Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What's A Man's Worth?

   It's been almost six months since my last Panthers post.  While no games have been played, a lot has happened.  Trades have been made.  The NFL draft took place.   The Panthers are a better team.   Perhaps the biggest reason for this, however, just took place yesterday when the team agreed to pay quarterback CAM NEWTON an $103 million salary extension over five years.

   The last time that I remember being so excited about a pro football contract was reading about JOE NAMATH's (see my sports blog) contract with the New York Jets.  You see, at that time, I was not yet a Jets fan, but by 1968, I was following them, and that year they won the Super Bowl.  This was a pretty big deal because, at the time, the Jets were part of the new, upstart AFL, playing against the old, established NFL team Baltimore Colts.   After the Jets upset the Colts to win the championship, his $427,000 rookie contract paled in comparison to the team's accomplishments.

Quote by Marcus Aurelius
  In similar fashion, the Panthers are paying their QB an enormous sum (the biggest in NFL history) to keep him in the fold, and hopefully pave the way to a championship.  NEWTON himself said that his main focus is "bringing a Lombardi (Super Bowl) trophy to Carolina."  Will it happen?   Maybe.  But maybe not right away. 

  What about this season?   Well--- it could happen, but nothing's for sure.  I've taken a look at our schedule, and we have an away game against NFL champ Seattle, and then a tough three-game home stand against the Eagles, Colts, and Patriots.   No blowover.  These four games in November could make a huge difference in the success of our season.  So we'll keep watch.  Hopefully, by then, the Panthers will be in the driver's seat for another division title or a playoff berth.

   Next up-- an article looking into the changes in the Panthers lineup since last season.  We'll welcome a new rookie receiver, welcome back a speedy veteran receiver, and look at some other additions on offense and defense.   The Panthers are a much better team this year, and we'll look at all of the reasons why.



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Back to the Ole Drawing Board

Turnovers were the Difference
      In my last post, I remarked, "I can say one thing with almost a certainty—the team that wins this game will most likely be the one with not just the most points, but the least amount of turnovers."
         
The Wrong End of the Stick
    A friend remarked, "You called the game perfect, only for the wrong team."  I had predicted a 31-17 score, and that's exactly what it proved to be, only I had called the game for the Panthers, and it was the Seahawks who came out ahead in the end.

    How true this held out in this game.   I'm also reminded of the recent NCAA college Championship Game between Ohio State and Oregon, in which OSU committed four turnovers, but yet still won the game convincingly.  I don't know if it's the Seahawks or the NFL in general, but this type of scenario does not usually take place in pro playoff games.
    
    Still, the Panthers held the ball at the Seahawks 13-yard line, with about six minutes to go in the game, just a short distance from making the game close.  It was 24-10, a two touchdown advantage, but with the Panthers knocking at the goal line's door, it would've brought the score to 24-17, with plenty of time to force a tie and overtime.  Even with all of the other mistakes in the game, two fumbles and an interception, our team still had a great chance for a comeback.   One errant throw made all of the difference.

     If you look at a replay, right after the snap, as QB Cam Newton is preparing to deliver the fatal throw, RB Jonathan Stewart (#28) drifts into the left flat.  Newton briefly glanced in that direction, but it was apparent that he was not throwing in that direction.  Then he
Cam to Kam
turned to his right, fixed his glance on TE Ed Dickson, but Seahawks defensive back Kam Chancellor had a laser focus on the ball, and stepping in front, grabbed the pass as if it was intended for him, and raced 89 yards for the decisive score.   But if you notice, Stewart was --- WIDE OPEN --- for a pass on the left side.  The closest defender was 5-10 yards away.  He obviously would've taken a pass for a first down, and maybe even a tuochdown.  C'est la vie.  I don't know why or how our quarterback missed this read or obvious open receiver.  It would have made a HUGE difference in the game.  


    But apparently, this is the difference between a good team and a great team.  We hung tough for three quarters, but in the fourth (and decisive) one, we fell apart and made the pivotal mistake.  On the other hand, Seattle was patient, making good plays, but waiting for that one opportunity that would make the momentum shift toward their team.  This reminds me so much of the 1960's Green Bay Packers.  Coach Pete Carroll seems to be a much more mild mannered man than Vince Lombardi, but still he gets the same type of results.  I used to hate Green Bay with a passion, while I still admired them greatly.  My favorite team was the New York Jets.  In the 60's, they were still part of the old AFL. But in the NFL, I liked teams like the Baltimore Colts, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, and Dallas Cowboys.  And whenever Green Bay played one of these other teams, I always pulled for their opponent.  I remember games like the "Ice Bowl" (Dec. 1967), and there was the game with the Colts one year before (Dec. 1966) where the game was decided on what was called "the million-dollar fumble" (by Johnny Unitas).
  
NFL DYNASTY TEAMS
   
    So much for nostalgic, archaic NFL trivia.  Suffice to say-- each decade has had at least one dominant team, and Seattle is now a dominant team, in the mold of the 60's Packers, the 70's Steelers, the 80's 49'ers, or the 90's Patriots.   Can anyone unseat them?   Maybe, but it won't be the Panthers (at least at this particular moment).

Yep --it happens
    We've got a lot of work to do.   After the game, there was "trash talk" all over Facebook and the Internet about firing Coach Rivera and General Manager Dave Gettleman, and also about letting Cam Newton go also.  Face it-- we had a great year, in light of all of the distractions and bad circumstances that fell on the Panthers team.   Look at all of these :  (1) Losing our entire receiving corps, (2) the early foot and rib injuries to QB Cam Newton, (3) the retirement of OT Jordan Gross, (4) the court debacle with DE Greg Hardy, (5) the constant rotating of the offensive line and defensive backs, due to injuries and poor performance, (6) the late season traffic accident with Newton, and (7) Coach Rivera's house fire.

    Lately, there is talk about Salary Cap room and landing one or more franchise type players, particularly another receiver.  I'm not sure what will transpire, but one thing should be clear :  it's not time to overturn the apple cart.   We seem to be on a positive upswing, having won our division two years in a row.  It would be unprecedented to win the NFC South a third straight year, but we have as good a chance as any of the other three teams in our division.   So what's the big beef with the status quo?   We're not standing still.  The management is looking at making positive changes, while still trying to maintain the core nucleus of our team.  We may need a new receiver, or defensive back.  But we don't need a whole new team, or new staff.

Yep, it was a Pretty Good Year... after all.
        Don't lose hope.  We should've won this game.  But we were the few that believed.  Most did not give us a chance.   And even though we lost, we lost to a great team.  They were better than us, and proved it on the field.   But we can get better, without a wholesale revamping of our entire team.   So-- my message is to be patient, enjoy what we accomplished this year.  It was a major surprise to everyone in and around the NFL.  Teams like the Philadelphia Eagles are probably upset.  They finished 10-6, and we were 7-8-1, yet we got in the playoffs, and they sat home.  But it's not our fault.  We played the system, and won.  We were 3-8-1 in November, and won five straight games.

    Good luck to the Seahawks.   Actually, I'm pulling for Green Bay this time.  (believe it or not)  But Seattle's favored, and if they win, I may pull for them in the Super Bowl.   No grudges or bad feelings.  They deserved to win.   So-- maybe next year?   We'll see.  Time will tell. 

NEXT GAME-- Sunday, Sept. 13
UNTIL THEN-- I REMAIN-- A  PANTHERS FAN  FOREVER (PFF) !
 

Friday, January 9, 2015

HUNGRY PANTHERS ON THE PROWL

    CAROLINA PANTHERS vs SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF 
________________________________________________________________
Panthers are NFC South Champs
    If you listen carefully, you may be able to hear a growl emanating from Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Carolina Panthers are celebrating 20 years in the NFL this year. Out of those 20 years, only five of them have resulted in a trip to the playoffs. This year, as unlikely as it once seemed, is one of those years.  Starting out 3-8-1, things looked dismal as they went seven weeks without a win (their odds were 750-1 of making the Super Bowl), but the Panthers are now on a five-game winning streak.  They revived their season, winning the NFC South in the last regular season game at Atlanta, refueled it last week in a home playoff win vs. Arizona, and now are hungry for more heading into Seattle for Saturday's (Jan.10) NFC divisional playoff game.

