played football. He’d been playing football for a couple of years.” She pointed to a series of dark spots on the image, where the stain had marked the presence of something abnormal. “He’s got all this tau. This is frontal and this is insular. Very close to insular. Those same vulnerable regions.” This was a teen-ager, and already his brain showed the kind of decay that is usually associated with old age. “This is completely inappropriate,” she said. “You don’t see tau like this in an eighteen-year-old. You don’t see tau like this in a fifty-year-old.”

McKee is a longtime football fan. She is from Wisconsin. She had two statuettes of Brett Favre, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback, on her bookshelf. On the wall was a picture of a robust young man. It was McKee’s son—nineteen years old, six feet three. If he had a chance to join the N.F.L., I asked her, what would she advise him? “I’d say, ‘Don’t. Not if you want to have a life after football.’ ”

At the core of the C.T.E. research is a critical question: is the kind of injury being uncovered by McKee and Omalu incidental to the game of football or inherent in it?

(I should point out that both researchers say that other factors, such as genetics and steroid use, may well figure into this phenomenon — neither is drawing any straight-line conclusions at this point.)

As it happens, I read this article just last night, so it was still very much on my mind as I watched today’s Panthers-Buccaneers game.

Just seconds before halftime, the Panthers punted, and the Bucs’ returner, Clifton Smith, signaled for a fair catch. When a punt returner signals for a fair catch, that means he’s supposed to be allowed to catch the ball, and then his team starts its next play from that spot — he doesn’t run with it once he catches it. In return for his not running, not only is the punting team not allowed to tackle that returner, for the past few years they haven’t even been allowed within a 3-yard “halo” around such a returner.

But on this play, the Panthers’ Dante Wesley, the “gunner” (first guy to sprint downfield on punts to try to tackle the returner), launched himself into Clifton Smith, who, having signaled for a fair catch, was watching the ball coming down out of the sky and had no idea what Wesley was doing. Wesley slammed into him at full speed, appearing to catch him under the chin with his shoulder pad and knocking him out cold. (You can see the play here.)

Smith suffered a concussion — he “got his bell rung,” as the players sometimes say — and did not return. Wesley was ejected and likely will be fined by the league. For such a blatant and excessive hit — not only running into Smith, but also leaving his feet to do so, an additional violation of the rules — he might even be suspended. (I hope he is. What he did came as close to assault with a deadly weapon as an unarmed man is ever likely to come without martial-arts training.)

Now, you might suppose that it’s hits like that that cause the kind of brain trauma these researchers are finding. And they can. But research just down the road in Chapel Hill suggests a more disturbing problem for those of us who play and/or love football:

Take the experience of a young defensive lineman for the University of North Carolina football team, who suffered two concussions during the 2004 season. His case is one of a number studied by Kevin Guskiewicz, who runs the university’s Sports Concussion Research Program. For the past five seasons, Guskiewicz and his team have tracked every one of the football team’s practices and games using a system called HITS, in which six sensors are placed inside the helmet of every player on the field, measuring the force and location of every blow he receives to the head. Using the HITS data, Guskiewicz was able to reconstruct precisely what happened each time the player was injured.

“The first concussion was during preseason. The team was doing two-a-days,” he said, referring to the habit of practicing in both the morning and the evening in the preseason. “It was August 9th, 9:55 A.M. He has an 80-g hit to the front of his head. About ten minutes later, he has a 98-g acceleration to the front of his head.” To put those numbers in perspective, Guskiewicz explained, if you drove your car into a wall at twenty-five miles per hour and you weren’t wearing your seat belt, the force of your head hitting the windshield would be around 100 gs: in effect, the player had two car accidents that morning. He survived both without incident. “In the evening session, he experiences this 64-g hit to the same spot, the front of the head. Still not reporting anything. And then this happens.” On his laptop, Guskiewicz ran the video from the practice session. It was a simple drill: the lineman squaring off against an offensive player who wore the number 76. The other player ran toward the lineman and brushed past him, while delivering a glancing blow to the defender’s helmet. “Seventy-six does a little quick elbow. It’s 63 gs, the lowest of the four, but he sustains a concussion.”

“The second injury was nine weeks later,” Guskiewicz continued. “He’s now recovered from the initial injury. It’s a game out in Utah. In warmups, he takes a 76-g blow to the front of his head. Then, on the very first play of the game, on kickoff, he gets popped in the earhole. It’s a 102-g impact. He’s part of the wedge.” He pointed to the screen, where the player was blocking on a kickoff: “Right here.” The player stumbled toward the sideline. “His symptoms were significantly worse than the first injury.” Two days later, during an evaluation in Guskiewicz’s clinic, he had to have a towel put over his head because he couldn’t stand the light. He also had difficulty staying awake. He was sidelined for sixteen days.

When we think about football, we worry about the dangers posed by the heat and the fury of competition. Yet the HITS data suggest that practice—the routine part of the sport—can be as dangerous as the games themselves. We also tend to focus on the dramatic helmet-to-helmet hits that signal an aggressive and reckless style of play. Those kinds of hits can be policed. But what sidelined the U.N.C. player, the first time around, was an accidental and seemingly innocuous elbow, and none of the blows he suffered that day would have been flagged by a referee as illegal. Most important, though, is what Guskiewicz found when he reviewed all the data for the lineman on that first day in training camp. He didn’t just suffer those four big blows. He was hit in the head thirty-one times that day. What seems to have caused his concussion, in other words, was his cumulative exposure. And why was the second concussion—in the game at Utah—so much more serious than the first? It’s not because that hit to the side of the head was especially dramatic; it was that it came after the 76-g blow in warmup, which, in turn, followed the concussion in August, which was itself the consequence of the thirty prior hits that day, and the hits the day before that, and the day before that, and on and on, perhaps back to his high-school playing days.

In technological terms, C.T.E. ain’t a bug, it’s a feature.

What football must confront, in the end, is not just the problem of injuries or scientific findings. It is the fact that there is something profoundly awry in the relationship between the players and the game.“Let’s assume that Dr. Omalu and the others are right,” Ira Casson, who co-chairs an N.F.L. committee on brain injury, said. “What should we be doing differently? We asked Dr. McKee this when she came down. And she was honest, and said, ‘I don’t know how to answer that.’ No one has any suggestions—assuming that you aren’t saying no more football, because, let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen.”

I hope we fans — and I am definitely including myself when I say “we” because I love pro football, ran a fantasy-league team for 18 years and am probably overly invested in how well the Panthers do — are going to be able to live with the knowledge I expect we’ll be getting as this research progresses. Because based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re likely to come to two conclusions: The players we love to watch will be at substantially, if not hugely, increased risk for dementia as they age, and the damage won’t stop until we stop paying to watch what causes it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 12:11 am

Attention, any/all Raleigh-area Panther fans

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:11 am
Tags: ,

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.

Thursday, December 11, 2008 9:18 pm

Heart of a Panther

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:18 pm
Tags: ,

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
Tags: ,

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
Tags: ,

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.

Next Page »

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: