Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween and a full "moon"

Now here's something I don't think you would ever see in a Panther locker room. San Francisco 49ers' head coach Mike Singletary admits to dropping his pants in front of his players in the locker room to make a motivational point at halftime of the 49ers' loss last Sunday. Singletary discussed the matter in an interview with a Chicago radio station today, saying he was trying to make his team understand they were getting their tails kicked.

That was Singletary's first game as an NFL head coach after replacing Mike Nolan, who got fired during the season, and it was a doozy. Singletary also changed QBs prior to the game, then ripped tight end Vernon Davis during it and sent him to the showers, then figuratively threw Davis under the bus with a postgame rant.

I wrote a column about how coaches motivate football players earlier this week -- click here to see it -- but too bad it wasn't a few days later. This could have been good fodder.

Seems to me like Singletary is trying too hard, just throwing everything he can think of against the wall and hoping something will stick. You remember Singletary as a linebacker, right? The cameras loved his eyes, because they got so huge before a play. It seemed like they were everywhere.

Now they need to focus more. Singletary's head no longer needs to be on a swivel. It needs to look straight ahead, toward a goal. For all of John Fox's faults, he is very good at doing that.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On Hansbrough's injury and the Bobcats' opener

Three quick hits:

1) UNC announced Tyler Hansbrough, the best player on what is thought by everyone to be the nation's best team, is out indefinitely with what sounds like shin splints. The school officially termed it a "stress reaction" in Hansbrough's right shin. It doesn't sound terribly serious -- it's not to the stress fracture stage -- but Hansbrough is such a warrior you know he's frustrated with it.

Hansbrough has been remarkably durable, which is one reason he will undoubtedly break Phil Ford's UNC record for total points this season. I don't think UNC's season is going to be derailed or anything by this -- it might even help the Tar Heels to play a couple of games early without leaning on Hansbrough. But the Tar Heels better be extremely careful here. Whether Hansbrough plays in all or most of the games in Nov. and Dec. will seem immaterial in March, when they will need him so badly.

2) Is anyone remotely surprised that the Bobcats lost their first game? That's a very tough opener -- on the road at Cleveland, facing LeBron James -- and the Bobcats didn't exactly light it up in that winless preseason. For a team of mostly jump shooters, as they seem to be, they sure don't make very many jump shots. I'm going to cover their home opener Saturday night against Miami for the paper and will be interested to see what they can do with Dwyane Wade.

3) My column for Friday's Charlotte Observer is a spoof of all those political ads of the "I'm Joe Schmoe, and I approved this message" variety.

I imagined what local sports figures might say in such a format, such as "I'm Bob Johnson, and I approved this mess." Or "I'm John Fox, and I approved this cliche." Or this punt. Or this draw play. There were a lot of possibilities with Fox.

Feel free to add your own fake approvals below, or else in the comments for the column. One note: I had so much trouble thinking of anything funny to say about Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. that they were two of the prominent local figures I left out. (Of course, after you read the column, you might say that I didn't think of anything funny to say about any of these guys).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

4 more years: Kasay gets "elected" again with new deal

The Last Original Panther is at it again. John Kasay, 39, just signed a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the Carolina Panthers until age 43 and through the 2012 season, assuming he fulfills it.

Kasay is a true original in a number of ways. He truly doesn't care a bit about milestones. He never knows where he ranks on any list of any type. He never looks back or forward very far. And he represents himself as his own agent -- very rare in the NFL.

I remember going to Kasay's first press conference as a Panther -- he and defensive linemen Mike Fox were the Panthers' first two free-agent signees in February 1995. Kasay remembered that press conference with a laugh Wednesday, noting the Panthers were trying to get their logo out in public view so much back then that Panther PR man Charlie Dayton kept trying to stick a Panther cap on Kasay's head.

"I already looked like I was 18," Kasay said, "and the cap made me look like I was about 12." So Kasay kept taking the cap off and Dayton kept trying to get him to put it back on.

Now the Panthers (6-2) are in Season 14 and Kasay has been employed for all of them, although he missed a couple due to serious injuries. Now he's as good as he's ever been, having hit 21 straight field goals.

This was a smart move for both Kasay and the Panthers. Their relationship has gone on longer than Kasay ever dreamed it would -- after all, he has had a couple of really severe injuries and still has five screws in his kicking leg. He describes the X-rays of that leg, even now, as something Frankenstein would be proud of.

But Kasay just keeps knocking the ball through from everywhere, and a good kicker is as essential as a good pass rusher in the NFL. Kasay and his wife have four children ranging in age from 6 to 13. They are a deeply religious family and are heavily involved in the community.

It's nice to see good things like this happen to good people.

As I've written before, Kasay would be a great candidate for a place in the team's Hall of Honor and a statue outside Bank of America stadium once he finally retires. Knowing Kasay, though, he probably wouldn't want the Panthers to sculpt one.

The guy loves to kick -- he remembers making footballs fly in his backyard when he was six years old.

But the idea of being put on a pedestal is something he has never embraced.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm so glad Adam Morrison got a haircut....

And I'm not some stuck-in-the-1950s prude, either. I just think this will be good for Morrison -- he's healthy now, he needs to become a better player, he needs people to basically forget the first part of his NBA career and so on.

If you haven't read Rick Bonnell's "Inside the NBA" blog about this, you need to just for Jared Dudley's great line about Morrison's new look.
Morrison was prone to some serious bad hair days with the long stuff (see picture on the left). I know it worked at Gonzaga, but that was a long time ago now.

This isn't like Samson from the Bible; Morrison had already lost much of his power before he cut his hair. So who knows? Maybe this new look (see picture at right) will return some of them to him and make him play better. Here's an idea: Morrison needs to remember that it's OK to constantly move without the ball and that it's also OK to slash and get fouled occasionally like he did at Gonzaga, not just to hang out at the 3-point line and hope.

I still think the Bobcats should trade Morrison if they can get anything of value (and maybe this will subconsciously help other NBA teams view his value a little differently, who knows?) But in the meantime, the haircut this was a good move for a guy who needs a fresh start.

You know what was the weirdest thing about this? I went with my buddy Mike Persinger, The Observer's sports editor, to the Bobcats' open practice Monday. Mike mentioned off-handedly to me he thought Morrison should cut his hair, basically for the exact reasons outlined above.

Voila -- Morrison does it less than 24 hours later. Was this a weird coincidence or some incredible form of mind control that Mike has also been practicing upon me all these years without me EVEN KNOWING IT?

