Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ask and You Shall Receive

Matthew 7:7 : "Ask and you shall receive."

PANTHERS RECEIVERS GONE "BYE-BYE"
     The Panthers front office may end up praying this prayer before the beginning of the next NFL season.  What started as an unresolvable personnel issue with 15-year veteran star receiver Steve Smith has mushroomed into a much bigger and seemingly unsolvable problem.  As Smith's release and subsequent rapid signing by the Baltimore Ravens was being announced, an equally rapid series of exits took place, the Panthers suddenly losing Domenik Hixon to the Chicago Bears, Ted Ginn Jr. to Arizona, and Brandon LaFell to the New England Patriots.  

     What began a few weeks ago as a bad situation has soured into a bottomless pit for Carolina's receiving corps.

   We Carolina fans got a whole lot more than we bargained for in this past season.  Toward the end, we were a little disappointed, but for the most part, it was a year with more highlights than drawbacks.  We saw a team that went on a roll, winning eleven games in a row, winning the NFC South division championship, and going to the playoffs for the first time in five years.  Once again- we were denied a chance at the Super Bowl, but overall, we had a lot to make us glad and happy.

   After several years of struggle, LaFell had come into his own, gelling as the Panthers' legitimate partner to Smith at wideout.  Ginn had been touted as one of, if not the, fastest player in the league.  And Hixon, although he only caught seven passes in 2013, might be nominated for MVP, as one of those seven catches was a circus touchdown catch in the end zone with seconds left to win against the Saints to virtually wrap up Carolina's NFC South division championship.

   But now, all that seems a distant memory of the past, as once again, we are left with only faint hopes of a revisit of last year's success.   Once again, our beloved Panthers are in rebuilding mode...

      
    The above Receiver Stat Comparison shows the vast gulf that exists, now that four of the leading Panthers receiver have set sail for other horizons.  The stats on the left, of the ex-Panthers receivers, are stats from the 2013 season.   The stats on the right, of the receivers that are currently left in the Panthers corral, are not season stats, but CAREER stats.  As you can see, it was not necessary to have a TOTAL line at the bottom.  Most kindergarteners can add up those stats in their tiny little heads.

   Now, Carolina's big-game QB Cam Newton has very few, if any, targets to throw to, and after the announcement that Newton was undergoing ankle surgery and would be out for 4-5 months, any chance of first securing a group of quality receivers and then Newton having any chance of developing any kind of a rhythm with them is virtually nil and void.

   Over the last few days, headlines have surfaced in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet spelling doom for the Panthers and their offense.  A squad that seemed adequate at times, but not very powerful or able to launch an aerial assault, was often carried along by Carolina's vaunted and Top Five defense.  The Panthers led the NFL in sacks, but were near the bottom in offensive plays over 20 yards.  These recent circumstances only serve to drop the offensive stats to an even lower level of potency.

   In addition to these receiver exits, the Panthers also lost G Jordan Gross to retirement, and S Mike Mitchell in free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

   Did the Carolina Panthers "drop the ball" in so far as their talented trio of Smith, LaFell and Ginn are concerned ?    This writer thinks so.. what about you ?  When four players, especially at the same position, leave that quickly, it is definitely a sign that something deeper than salary caps is involved.    Who knows ?  All I do know is :  The Panthers have a lot of "catching" up to do.   

   

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Book All Panthers Fans Should Get

   

  I'm presently reading the new book by Charlotte Observer sports reporter Scott Fowler, titled "100 Things Panthers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die".   What a Title !

  I can hardly wait to get into this book and see just what goodies are in store for me.. and all other Panthers fans. 

 If you haven't got your copy yet, you can order you a copy through Amazon.com or other book retailers, or contact the author himself at www.charlotte.com.

Monday, February 3, 2014

There Was Nothing


   We were on a mission.  An eight-game winning streak.  11 wins in 12 games.  The only glitch along the way was a loss in New Orleans, and that was redeemed with a home win two weeks later.  Then another division championship.  A home playoff game.  Hints of past glory... three NFC title games… a trip to the Super Bowl.  And then.. there was nothing.

  There was nothing to show for our effort.  Sure- we could say it was a good season, even a great season, by anyone’s standards. Our regular season record was an impressive 12-4.   Our best record since 2008.  But our season ended with a sour taste, a similar one to five years ago, when we also had a 12-4 season, a division championship, and a home playoff game.   But then.. there was nothing.

   We lost then, to the Arizona Cardinals.  And again this year, to the San Francisco 49ers.  Neither team that beat us would go on to win the Super Bowl.  Which basically means that both of these losses were in vain.  Fans would go on and on about scenarios in which we would’ve won Super Bowls in both seasons, had we just been able to get by this one playoff game.

   And so, there’s a bit of a void here tonight, as I watch the Big Game, Super Bowl XLVIII, between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.  I’ve been hesitant to even pick a winner, because in reality, I just don’t care.  I still feel like our team should’ve been there. If it were not for a lackluster second half against the 49ers, we would’ve made it.. and won.

  But then.. there is nothing.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Hoorah's & The Blahs

    I heard the "hoorah's"... the loud noise of the crowd in Bank of America Stadium... the voices of the players on the jumbo screen, asking for the crowd's yells and screams... I heard and saw the players, celebrating after touchdowns and first downs... I heard the announcers, saying that the Panthers had what it takes to get to the Super Bowl.

   I heard it all.  All of the hoopla of the games, and the TV shows, and the fans... it energized us, it spurred us on, it motivated us to believe in the team and the players.

  And now I feel the "blah's"... the blah's still almost a week after the "big game"... there were so many big games this year, I've already talked about... biggest of which was (up to our playoff game) the Saints game at Charlotte where we took control of the NFC South, and eventually won the division.  It's something to celebrate, something to be proud of our team.  They had a great year... almost... an even greater year.

   The biggest game of all was always the "next game", according to Coach Ron Rivera.  But now there is no "next game", only months of waiting until the "next season" rolls around.  There's pain, there's emotion, there's a sense of loss and of potential...  all of these things are balled up inside.  

   It's just a game.  But a game and team that means a lot to us Panthers fans.  We almost feel a "part" of something big.   A Super Bowl championship for our team, one they've strived and worked for... for the last 18 years.  Will it -ever- come?   Well... logically, yes.. sometime.  But when ?

   Congratulations to the Panthers for a great year.   I wish that I could celebrate.  But it's not really a time for that.  It's a time for contemplation and restoration.   This loss took something out of me, and I'm sure a lot out of a lot of Panthers fans.  Time will heal.  We will come back and be a strong team again.   Let's look forward to next year.   And enjoy taking a few months to forget about what just happened.

   Go Panthers : Keep on Pounding !

 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

    Our NFC divisional playoff game opponent in Charlotte this coming Sunday, Jan. 12 now has a name : the San Francisco 49'ers.   A little bit of a surprise, to tell you the truth.  Shouldn't be.   I had picked the Eagles to beat the Saints and come play us, but although it was a close game (most of the wild card game were),  I was wrong.   The Eagles, along with the Chiefs, Bengals and Packers, are now sitting at home watching the games, instead of playing them.   It's down to four games and eight teams.  Our rival New Orleans Saints travel up to Seattle, as big underdogs to beat the Seahawks and perhaps play us (or the 49'ers) for the NFC Championship.  And on the AFC side, the Colts battle the Patriots and the Chargers go against their division rival Broncos for a third time this season.











    As always, I'd like to be able to say that we are going to dominate and blow this game out, and win in convincing fashion, but suffice to say, if it were possible, I would predict an even closer game than last time, and of course, we won by one point in the Week 10 game in San Francisco, 10-9.  Time will only tell what will actually happen, but I feel that an overtime game is not out of the realm of possibility.  I'm hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.  It may come down to a field goal again, as it did in the earlier game.  Our kicker Graham Gano booted a 53-yarder with ten minutes to go, and then we held the 49ers to two punts and an interception.  Chances are this time that it will be just as close, and perhaps go down to the closing seconds, not minutes.

   Game conditions look to be very good, a lot better than the last home game, where the Panthers played in a downpour at times in beating the Saints to win the NFC South title.  Temperatures should be around 50 degrees, with a wind of 10mph or so.