Thumbs Down to ESPN
    The sports team at ESPN has picked the Seahawks to win by anywhere from 8 to 18 points.  Oddsmakers have Seattle as an 11-point favorite.  No big surprise.  The Seahawks are defending NFL Super Bowl champs, and are 12-4 and NFC West division champs in 2014.  Plus they’ve won the last three games with the Panthers, all close, low-scoring games, the most recent matchup during this year, by a score of 13-9.   While the Panthers are on a five-game winning streak, most observers miss the fact that the Seahawks are on a six-game winning streak themselves. The Seattle defense allowed only 6.5 ppg during this stretch, while the Panthers allowed 10.8 ppg, ranking 1ST and 2ND in the league.

PANTHERS ARE RED HOT
   So, while overall, these teams appear to be somewhat of a mismatch (team records of 12-4 and 8-8-1), in reality, these are two different teams than those that started the regular season.   You could look at this as a matchup of two undefeated teams (over the last 5-6 games).  Both the Seahawks and the Panthers are red hot in December,  playing their best football when it has counted the most.

Error Free

   I can say one thing with almost a certainty—the team that wins this game will most likely be the one with not just the most points (duh!), but the least amount of turnovers.  Cam Newton had two turnovers in the Arizona game, and while they changed the momentum temporarily, the outcome was never really in question.  I believe this time, while the turnover stat will be important for both teams, it will be even more crucial for Carolina.  It seems more feasible for me that the Seahawks could have a fumble or interception and still win the game.  But the Panthers must play error free football.  Of course, one stat that doesn’t really appear in the box score is –WHERE- a fumble or interception occurs on the field.   While no turnover is a good one, they become worse when they happen inside of a team’s 20-yard line, automatically putting the opponent in scoring position.  The bottom line is—while the Panthers need to move the ball down the field and score, they also need to protect the ball first and foremost.

   If the Panthers win, I see Cam Newton having a great game, but I also see a defensive player having an excellent game, possibly Luke Kuechly or Charles Johnson, or one of the young defensive backs.  If they can hold the Seahawks to a couple of touchdowns, and possibly force a couple of turnovers, it will pave the way for a Panthers win.

   So what is my prediction?  Most people are predicting a Seahawks win, possibly by a close margin.   I see it differently.  I know that I’m sticking my neck out here, but I see a blowout coming.  It might be Seattle rolling over the Panthers, but I’m predicting it the other way.  If Carolina can execute its best game of the season, with the offense playing relatively error free, and the defense exerting pressure on the Seahawks, I see the Panthers winning big.    
 
  Panthers 31, Seahawks 17.
NEXT GAME-- ?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

It's a New Season for Carolina

   I've often said that I don't always post every game or meet every deadline because I don't get paid for it.   That's not necessarily true though.   The real reason that I've missed covering the last ten or so games for the Carolina Panthers is because they really stunk up the field.  I got a bad taste in my proverbial mouth, and it became difficult to THINK about the team, much less to write about them.  [An illness in my family also had something to do with it too].

   One thing that has been true of the Panthers as long as I can remember is their pendulum swings, from good to bad, and back to good again.  Long losing streaks, some long winning streaks.  When they've been bad, they've been really bad.  And when they've been good, they've been very good.

   A lot of excuses could be made for this year's team.  They are coming off a great year.  Not many teams put two great years together.  Maybe the Patriots or the Broncos.  But not usually the Carolina Panthers.  Last year's team, though they started slow (1-3), peeled off 10 wins in a row, and 11 out of 12, to finish 12-4, win the NFC South, and get a home playoff game.  They ended up losing to the 49'ers, but overall, it was a fine year.

   This year started out somewhat different.  The Panthers came out, looking poised to continue the good fortune of the 2013-14 team.  They won their first two games, and it looked as if they might put another long winning streak together.  They stunk at home in a blowout loss to the Steelers, then lost to the Ravens in Baltimore.  After barely pulling out a win vs. the Bears, they went to Cincinnati and managed a tie in a heartbreaker.  Still, they were 3-2-1 and in contention for first place... and then the bottom fell out. 