Hey, Halloween is coming up ... You be the judge.

World Series Limbo -- how low can you go?


As a dance, it's OK. As the status quo for the World Series, it's not good.

Major League Baseball just announced that the World Series wouldn't resume until Wednesday night at the earliest because of rain in Philadelphia. It had been hoped the game would be resumed tonight, but Mother Nature is at-bat and she keeps fouling one pitch off after another, like Ty Cobb used to do sometimes just because he could.

So Game 5 between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia remains frozen at 2-2 in the sixth inning, with the Phillies very close to clinching a Series they already lead 3-1 -- if they can find a way to win Game 5.

MLB messed up badly by letting this game go on so long in the first place -- the conditions would have been laughable if not for what was at stake. But at least is trying to right its wrong now by staying "until Thanksgiving," if need be, to get the game done.

Say what you want about the joys of outdoor baseball, but this isn't one of them. When you've got a dome, you're going to get the game in. That's what I love about covering basketball games -- there's hardly ever a weather delay.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Typical Steve" -- with No.89, you never know what will happen

Jake Delhomme called Steve Smith's 65-yard, catch-and-run-and-pivot-and-stay-off-heel-and-survive-a-replay-challenge Sunday against Arizona "typical Steve." You know what? It was. How Smith tiptoed that sideline while avoiding two defenders in what amounted to a phone booth -- that was the most remarkable play of Sunday's 27-23 Carolina win.

I'd put it in my Top 10 among all-time Smith TDs, but I'm not sure it would make the Top 5 -- that's how ridiculously good Smith's all-time highlight tape would be.

My No.1? Still the playoff TD at St. Louis in 2003, because of the huge implications. Read on below for a chance to name your best Steve Smith moment in the comments section of this blog and win a Panther book.

The TD also highlighted one of the advantages of watching the Panthers over the past eight years, ever since Smith first touched the ball as a rookie against Minnesota in 2001 and returned the kickoff for a TD. Smith is something. Personal issues, talent, heart on his sleeve, chip on his shoulder -- all of that, coupled with an incredible drive and a knack for coming up big in big moments. It makes No.89 the most dazzling player the Panthers have ever had, and it's not close.

Smith has only played six games for Carolina this season because of his two-game suspension for breaking teammate Ken Lucas's nose. He's also one of only two NFL WRs to average more than 100 yards per game so far this season -- Houston's Andre Johnson is the other. Here's the full list.

So here's a question for you: Let's say Smith's best-ever TD catch was the St. Louis one in 2003. I think most Panther fans would agree to that.

What would be your second-favorite Steve Smith play ever and why? Or, if the playoff catch wasn't No.1 for you, what was and why?

Best comment below -- either gotta be funny or dramatic, but keep it honest and keep it clean -- wins a signed copy of my 2004 book "Tales from the Carolina Panthers Sideline." I'll post the winner with an update in this blog item on Tuesday, Oct.28 by 4 p.m. (TUESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: I've picked a winner for this contest -- this I've also noted in the "comments" section toward the end. The winner of the Panthers book is one of the early posts on the comment list from someone who calls themselves "blackmasksandgasoline." I liked the thoroughness and promptness of this list, which included a few I hadn't thought of myself. But all the posts were very good, and thanks for them. There was even a correct usage of the word "riposte" -- very impressive! Thanks, yall, for reading)

6 things I liked about Carolina's 27-23 win over Arizona


** The Panthers came back from a 17-3 deficit for the second time this season at home to win (Chicago was the other). The Panthers finally have an offense explosive enough to come back from 14 down. That's saying something you could rarely say about this team before.

** Steve Smith. That play on the sideline, when he broke two tackles and went 65 yards for a TD while managing not to step out of bounds? Unbelievable. And the other TD catch, where he got away with a mild push-off to score, was good, too. Asked about whether he pushed off on that one in his postgame interview, Smith said, laughing: "I can neither confirm nor deny."

** The big turnovers. Carolina’s defense gave up a lot of points and yards comparatively (381 in the air to Kurt Warner alone), but captured two huge turnovers that led to 10 points (a Thomas Davis fumble recovery and a Jon Beason interception).

** The Panthers are now 6-2 at the halfway point of the season headed into their bye week. That’s quite a start, especially considering Tampa Bay lost Sunday, so Carolina now stands alone in first place in the NFC South. Ten wins practically always gets you to the playoffs, and Carolina only would need to only go 4-4 in the second half to do that.

** It was a picture-perfect October afternoon, and the game itself was highly entertaining. The third quarter in particular was superb – there were five total touchdowns.

** Carolina ran off the final 5:57 of the clock, converting three key third downs. The catch by Dwayne Jarrett on a long third down was particularly noteworthy -- he took a huge hit, held onto the ball and gained a lot of trust from his teammates on that one. And DeAngelo Williams, superb all game long, then iced it with a 15-yard run on 3rd-and-13.


** Carolina’s pass defense got beaten – a lot – by Arizona’s big-play offense. Kurt Warner threw for close to 400 yards. Delhomme, Warner's former teammate in NFL Europe, said he didn't get to talk to Warner after the game but would have "probably asked for his autograph" had he been able to.

** Muhsin Muhammad’s drop of a sure TD pass. It cost Carolina four points early, but ultimately didn't hurt the team too much. Said Moose: "It happens. The sun doesn't shine all the time."

** My pregame prediction. Oops! I didn't have quite enough faith in the home team this time, missing the Panthers' outcome for the first time in the past 5 games by picking Arizona by 4.

Carolina 27-23 after Beason interception early in 4th

The Panthers finally rattled Kurt Warner a little. It looked like Arizona was about to take the lead early in the fourth quarter in this topsy-turvy game, but then Warner -- inside the Carolina 20 -- threw a ball too high for RB J.J. Arrington.

Arrington tipped it, MLB Jon Beason intercepted it and ran nearly 50 yards back to midfield. Carolina got one first down and then got stopped, but John Kasay kicked a field goal, and that made it 27-23, Carolina.

Carolina has now scored on its last four possessions and five of its last six. And since Arizona botched an extra point after its last TD, the Cardinals need a TD, not a FG, to have a chance.

There's a little moore than nine minutes left, and Rhys Lloyd just kicked the kickoff off the goalpost -- that means he nearly made an 80-yard field goal (which wouldn't have counted, but still would have been cool.

