Monday, September 22, 2014

Panthers Blue Monday


   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} _________________

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. 


   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.


   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


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Panthers Black and Blue

   Heading into Sunday night's nationally televised home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Panthers' chances are good as gold toward making it 3-0, but several of the regular starters are feeling black and blue, nursing injuries.  

Panthers going after 3-in-a-Row
  Carolina is one of only seven NFL teams that are undefeated after two games.  Some of them are major surprises, like Buffalo and Houston.  The Panthers are only a mild surprise after going 12-4 last year and winning the NFC South Division title.  But Tampa Bay was actually favored in the opener, and many analysts picked Detroit to beat them also.  While we know that being undefeated may not realistically last for long, there is no reason to doubt the team's ability to continue the streak now.

  Defensive star Greg Hardy has been suspended pending outcome of his domestic violence court case.  Several offensive players, such as running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, and receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, are nursing various injuries and may not be available for Sunday's game.

  Carolina's unofficial team motto "Next Man Up" certainly applies in these team injury situations. In the home opener, backup QB Derek Anderson stepped up in a big way, leading the Panthers to several scores.  Then last week, backup DE Mario Addison took over for Hardy and registered 2 1/2 quarterback sacks.  As a team, Carolina has seven, and led the NFL last season with 60 sacks.  RB Jonathan Stewart, while technically not a sub, has stepped in for Williams, reversing the roles of the past two years when Stewart was on the bench.

  One of the several keys to this game with the Steelers will be providing pressure on the quarterback, and not allowing big plays in the secondary.  If the Panthers defense continues playing at the level they have in the first two games, then this is definitely a possible scenario.

  While the Steelers are a worthy opponent, I'd still "bet the house" that they beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night to stay a perfect 3-0 and maintain their division lead. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014



   The Carolina Panthers were only one-point favorites to beat the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. The oddsmakers went down with the naysayers this week, as the Cats blew by the Lions, 24-7, on the way to their first 2-0 start since the 2008 season. Not many people, outside of diehard Panthers fans, expected this to happen.

   Last year at this time, the Panthers were 0-2 and looking for answers. Shortly thereafter, they went on a record-setting win streak of eight games and 11 out of 12, winning the NFC South Division. The 2-0 start in 2014 doesn’t guarantee any fairytale ending, but it does put Carolina in the division lead with positive momentum for the rest of the season.

   On Sunday, the Panthers started slow, but finished fast.  They only held a slim 6-0 lead at halftime on two Graham Gano field goals.  But in the second half, the Panthers came out ready to dominate and rule the game.

DE Mario Addison
   QB Cam Newton came back with a vengeance, showing signs of brilliance after sitting out last week with a rib injury, hitting on 22 of 34 passes for 281 yards and two TD’s. RB DeAngelo Williams sat out with an injury, but his running mate Jonathan Stewart performed admirably, breaking a 22-yard run and then scoring one of the two Panthers touchdowns. Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, and Jason Avant were standout receivers.

   The defense forced three turnovers and held the Lions scoreless in the first half, and to one touchdown for the game. DE Greg Hardy was named Inactive prior to the game, but replacement #97 Mario Addison contributed as he registered 2.5 sacks.

   The Carolina Panthers look poised now for another playoff run. Actually, their 2-0 start provides a needed buffer for a tough upcoming schedule. Their October schedule includes back-to-back games at Cincinnati and Green Bay, as well as home games with Seattle and New Orleans, followed by an early November game at Philadelphia. It will be a tough test for the Panthers, but one they are capable to overcome.

NEXT UP : Sunday, Sept. 21 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Panthers vs. Bucs : 2014 Opener a Success

The Panthers won their first home opener in seven years.
   For the first time in 48 games, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sat on the sidelines during a regular season game, nursing a rib injury that he suffered in a preseason game.  And for the first time in seven years, backup QB Derek Anderson started a regular season NFL game. 

   For those in the know, it was time to panic.  The team wanted to get off to a fast start in 2014, setting aside the precedent of a combined 3-14 start the last three seasons.  The Panthers had not won an opening game since 2008. 

   Most of the naysayers were picking the Bucs to topple the Cats.  All of those naysayers were wrong.

QB Derek Anderson
   Anderson told coach Ron Rivera that he was ready.  That was the understatement of the day, as he went out and threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions.  TE Greg Olsen and rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin each caught a TD pass, while defensive ace LB Luke Kuechly had three sacks and forced a key fumble.  New Panthers DB’s Roman Harper and Antoine Cason each intercepted Tampa Bay passes.

   Even though Newton was in street clothes and would not play in this game, it did not keep him off of the field.  In the second quarter, during a timeout, Cam sprinted out onto the field to join the Panthers in their huddle, giving all of his teammates an encouraging word.  For his brief escapade, referees gave Rivera a warning to keep Newton off of the field.

   While the final score (20-14) might normally indicate a close game, it was far from that.  The Bucs’ two scores came later in the game, after the Panthers had built a 17-0 lead.   Carolina dominated the first three quarters of the game, and was never really threatened.

   The next time that Cam goes out on the field, it will be official.  He has been announced as the starter for the Panthers home opener on Sept. 14 vs. the Detroit Lions.

NEXT UP : Sun Sept 14 vs. Detroit