   Six games later, the Panthers only had the similar misfortunes of the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints to pin their hopes on a playoff berth.   Division title?  It didn't seem likely at 3-8-1.  Then something strange happened.  Several players got healthy that had previously been sidelined with injuries.  The defense came to life, beginning to force turnovers and sacks.  And our QB, Cam Newton, began to engineer the team on scoring drives when we needed them.   And even with a losing record, the Panthers managed to pull out a second straight NFC South division title, and another home playoff berth.

   We play the Arizona Cardinals today in the NFC wild card playoffs.  A win will send us on the road to play either the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks.  Both of these teams are tough opponents.  But first, we must get past the Cardinals, a team that was undefeated in the early season, only to lose two quarterbacks and a lot of momentum along the way.  

   Could this be Carolina's "Cinderella" season?  Perhaps a run to the NFC Championship, or even the Super Bowl?   Today will start the mysterious ball rolling.  If our Panthers win today, I believe their momentum will hit fever pitch.  Only then will we know if they can knock off the mighty Seahawks or Packers, and make it to the royal ball game.


 PANTHERS--CARDINALS
Saturday, January 3rd
NFC Wild Card Playoffs
 
  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Panthers Get Last Laugh in Comedy of Errors

   Today's home game in Charlotte with the Chicago Bears started out bad, but ended really good, for the Carolina Panthers.  After giving up three turnovers (an interception and two fumbles) that contributed to a Bears 21-7 lead in the second quarter, the Panthers started a comeback near halftime, and then won dramatically, 31-24, with a late touchdown pass. 

   Former Bears player TE Greg Olsen deserves an MVP award as he scored the last touchdown in both halves, first bringing the Panthers within 21-14, and then scoring the winning touchdown with only two minutes to go in regulation. These two passes only accounted for 15 of his 72 total yards, but undoubtedly they were the most important.


   Another MVP should go to the defense, as they forced two fumbles and made two interceptions at key points in the game, most in their second half comeback, and produced a sack on the final Bears possession that sealed the win, giving the Panthers a winning record again at 3-2, sole possession of first place in the NFC South, and momentum going into next weekend's game against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals.


NEXT UP : Sun Oct 12 @ Cincinnati

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Tinge of Revenge

  Sunday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens was more like a military ambush than a football game.  Former player STEVE SMITH (#89) was one of four Panthers wide receivers who were let go, in one form or another, this past spring.  Many fans, including this reporter, were shell-shocked at watching our home team's receiving corps become totally depleted in the space of just a few days or weeks.

   Apparently, memories did not fade fast, as Smith publicly stated that he was going to "pay back" his old team when they came visiting this season.  The outcome must have been sweet for Smith, as he caught seven passes for 139 yards and (more importantly) two touchdowns. The two TD catches were dramatic and climactic, as they captured the momentum before halftime and kept it for the rest of the game, beating the Panthers, 38-10.

   To add insult to injury, Smith was seen on the sidelines mocking his former team by "putting nails in their coffin" and later remarked that they could go home and "mow his lawn."  A few days after the game, Smith called in to a Charlotte radio station and proceeded to verbally shoot down the Panthers coach and general manager for letting him go, stating that he was "left out of the loop".

   My own opinion is that the Panthers could and should have done whatever was necessary to keep Smith on our side.  I heard one TV sports analyst remark that the Panthers would've been nearly unstoppable if they had rookie Kelvin Benjamin (#13) on one side, and Steve Smith on the other.  I have to agree with him.

   Will the Panthers get over this humiliating game that put them back at Square One (2-2), and move forward for a successful season?   Not sure.  But for many, the unpleasant memory of what might have been still lingers on.

NEXT UP : Sun Oct 5 vs. Chicago



Monday, September 22, 2014

Panthers Blue Monday

RAINY DAYS & MONDAYS

   Mondays are not usually anyone's favorite day. It's the first day of the new work week.  The day that working people dread all weekend.  It's often a day that gives folks the 'blah's'.  But for the Carolina Panthers and their fans, today's not just an average run-of-the-mill Monday.  It's the gloomy day after the Steelers game, where they lost at home by 37-19. In fact, they didn't just lose...they got blasted!  It will be six long days until the Panthers have a chance to redeem themselves on the road against ex-Panther Steve Smith and the Baltimore Ravens.