Back and forth we go: Carolina 24, Arizona 23 starting the 4th

The third quarter was a total big-play fest, as 34 of the game's 47 points were scored in the third period.

Steve Smith just punctuated it with one of those "How did he do that?" plays, going 65 yards on a short sideline completion when he somehow split two defenders after catching the ball, stayed in bounds by an eyelash and scored. Arizona challenged the play, thinking Smith went out of bounds, but unsuccessfully.

There were five TDs in the third quarter altogether. Arizona opened it with a TD drive. Then Carolina bolted to two straight TDs, helped by an Arizona fumble.

But the Cardinals came right back with a long TD drive of its own, with Kurt Warner hitting Anquan Boldin for the TD right between Chris Gamble and Jon Beason. It was the second TD hookup for Warner and Boldin in this game -- Boldin is coming back from a severe facial injury suffered earlier this season.

Then Arizona made another special-teams miscue, however, joining the fake field goal it couldn't convert earlier in the game. Holder Dirk Johnson dropped a perfect snap, so Neil Rackers never had a chance to kick the extra point. Thus, Arizona had only a 23-17 lead instead of 24-17, and that may well make Arizona go for a two-point conversion later in this game if it scores again.

5-second scoring drive and it is 17-all

After that fairly boring first half, the action is coming fast and furiously now, and the Panthers have pulled back into a 17-17 tie.

At 17-10, Arizona's Edgerrin James fumbled after a massive hit from Carolina DT Maake Kemoeatu at his own 18 and LB Thomas Davis pounced on it.

The Cardinals then compounded one mistake by making another -- they single-covered Steve Smith on the first play. Jake Delhomme threw a pretty ball over the head of Arizona's Roderick Hood, Smith caught it and it was 17-all. The entire drive took five seconds and only one play, and the score is tied with more than 20 minutes still to play.

DeAngelo scores; Panthers pull within 17-10

Carolina has finally scored its first TD of this gorgeous afternoon on a 15-yard run by DeAngelo Williams. The drive was six plays for 80 yards and was easily the best the offense has looked so far.

So now we're back to where we started at halftime, with Arizona up by a TD midway through the third period. Both teams scored on their opening possession of the third quarter, and now it's 17-10, Arizona.

The Panthers' key play on that drive was a 31-yard pass from Jake Delhomme to TE Jeff King, but Williams was superb as well. He's now rushed only nine times today for 69 yards -- a 7.7 average. That's the place the ball looks like it needs to go the most for the rest of this afternoon -- in No.34's hands.

Arizona 17, Carolina 3 as 2nd half starts badly

The Panthers haven't started the second half any better. What was Rhys Lloyd doing squib-kicking the kickoff to begin the second half, anyway?

Arizona started because of that at its own 34, and from there marched steadily down the field. The Panthers' linebacker blitzes weren't getting there as well on the drive, and Kurt Warner stepped up and hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 27-yard completion on the drive's key play.

From there, Arizona ran it in with rookie RB Tim Hightower, who took advantage of overpursuing Carolina LB Jon Beason for the score. It was 17-3, Arizona, with 10:13 left in the third.

One side note: Fox's sideline reporter, Laura Okmin, said she talked with John Fox at halftime. She quoted the Panthers coach as saying that his offense "played like crap" in the first quarter.

Panthers fortunate to be down only 10-3 at half

It wasn't a great half of football for Carolina, but the Panthers have managed to stay within a TD despite being outplayed in the first 30 minutes.

Arizona outgained Carolina 188-122 in the first half and caused the game's only turnover. However, the Cardinals had a crucial late misfire. On 4th-and-15 from the Carolina 21 with about 1:10 to go, Arizona ran a fake field-goal attempt. It didn't work, as Carolina's Charles Godfrey stayed home and chased down the Arizona receiver about 5 yards short of the first down.

So Arizona could have led 13-3, but instead is up only 10-3. In fact, much of the first half was a story of missed opportunities for points: Muhammad's dropped TD pass for Carolina, Arizona getting stifled on third-and-goal at the Carolina 1 and having to settle for a field goal, Carolina having a couple of close-but-no-cigar long throws to Steve Smith.

Hopefully, the second half has a little more scoring to come. I'm not much for defensive battles.

Awful drop by Moose; Panthers on board, down 10-3

The Panthers finally got a good drive going in the second quarter, and it should have resulted in a TD. Instead, WR Muhsin Muhammad had one of the worst drops of his career, and Carolina instead only cut the Arizona lead to 10-3.

On first-and-goal from the 5, the Panthers lined up Steve Smith and Muhammad on the right side. Smith went inside, both defenders went with him and Muhammad was as open as you can possibly be in the NFL. Delhomme hit him bewteen the numbers at the goal line, fans started celebrating... and Muhammad dropped it.

Moose has made some incredible catches in his career, too, of course. That one, though, was hard to fathom. Instead of 10-7, it ended up 10-3 (and could have been 10-0, as Delhomme's third-down pass was nearly intercepted).

The Panthers did move the ball, at least, on the drive. They ran a couple of direct snaps to DeAngelo Williams that were effective and Delhomme made several good throws to get them into position for their first points of the game.

Nasty Panther offense; 10-0 Arizona lead

Carolina's offense has done nothing so far. Worse than that, the Panthers' offense just set up an Arizona TD by turning the ball over at its own 5-yard line.

On the key play, the Cardinals blitzed LB Karlos Dansby. Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams tried to get over to pick him up, but couldn't. Dansby banged into Jake Delhomme, stripped the ball and recovered it at the Carolina 5.

It took Kurt Warner only one play to convert that, as he hit Anquan Boldin for a 5-yard TD. Boldin was in a mismatch on the play, being covered by Carolina LB Thomas Davis, who never closed the gap. Midway through the second quarter, it's Arizona 10, Carolina 0, and the Panthers need to reverse the momentum badly.

Arizona 3, Carolina 0 at end of 1st quarter

A couple of early impressions as Arizona takes a 3-0 lead in a hard-hitting and fairly mundane first quarter:

** The Panthers obviously feel the way to get Kurt Warner out of his rhythm is to blitz. Warner is completing 70 percent of his passes this season and loves to throw the 8-10 yard pass, over and over. Carolina has already knocked him to the turf twice on LB blitzes -- once by Jon Beason legitimately after a throw, and another time by Na'il Diggs, who hit Warner late and was correctly penalized.

** It's just a gorgeous day outside. October football in the Carolinas in the afternoon -- there's no better time to see a game than that.