   Reports are that 49er WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis, both out for most or all of the previous game with the Panthers, will be available and playing on Sunday.  As for the Panthers, WR Steve Smith, who left the Atlanta game with a knee injury, will be back on Sunday, as well as RB Jonathan Stewart and DT Colin Cole.  Both teams should be at "full force" for this ultra-important Divisional Playoff showdown.

   If.. no, when.. we beat the 49ers, our next opponent in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 19 will be either the New Orleans Saints or the Seattle Seahawks.  First things first- we have to beat the 49ers on Sunday, but next order of business is our next game's opponent, and this is a big deal as well.   The Seahawks are heavily favored, and if they do win, we would be heading off to Seattle to play them on their home field where they have not lost since last year.  They were a perfect 8-0 at home during the 2013 regular season.  Should the Saints pull an upset, they will have to come to Charlotte, where we will host our first-ever NFC Championship Game.  The Panthers have been in three NFC Championship Games previously, but all away, at Green Bay, Seattle, and Philadelphia.  Only one of those, at Philly in 2003, resulted in a victory and our only Super Bowl appearance.  It goes without saying that we would prefer to play this conference championship game at home in Bank of America stadium.
 
  So-- here's the rundown.. the race for the Super Bowl.. in a nutshell..  we play the 49ers;  if we win, we play the Saints or Seahawks;  if we win, we play either the Broncos, Colts, Patriots, or Chargers in the Super Bowl.


 
      So-- it's come down to this.. one win- we're in the NFC Championship.. two wins- we're in the Super Bowl.. & three wins- and we win it all!

     Sounds so Simple- but it isn't. 
 Go Panthers!

 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Countdown to Showdown


   It seems that this season has just been one big game after another.  First, there was opening day, where we blew an opportunity to beat the Seattle Seahawks.   Then there were the back-to-back games against the San Francisco 49'ers and the New England Patriots, both of which we won by a combined total of five points.  And finally, the two home-and-away games with division rival New Orleans Saints.   Each of these games had its own significance.  The Seattle game ultimately cost us first seed in the playoffs and home-field advantage.  The 49ers-Patriots games kept our winning streak and playoff hopes alive in the middle of the season.  And the second of the two Saints games [at which I was present!] sealed the NFC South division championship and elevated us from the fifth to the second seed, giving us a bye week and a home playoff game.
   We don't even know who our next opponent is yet, but what we do know is that whichever team we play in the NFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 12, this will be ANOTHER big game, for our opponent will be the team that stands between us and a berth in the NFC Championship Game, and eventually, a trip to the Super Bowl.  When the Panthers learn who this opponent is, they will focus in on preparing for this particular team.  But so far, their focus is just on themselves, and their desire and motivation to take this season on to its ultimate goal: a championship.  There are six teams in each conference that are still alive, but four of these twelve will go home after this coming weekend.  And then, there will be four teams in each conference.  And then, ultimately, two teams.. 

   As I thought over all of this, it became so clear and simple to me how extremely easy our job is : we only have to win –TWO- games, just two.. and we will be in the Super Bowl.  Three games- and we win an NFL Championship!  Do the Panthers coaches and players know just how very little we have to do to accomplish such a wonderful prize ?  I’m oversimplifying their task, it’s not so much the mathematical algorithms that make our job more difficult, but the fact that each and every team that’s left in this wild chase has the same set of goals and desires and motivations.  Each team is unique and different, but each team’s goal is the same.  And only one can ultimately win and attain this goal.  Kinda scary, isn’t it?  And exciting at the same time.  It’s do-or-die time.

    I found out during the past couple of days that I was slightly incorrect in announcing the possible opponents for the Panthers playoff game.  The first possibility is that we will play the Philadelphia Eagles, if they win against the New Orleans Saints.  If the Saints win, then we will play the winner of the 49'ers-Packers game.  I had forgotten the simple NFL Playoff protocol- that is, that the top two seeds will play the lowest and highest seeds that emerge from this weekend's Wild Card games.  The Seattle Seahawks, who hold the #1 seed, will play the LOWER seed among the two Wild card winners.  The Panthers, who hold the #2 seed, will play the HIGHER of the two wild card winners.