  Picture with me, if you can, the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday.  It is Feb. 8, 2016. The Carolina Panthers have just returned from Santa Clara, CA from the 50th Anniversary Super Bowl game, winning the championship by a field goal in overtime.

 {This is for the most part fantasy.  So, neither do I totally discount the Panthers getting to the 2015 game in Phoenix, nor am I giving a "Joe Namath" guarantee of a Super Bowl win, especially several months in advance. But I like the "ring" of winning the 50th Anniversary game.} 

  The team bus is now pulling into the stadium parking lot, having just brought the team from the Charlotte airport.  Literally, thousands of screaming, cheering Panthers fans are on hand to greet their team and its players. Tomorrow, the team's victory will be celebrated with a ticker tape parade in downtown Charlotte.

  [Now, WAKE UP!]
 
__________________ {musical interlude} _________________
 
THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION

An Empty Panthers Stadium
   I happen to be staying in Charlotte this week with my Dad, who is in the hospital.  I got out today for the second time in three days for a nice walk.  My nice walk ended up being almost three hours and six miles, and took me to downtown and to Panthers (Bank of America) Stadium.   A few joggers and walkers passed by on the sidewalk.  A mother  strolling with her baby.  But Panthers fans?  They were long gone.  An enthusiastic crowd from Sunday night was nowhere to be found.  They had faded from view immediately after the devastating loss.  And they will continue to be lost from view for at least the next two weekends.


   While head coach Ron Rivera was quick to point out Sunday's devastating loss to the Steelers as being a team issue, rookie Philly Brown was "singing the blues" after the game, and asked Rivera to let him give a one-man apology to his teammates.  Coach Rivera refused, stating the obvious : no one man, or one play, was the reason for the Panthers' defeat- it was a total team meltdown. 

DOUBLE JEOPARDY

   However, there were a couple of key plays that helped spell the Panthers' terrible fate.

   At the beginning of the second half, QB Cam Newton was sacked and fumbled the ball at the Carolina 17.  Five plays later, after a Panthers penalty on a field goal attempt gave them a first down, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a 7-yard touchdown pass.

   The other, probably more critical, was Brown's kickoff fumble in the fourth quarter, which then was re-fumbled into the end zone, and recovered by a Steelers player for a quickie touchdown.  This is not a play that was in anybody's playbook.  It was somewhat akin to Peyton Manning's fumble on a hike in last year's Super Bowl, a real game-changer. It changed the mood and motivation of the entire night. It came just after a Panthers score [which brought the Panthers to within 10 points], and a defensive stop.  It also ruined an otherwise good performance by Brown, who caught six receptions.

   This last critical error gave the Steelers a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter, and they simply coasted from there to the finish.

   The Panthers could not have looked any more different from their first two wins and this third game loss.  They were dominating in parts of those games.  They looked helpless in this game vs. the Steelers.

BOUNCING BACK ?

   Instead of 3-0, a perfect record, and atop the NFC South standings, the Panthers stand 2-1, and in a tie for the division lead with their arch rival Atlanta Falcons.  Carolina probably is facing their toughest stretch of games in the next "half-season"- eight games against top league opponents : @ Baltimore, CHICAGO, @ Cincinnati, @ Green Bay, SEATTLE, NEW ORLEANS, @ Philadelphia, & ATLANTA. 

(Wow!  That's a handful!)

   It's entirely possible for Carolina to have a losing record by their BYE during Thanksgiving week.  Let's hope the Panthers will instead bounce back and look significantly better than they did on Sunday night, more like the 12-4 division champion team from last year, or the 2-0 team of just a short week ago.  There's no doubt in most people's minds that this team can beat any of those eight opponents, if they are playing up to their highest potential.  This was the 2nd-highest rated defense in the NFL a year ago, and they had the Defensive Player of the Year in Luke Kuechly. 

   There's no telling where the next eight games will take us.  But let's hope it's down a different road than the one we travelled on Sunday night.

 
NEXT UP : Sunday, Sept. 28 @ Baltimore