** The Panthers' first two drives short-circuited quickly as the team tried slant passes on third down that were incomplete (neither to Steve Smith). I've been calling for the Panthers to run a reverse to Smith all season -- they just kept faking it but never did -- but it didn't exactly work when they finally decided to run one. On the first play from scrimmage, Smith had no chance and lost six yards.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Panthers-Arizona prediction

** For most of their history, the Arizona Cardinals have been a joke. They were somewhere out there in the desert, drawing fewer fans for actual games than some teams drew for training-camp practices. Nobody cared about them.

** These Cardinals, however, are no joke. Kurt Warner is a fence post in the pocket, but he's a fast-acting fence post. He gets the ball out as quickly as anyone in the NFL. If you ever do get a shot on Warner, he's prone to fumbling, but that's easier said than done.

** If the Panthers win this one, they go into the bye week at 6-2 feeling very good about themselves. If they don't, 5-3 is still halfway to 10-6, and 10-6 almost always makes the playoffs.

** I saw wonderful Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald horribly misused once in Bank of America Stadium. Pittsburgh came to town in 2003 to play Virginia in what was then known as the Continental Tire Bowl. Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris had the terrible idea to use Fitzgerald -- the best receiver in the country and the Heisman Trophy runnerup -- as a decoy practically the whole game. It didn't work. Virginia won, 23-16, behind quarterback Matt Schaub.

** I've picked the Panthers correctly the past four weeks in a row, but get your rotten tomatoes ready. I'm choosing the home team to lose this one. Not for any particular reason, really. Arizona is just a tough team, a playoff team, and it's been going so beautifully for the Panthers at home (where they are 4-0 this season) that I think they're about to hit a bump.
My prediction: Arizona 24, Carolina 20.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And the "Going Deep" winners are....

There were more than 350 entries for my free drawing for two copies of Gary Smith's new book "Going Deep." Thanks to ALL OF YOU for taking the time to e-mail me and enter, and I'm sorry I don't have another extra 350 or so copies of the book laying around to give to all of you.

The folks whose names were drawn and who won a copy of the book were:

** Murphy Post, who notes in his entry that he works at St. Stephens High School in Hickory as a teacher and coach.

** Frank LaBianca, who lives in Charlotte.

Thanks for playing. More than that, thanks for reading -- it heartens me to know there are so many folks out there who like to read good (or in Smith's case, great) sportswriting.

We'll do this again sometime. Meantime, if you're still interested in the book, you can get it for about $18 online and the information on how to do that is below in the blog entries just below this one.
There are a lot of other great sports books out there, too, and I'll post a list of them in a future blog since so many of you mentioned in your entries that you thought sports books made great holiday gifts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Going Deep" drawing will now be held Thursday morning

Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for the massive amount of interest my small giveaway has generated (read the previous blog for more about that if you're not clear what I'm talking about here). I've had more than 100 e-mails today from readers wanting to enter my free drawing for a copy of Gary Smith's "Going Deep" -- the new book from the wonderful Sports Illustrated writer that contains 20 of his classic sports stories.

Here's my problem. In Tuesday's Charlotte Observer, I announced this giveaway in a column. In the print version of the column, my e-mail address was accidentally deleted -- in two separate places! I don't know how this happened. But it basically read: "E-mail me at by..." In other words, my e-mail address was nowhere to be found.

Now more than 100 people figured out my e-mail address anyway. But I also heard from some who were confused or frustrated that they were trying to e-mail into a contest and didn't know where to send their entry.

So, here's a compromise that hopefully works for everyone: I'm extending the deadline to e-mail for a free copy of Gary Smith's book until THURSDAY OCT.23 AT 9 A.M. Then, by 10 A.M. THURSDAY, I'LL ANNOUNCE THE WINNERS ON THIS BLOG ONLY.

Did I say "winners?" Yes. I'm now going to give away two copies of "Going Deep," rather than one, as a make-good gesture for those of you inconvenienced.

Now if you already e-mailed me at to enter, there is NO NEED to e-mail me again. You're good. You'll be in the drawing for BOTH books. The two winners will hear from me via e-mail by 10 a.m. Thursday, too, so if you haven't heard by then, you were in the 99 percent of folks who didn't win, and I'm sorry.

Thanks to all of those who have already entered, and since I've had so much response to this giveaway, I'll try to do some more of this sort of stuff in the future.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Going Deep" -- a fantastic sports book

There are certain writers who can make you weep with the way they construct a sentence, the way they can so deftly wring emotion from a scene, the way they can make you feel just by rearranging 26 letters artfully, over and over again.

Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated is one of those writers. If you're a fan of serious sportswriting -- not flippant Top 10 lists, not announcer chatter over highlights on ESPN, but serious, provocative, get-into-somebody's-head sportswriting -- you owe it to yourself to read "Going Deep," which you can also check out here.

The book is a collection of 20 of Gary's best stories for Sports Illustrated. For my money, as I write in the Oct.21 Charlotte Observer, he's the best sportswriter around. Anywhere. His stories are loooooong, but they read quickly because they are so wonderfully told.

I'm proud to call Gary a friend -- he lives in Charleston, S.C., and we've had a couple of nice conversations and lunches over the years. He doesn't need my promotional help, but because the book is so good I'm going to give him some anyway.

As I have mentioned in The Observer, I'm going to give away a copy of "Going Deep" to ONE reader. If you want to enter this random and free drawing, you must E-MAIL ME AT before Wed., Oct.22 at 9 a.m.

I will post the book winner HERE, on this blog, at 10 a.m. Wed., Oct.22nd. And if you don't win or you didn't get to e-mail me in time but you still want the book, hey, I see Amazon is selling it for $17.99. If you like good sportswriting, that's a steal.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

6 Things I Liked in Carolina's Big Win over New Orleans

The Panthers dominated the Saints Sunday, 30-7. Here were a half-dozen of the main reasons why:

** Julius Peppers and the defense. Peppers had a sack, a forced fumble and also stopped a New Orleans back at the 1 to cinch the victory on the Panthers’ late goal-line stand. After a game against Tampa when you totally forgot Peppers was on the field, he was huge Sunday.

** The running game. Both Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams scored TDs and had respectable – although not huge – stats (134 rushing yards between them). That makes Jake Delhomme (122.3 pass rating Sunday) so much better.

** No punt blocks. And none returned for a TD by Reggie Bush, either (who only played the first half, due to a knee injury that flared up).