   My picks for this weekend's gamesNFC: Eagles over Saints, 49'ers over Packers.  AFC: Bengals over Chargers, Chiefs over Colts.  We'll see how I do.. if my predictions are accurate, we will be playing the Eagles next weekend.  But during the postseason, any team can beat any other team.  The competition is so much better than during the regular season, plus each team has the greater motivation of making a run to the Super Bowl.


   We've got the week off. Time to recuperate and rest.  Time for injuries to heal.  Next week, the Panthers will focus in again on beating their opponent, which will by then have a name.  My own personal opinion is not so much that we -WILL- win or go to the Super Bowl, but rather a more general perception: we have just as much a chance as anyone else.  Our defense is awesome, leading the NFL in several categories. Our offense has been adequate, with average stats, but the ability to make plays when it counted.  So now it does count- more than ever before.  We will see if we have what it takes.

     The excitement is building to a crescendo peak. I feel as if I cannot wait until our next game, but I know that I can and will wait, but not without great anticipation.  If we win next Sunday, the excitement will undoubtedly rise to an almost untolerable level, knowing that one more win will send us off to the Super Bowl. It's been ten long years!  Will it happen?  Maybe not. But maybe it will happen.  And if so, perhaps this will be our year to win it all.  I also realize that there are twelve teams out there now, and there are probably fans out there writing blogs for their favorite team, and probably writing similar words to what I am writing here. But- (ha) after this weekend, there will be four less teams doing that. I hope and anticipate that we will be the last team left to celebrate.  If so, then I will be writing the “Mother of all Panthers blogs”.  

    Now, let’s just play "wait and see".


Monday, December 30, 2013

Onward & Upward

   The Panthers finished out the season in grand style this past Sunday, coming from behind to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 21-20.  The win gave the Panthers a final regular season record of 12-4, their best since 2008, and sealed the NFC South division championship for Carolina, their first since 2008.   The race with the Saints was one which was up for grabs right up until the last week of the regular season.  This was the Panthers second one-point victory this season, the other one coming at San Francisco during their record eight-game winning streak.. [speaking of which, the 49'ers just might be coming to town in a couple of weeks].  

   The Falcons came out firing, scoring the first ten points of the game, before the Panthers finally woke up and led at halftime, 14-10.   The Panthers first touchdown looked to be set up by a long 56-yard screen pass to DeAngelo Williams, but the running back fumbled the ball at the end of play, and the Falcons recovered inside their five-yard line.  However, two plays later, Panthers DB Melvin White jumped in front of Matt Ryan's pass and returned it seven yards for the touchdown.

   In the third quarter, the determined Falcons struck first again, going ahead by 17-14.  The Panthers responded with a methodical, five-minute drive, capped by a 7-yard TD pass from Cam Newton to TE Greg Olsen.   At 21-17 starting the fourth quarter, the Falcons managed a field goal to pull within one point, but the Panthers defense hung tough, holding the Falcons scoreless for last seven minutes of the game, allowing Atlanta to advance no farther than their own 43-yard line. 

   Speaking of defense, ours registered another great game in the sacks department.  Last week, we sacked Saints QB Drew Brees six times, this week we set a franchise /team record with nine sacks of Falcons QB Matt Ryan.   Quite an amazing feat- DE Greg Hardy led the way with four sacks of his own;  he now leads the Panthers with 15 sacks, seven of them in the last two games, and teammate Charles Johnson is close behind with eleven.
  
   Now-- the Panthers get a week off and prepare for a divisional matchup, at home in Charlotte, with either the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49'ers or the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, January 12.  Each of these teams presents a difficult game for the Panthers.  No easy ones from here on out {as if ANY of them have been easy so far}.   My memory reminds me that January 12 was also the day [in 1969] when Joe Namath and the New York Jets [they were actually good back then!] won Super Bowl III against the heavily favored Baltimore Colts [see story in my sports blog].

   More later-- from your Panthers sports reporter.. Go Panthers! =)