** Steve Smith. He went over 100 yards again and caught a 39-yard TD pass while being double-covered.

** Reversal. Carolina totally reversed what happened to them last week in a 27-3 loss to Tampa.

** Superb fan support. On a gorgeous October day, the fans showed up en masse and saw Carolina move to 4-0 at home this season (they were 2-6 in Charlotte in 2007). I thought the fans were particularly effective on Carolina's fourth-down goal-line stand.

Panthers 27 New Orleans 7 (somebody have a mirror?)

This Carolina-New Orleans game has now come to resemble very closely the Panther-Tampa Bay game a week ago -- the mirror image, with reverse results for the Panthers.

I don't think anyone would disagree that Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay are 3 teams not too far off from each other in terms of talent. Yet here's another game that isn't close -- at least at the moment. Carolina lost 27-3 last week in Tampa, and the Panthers are now winning, 27-7, late in the third quarter vs. the Saints.

The Panthers just scored their third TD of the game, this on a checkdown throw from Delhomme to DeAngelo Williams, who barely got to the pylon before being shoved out of bounds. New Orleans coach Sean Payton should have thrown the "review flag," I think, but didn't, and the TD stood. It was set up by Ken Lucas's excellent interception and 31-yard return.

Steve Smith scores; Reggie Bush out for game

Two very newsworthy things just happened at the Panthers game:

1) Steve Smith somehow got between two New Orleans defenders to snag a 39-yard TD pass and push Carolina to a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter.

2) Reggie Bush has suffered a knee injury of undetermined seriousness, but he WILL NOT RETURN to this game.

If you're Carolina, you have a 13-point lead and one of the Saints' best two players (QB Drew Brees is the other) has just been declared out for the game, you have to feel pretty good about your chances.

Panthers 10 New Orleans 7 after turnover

The Panthers just converted a turnover caused by Julius Peppers into a TD, taking a 10-7 lead with 9:58 left in the second quarter.

Peppers' tomahawk chop of the ball out of Jeremy Shockey's hands was the first key play, giving Carolina possession at the New Orleans 40. Then, on third-and-7, Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith connected for the first time in the game on a 19-yard pass. Smith set that one up beautifully with an outside head fake to CB Mike McKenzie, and it netted 19 yards.

The third key play came on 1st-and-10 from the 18. Jonathan Stewart squirted through on a beautifully blocked play, right between RT Jeremy Bridges and TE Jeff King. He scored, standing up and basically untouched, and Carolina took the lead again in what has been a very entertaining game so far.

Saints 7, Panthers 3 early in 2nd quarter

So far on a beautiful October afternoon in Charlotte, the Saints and Panthers are involved in just the sort of tight contest you'd expect.

Carolina has had the ball 3 times and managed only 3 points -- a field goal on its first drive. Since then, the Panthers keep trying to run the ball early in the possession, keep getting stuffed, and keep missing third-and-longs.

New Orleans, on the other hand, is giving Carolina a major dose of Reggie Bush, and the Panthers just aren't able to handle his speed so far -- at least not consistently. Bush already has a 29-yard run that helped set up the Saints' first TD.

However, Julius Peppers has shown up today for Carolina. He already has a sack and just forced a fumble on a tight-end screen, tomahawking the ball out of Jeremy Shockey's hands. Chris Harris recovered it, so Carolina takes over at the New Orleans 40.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oh c'mon, Butch!

If you're going to lose in Charlottesville -- as the UNC football team has every time it has played there since 1981 -- at least go out swinging.

UNC absolutely did not do that in a 16-13 overtime loss to Virginia Saturday.

I totally disagree with Tar Heel coach Butch Davis's decision with 47 seconds left in regulation to shut down his offense and play for overtime. It didn't take long for that to backfire. UNC got the ball first in OT, managed only a field goal, and then Virginia rammed in a TD to win in a game in which the Cavaliers (who lost 31-3 to Duke not that long ago) had never led until that very moment.

Congrats to Virginia for scoring impressive TDs each of the last two times it had the ball, but Davis deserves some of the blame for this one. After the Tar Heel defense allowed Virginia to tie the score at 10 with a TD with 47 seconds left, the ensuing kickoff went into the end zone.

That meant UNC had first-and-10 on its own 20. The Tar Heels have a good kicker, they have a decent QB (although to be fair, Cam Sexton struggled Saturday) and they still have a couple of very good receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster. In college football, because of the way the clock stops so often, 47 seconds is an eternity.

Instead, Davis had Sexton kneel twice, and you just knew that would be the end of it there. It was. UNC had started playing not to lose instead of trying to win (also evidenced by the 3-man rush it threw against Virginia for much of that fourth-quarter TD drive). And that doesn't cut it.

The Tar Heels fell to 5-2 with the loss, and you can bet they dropped out of the AP Top 25 and that they won't be going to Tampa for the ACC title game now.

Jon Beason behind the scenes like you've never seen him

Hello, everyone. Here's a little background on what you can expect if you haven't yet read my in-depth look at Carolina linebacker Jon Beason in Sunday's Charlotte Observer. The picture here, by the way, is one I snapped of our photographer David Foster shooting pictures of Beason for this story.

Check out the way Beason's left eyebrow arches. "Just like 'The Rock,'" Beason said, referring to the former college football player turned movie star. Beason said his eyebrow arches like that naturally when he adopts certain expressions. He actually tried to push it back down for one of these photos, to no avail.

In any case, in this magazine-length story that takes up more than a full page of The Observer (UPDATE: it is now POSTED HERE) you will find these and other nuggets:

** How "Beavis and Butt-head" were part of one of one of the greatest days of Beason's life.

** How Beason tried to gently sabotage his pre-draft workout with New England coach Bill Belichick because he didn't want to play for the Patriots.

** Who Beason considers the greatest overachiever in his family (hint: it's not him).

Enjoy the story, and enjoy this beautiful weekend. Don't forget to check back on "Scott Says" frequently on Sunday during and after the game, when I will be blogging LIVE from the Panthers-Saints game.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Panther-Saints prediction

Since you checked my blog -- thanks for that! -- you get a little bonus today. Here are my pregame thoughts -- and my prediction -- for the Panthers-Saints game Sunday (this will also be in Sunday's Observer).

Also, I'll let you know that I have just completed a massive story on Carolina linebacker Jon Beason that will also be in the Sunday Oct.19 Charlotte Observer sports section (with good photos, too!).

I'll post a little more about the story on "The Beast" by Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m., but I think it's fair to say Beason has never opened up quite like this before to the media. If you read it and don't know a lot more about him after the story, then you must be related to him.

Onto the Panthers-Saints pregame thoughts and my prediction:

** There are no easy games in the NFC South this season. Atlanta was supposed to be the one “gimme” on everybody’s schedule, but that’s gone out the window with the emergence of rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. So here comes New Orleans to Charlotte. The Saints have the highest profile in the division, simply because they have the best offense, which in turns generates the most highlights thanks to Drew Brees and Reggie Bush. They also have the worst record (3-3).

** A big key for Carolina Sunday will be whether it can run the ball without a couple of its best offensive linemen against a mediocre Saints defense that is 14th in the league against the run. That 20-carry, 40-yard performance against Tampa Bay was embarrassing.

** I like the black jerseys the Panthers will wear Sunday better than those white ones. They look a little tougher.

** The Panthers need to get more creative against the Saints today on offense. The direct snap to DeAngelo Williams usually works; use it more often. And it’s not against the rules to actually give the ball to Steve Smith on a reverse instead of just faking it.

** Jake Delhomme generally throws the ball well against his former team, and Carolina has for once established a homefield advantage in Charlotte this year (3-0).

** I picked against the Panthers last week in Tampa, although I didn't think they would lose quite that badly. But I think they have a good chance Sunday if they don’t get yet another punt blocked after their first possession. Brees and Bush will have their moments, but the Panther defense is better-equipped to hold the Saints under 21 points than most. That’s what it will take.

My pick: Carolina 21, New Orleans 20.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

$1,000 for Super Bowl tickets (and a secret)

So the NFL isn't exactly helping out the poor Joe the Plumbers of the world with this announcement: The official price of Super Bowl tickets will reach $1,000 for the first time this season.

According to this story, the NFL confirmed Thursday that 25 percent of the tickets for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa will be priced at $1,000. Tickets for last year's game between New England and the New York Giants were $700 and $900. (And the ones that got resold last year went for an average of $4,300, according to online reseller StubHub).

Overall, the official price for 17,000 suite and club seats will be $1,000 each. Another 53,000 tickets will go for $800, with the remaining 1,000 at $500. So the "cheap seats" are $500 -- of course, you do get a tiny Bruce Springsteen concert at halftime with that. If you're longing for the good ol' days, the first Super Bowl charged $6, $10 and $12 for tickets.

If the 4-2 Panthers make it, in other words, and you're intent on going, you better hope the stock market starts rebounding.

Of course, it's very hard to get Super Bowl tickets anyway. Here's how they get distributed for the Feb.1 game in Tampa, according to the official website there for the game:

"The demand for tickets to Super Bowl XLIII greatly exceeds the NFL's ability to accommodate the majority of fans interested in attending the game. The vast majority of Super Bowl tickets (approximately 75%) are distributed to the 32 NFL teams. The participating teams each receive 17.5% of the tickets, the non-participating teams receive 1.2% and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the host team, will receive 5%. The remaining 25.2% are controlled by the NFL and are distributed primarily to NFL affiliated companies, the broadcast network, corporate sponsors, media, VIP's charities, fans and the Host Committee."

The one year the Panthers made the Super Bowl they had a lottery among their PSL holders for the right to buy tickets, and if they ever make it again, I'd expect them to handle it the same way.

And here's my secret about the Super Bowl: unless the team you would bleed for is involved, I believe it is seriously overrated as an event. There's no homefield advantage. It's such a corporate crowd that every big play is cheered -- for both teams. But except for those big plays, it's surprisingly quiet and antiseptic. The Olympics, the Final Four, the Masters, the Kentucky Derby, Texas-Oklahoma -- all of those have a better atmosphere IMHO.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trade Adam Morrison -- if you can

If I were the Bobcats, I'd trade Adam Morrison if at all possible. Our excellent Bobcats' beat writer, Rick Bonnell, points out in this story that the reason the Bobcats picked up Morrison's option today might be to make him more attractive for a possible trade.

Morrison (left) is only 24, and he's just a couple of years out from being the No.3 overall pick in the NBA draft (Michael Jordan was the point man in that draft for Charlotte). I really thought Morrison be a better NBA player, but his defensive deficiencies hurt him. I don't think he'll be more than a 15-minute-a-game player in Charlotte for Larry Brown.

Morrison doesn't score nearly as easily as he did in college at Gonzaga, and so unless he's really on fire from outside, he's just not going to be out there on the floor for very long because of the defensive issues. He's a reserve on one of the worst teams in the NBA -- unless Brown has performed some magical transformation, that's what they are. And that doesn't say much for him. He's also basically a jump shooter on a roster loaded with them.

The problem is that Morrison has limited trade value. He missed all last season with a serious knee injury and, although he's playing on the knee now in the preseason, everyone will consider him damaged goods to some extent until they see that knee hold up for long stretches.

Still, if you can recoup a first-round draft pick for Morrison -- and I mean anywhere in the first round, not just a lottery pick -- I'd take it. If you can get a good big man to help the Bobcats with their rebounding problems, I'd take it. But if you're just giving him away, I wouldn't take that. He's not that bad. He's just not that good, either.

I was a great admirer of Morrison in college and remain an admirer of the way he balances his diabetes and his basketball career. But I don't think he's a great fit here anymore.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On NFL and why Ford should stay on the farm

Two quick thoughts for a Tuesday:

1) Did you see the New York Giants and Eli Manning (above) get hammered last night, 35-14, by the previously woeful Cleveland Browns? Such a victory is good news for the Panthers and, by extension, the rest of the NFC. The Giants had previously looked like a cinch to clinch the No.1 playoff seeding in the NFC. Now they look vulnerable.

The Giants have one loss and there are six teams right behind them at 4-2, including Carolina (see the NFL standings here).

Despite the Panthers’ 27-3, slip-on-the-banana-peel loss to Tampa Bay, the team is in decent shape right now if it can start scoring points again -- see my column on that subject here. Carolina is currently 23rd in the NFL in points per game). But at least Carolina doesn’t have a major injury of the sort that Dallas is contending with right now in Tony Romo’s broken pinkie finger.

2) I will respectfully disagree with my good friend Tom Sorensen’s premise in today’s Charlotte Observer that Danny Ford is the right choice at Clemson to replace Tommy Bowden. Ford gives Clemson folks a nice, nostalgic feel, yes -- much like listening to a radio station that specializes in oldies from the 1980s.

But Ford has been out of the game too long. He needs to stay on the farm. Bringing him back as head coach would bring the Tigers closer to another NCAA probation than to another national championship. I’d rather see Clemson hire Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson or Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe.

To subscribe to the Scott Says blog, click here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bowden: A nice guy who couldn't win the big one

I can't say I feel terribly sorry for Tommy Bowden, who abruptly parted ways with Clemson in the middle of his 10th season Monday. This ends Bowden's tumultuous, on-again, off-again relationship with the school -- the long-rumored divorce has finally come through.

But this is what you sign up for when you coach Clemson. The Tigers' rabid fan base believes it should be at the level of an SEC powerhouse like Georgia or LSU or Alabama -- a Top 10 or 20 team every year, with a national championship thrown in about every decade. And the Tigers are willing to pay their football coaches extremely well for putting up with all this. There are good and bad sides to rabid fan bases -- they fill stadiums and they pay you millions, but they expect big trophies in return.

Bowden's nine previous teams never won an ACC championship at Clemson, and this 3-3 version wasn't going to do that, either. Bowden had saved his job several times late in the season -- usually by beating South Carolina -- but this time he won't get that chance. It's apparent that Clemson's program isn't at the level of, say, Wake Forest, which has got to rankle all those who bleed orange.

The main reason I don't feel real sorry for Bowden is that Clemson now owes him millions, apparently, due to his buyout clause. Bowden signed a contract extension at Clemson, remember, in December 2007 after nearly taking the Arkansas head-coaching job. In this down economy, a ton of people are losing jobs without the benefit of anything near that sort of golden parachute.

Bowden will coach again if he wants to. Or he could go into TV work like his brother Terry -- he's got the quick wit and the looks for that.

And who will Clemson hire? Dabo Swinney, the very low-profile interim coach, will have to have a spectacular end of the season to get the job permanently. I would have said East Carolina's Skip Holtz a few weeks ago, but the bloom has fallen off that rose. Who knows, really? The Tigers may just end up pulling off what UNC did with Butch Davis. By having an early and high-profile coaching vacancy, they could beat the Christmas rush and grab somebody very good.

Whoever it is, he will be paid extremely well. And he better win.

Tate injury bad news, but not a killing blow to UNC

It's a real shame that UNC wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate has now been lost for the season due to torn ligaments in his knee.

However, this is far from a killing blow for the Tar Heels -- or for Tate, who should still be a good NFL player assuming he can recover from the ACL and MCL tears in his right knee.

UNC loses one of its "it factors" with the loss of Tate -- and a huge one, no doubt. The Tar Heels losing Tate is a lot like the Carolina Panthers losing Steve Smith. But Carolina went 2-0 without Smith this season (and now is only 2-2 with him). And UNC beat Notre Dame Saturday in a thriller, despite not having Tate for most of the game.

The Tar Heels have already shown surprising resilience in overcoming the injury to QB T.J. Yates. Cam Sexton has been so good for UNC since then that Yates isn't a sure thing to move back into the lineup when he is ready -- he has a broken bone in his ankle and could conceivably be back in 2-4 more weeks.

With Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster, the Tar Heels are still well-set at WR. They are fortunate that is one of their deepest positions. They won't find anyone else in a baby-blue uniform who can return like Tate -- he's got a rare gift for that -- but this isn't the sort of injury that is suddenly going to mean the Tar Heels go into a season-ending tailspin. It just means they'll need to work a little harder.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

8 Things I Didn't Like about Carolina's 27-3 loss to Tampa Bay

Out of a bazillion choices, here are the 8 things I didn't like the most about Carolina’s 27-3 loss to Tampa Bay, which tied the two NFC South teams at 4-2 atop the division (along with surprising Atlanta):

1) Can the Panthers not figure out how to get a punt off? Jason Baker has now had 3 blocked this season. The one that was blocked only 2 ½ minutes into the game and went for a Tampa Bay TD set the tone for this rout.

2) Jake Delhomme’s performance. He was 7-1 against the Bucs, but thudded to 7-2 Sunday, playing what was easily his worst game of the season. "Pretty much pathetic," Delhomme termed it, and for once Sunday, he was right on the money.

3) Carolina’s defense against Jeff Garcia. No doubt the Panthers would have rather faced pocket passer Brian Griese. Garcia tormented them like he has so many times during his career – extending plays and getting the Bucs down the field with regularity.

4) Mark Jones’ kick returns. You can’t tell me that, with all the possible returners out there, the Panthers can’t find anyone better than that.

5) Where was the oomph? You just didn't see much emotional pop from the Panthers today, and that's a problem.

6) Panthers’ butterfingers. All three of Delhomme’s interceptions were first touched by Panther receivers (Dante Rosario, Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith). Plus, Dwayne Jarrett was a non-factor on his few plays, and managed one embarrassing drop. And Smith, open for an easy 34-yard TD in the final minute (which was only important to fantasy leaguers), dropped that one, too.

7) Carolina’s run defense. The Panthers just wore down in the second half, as Warrick Dunn became the first back all season to run for more than 100 on Carolina.

8) John Fox’s halftime adjustments. Whatever they were, they didn’t do a bit of good.

Tampa Bay blasting Carolina 20-3 at end of 3rd

The Panthers are going to lose this game -- it's only a question of by how much at this point.

Carolina got absolutely nothing done in the third quarter. It seemed to run only 2 offensive plays -- the plunge into the middle for 1 yard and the Jake Delhomme short-hop throw to the feet of a running back when he's about to get sacked.

The Bucs, meanwhile, will start the fourth quarter on the Carolina 6. The Panther defense hasn't played terribly today, but it's been only mediocre and now looks to be wearing down. The offense and the special teams have been atrocious, though, and that's why both these teams are going to be 4-2 as soon as 15 more minutes go by on the clock.

Halftime adjustments better come fast

The Panthers have been thoroughly outplayed in the first 30 minutes at Raymond James Stadium here and now trail Tampa Bay, 17-3.

Jake Delhomme has thrown a couple of interceptions -- although, to be fair, both of the passes were touched by Panther receivers first. The second one was a killer. Carolina was on a good drive inside the 2-minute mark when Delhomme tried to let Muhsin Muhammad win a jump ball deep against Tampa Bay corner Aqib Talib.

Moose couldn't quite do it, though, and the deflected ball was scooped up by Tampa Bay safety Jermaine Phillips, who returned it 58 yards. Carolina didn't allow any more points, but still trails 17-3 at halftime.

The good news for the Panthers: they came back from exactly the same deficit against Chicago earlier this season to win 20-17. And Steve Smith is having a fine day (5 catches, 93 yards in first half).

The bad news: This one is on the road, Tampa Bay seems more motivated than Chicago and the Panthers' mojo seems to have been lost somewhere on the flight over Florida. Carolina isn't able to run the ball at all so far -- 16 carries, 32 yards -- and that has contributed to a paltry offensive output of only 7 first downs and 3 points so far.

17-3 Tampa, as defense struggles again

Carolina's defense doesn't look much like the one that paced 24-9 and 34-0 victories the past 2 weeks at home. After Carolina got a tiny bit of momentum with a field goal on its last drive, Tampa Bay whipped the ball right back down the field for a field goal of its own.

Carolina did manage to stop the Bucs at about the 20, but that was only after giving up the third pass of 20 or more yards to a Tampa Bay team that has been horrible on deep passes up until this game. Its' 17-3, Tampa Bay, midway through the second quarter.

Panthers cut Tampa lead to 14-3 in 2nd Q

Carolina has gotten on the scoreboard, but the Panthers still have a looooooooong way to go.

The Panthers could have made this scoring drive a lot easier on themselves. On first-and-10 from their own 28, Delhomme found Steve Smith all alone behind the Tampa Bay defense. Smith looked like a sure thing to catch it and score, but instead made a last-minute adjustment to the ball and fell down while making the catch.

Still, that was a 48-yard gain to Tampa's 24. Carolina moved it down to a second-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 1, in part after a nice direct snap play to DeAngelo Williams. But then the Panthers took Williams out, put rookie Jonathan Stewart in... and Stewart and Delhomme tripped over each other on a handoff. Stewart was down and the ball came out, but he was ruled down first, even after a Tampa Bay challenge.

Then, on third-and-goal from the 2, Carolina ran a quick play-action pass to Muhsin Muhammad, but Tampa Bay broke it up, with linebacker Barrett Ruud nearly intercepting it. John Kasay made a chip shot 20-yarder, so it's 14-3, Tampa Bay, with 12:31 to go in the second quarter.

There are 2 big differences so far: Tampa Bay got the TD off the blocked punt, and Jeff Garcia got his team in the end zone on his third-down play from the 2, while Delhomme didn't. To get back in this one, Carolina is going to need a couple of really huge plays -- the momentum is favoring Tampa Bay to a great extent so far.

14-0 Tampa, and Carolina looks bad early

It's late in the first quarter, and Tampa Bay already leads the Panthers, 14-0. So far Carolina's tally includes: a blocked punt, an interception, several key penalties, their first defensive TD allowed in 10 quarters and absolutely nothing offensively in their first three possessions.

Dante Rosario is having a really bad day so far. Fox TV blamed Rosario for missing the block on the Jason Baker punt that ended up getting spiked and returned for a TD. Then Rosario had a chance to make a fingertip grab, but instead had the ball bounce off his fingertips for an interception that set Tampa Bay up inside the Panthers' 30.

The Bucs converted that one as Panther nemesis Jeff Garcia -- who always plays well against Carolina -- ran a nice play-action pass near the goal line and threw off balance for a TD.

Yet another Panther blocked punt -- 7-0, Tampa Bay

Things in Tampa have not started well for Carolina. Panther punter Jason Baker just sustained his third blocked punt of the year, and the second one that went for a TD.

Just like in the Chicago game a couple of weeks ago, the Panthers' first possession ended with a punt, a special-teams miscue and a score by the opposing team.

In this case, Tampa Bay LB Geno Hayes came through right up the middle, blowing by a couple of would-be blockers, and smothered Baker's punt almost before it left his foot. Hayes also recovered it and ran it in for a TD, and it was 7-0.

It's obvious, incidentally, that this is only the second-biggest sporting event in Tampa this weekend. This is a late-arriving crowd, and the upper deck isn't close to full. That's probably partly because the Tampa Bay Rays, who are playing the Boston Red Sox in the AL Championship Series, finished their game at 1:15 a.m. Sunday, winning 9-8 on a sacrifice fly. That's what most of the pregame talk here was about.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nasty officiating in UNC-Notre Dame

I just finished watching UNC edge Notre Dame, 29-24, on TV, like probably a lot of yall did as well. And I can't believe either one of those calls in the final two minutes. The officials seemed dead wrong to me both times.

Do two wrongs ever make a right? In this case, they sort of did. The first one seemed to go incorrectly against the Tar Heels, the second one incorrectly for them, and ultimately UNC won the game as it should have if the first one had been judged the right way, IMHO.

To review: the first call disallowed an apparent UNC first down on a long pass to Brooks Foster, who seemed to catch the ball and come down before the ground knocked it out of his hands and out of bounds. But after a loooooong review, the officials said it was incomplete.

On the second one, a Notre Dame player caught a pass with about 5 seconds left inside the UNC 10. Then he either fumbled it or tried to lateral -- Butch Davis thought he was trying to lateral to a teammate who might somehow get it to the end zone -- but I thought he was already down. UNC did recover.

Notre Dame spiked the ball to try to get off one more play -- and UNC had 12 men on the field when that happened -- but the earlier "was it a fumble?" play was reviewed anyway. The clock also went to 00 and Butch Davis tried to run over and shake Charlie Weis's hand and get it over with. It was a mess.

I thought Notre Dame should have gotten one more play at that point, but instead the officials said it was a fumble and UNC had possession and the game.

It was a brutal and anticlimactic way to end the game, because it put the officials squarely in the spotlight for most of the game's last 20 minutes. However, bottom line -- huge win for the Tar Heels (5-1), who now should move from No.22 to inside the Top 20.

And let's all hope that officiating crew doesn't do any other game this season that any of us see on TV.

Panthers-Bucs pregame thoughts, prediction

NOTE to all readers: I will be covering Sunday's Panthers-Bucs game along with our two fine Carolina beat writers -- Charles Chandler and David Scott. We will all be blogging LIVE during and after the game, so check both this "Scott Says" blog and the "Inside the Panthers" blog on frequently on Sunday for updates.

Now, here are my pregame thoughts that will also be published in Sunday morning's Observer....

** After outscoring their last two opponents 58-9, the Panthers will face a far stronger opponent Sunday in Tampa Bay. “I can’t wait,” Muhsin Muhammad said. “We can really create a little distance for ourselves if we win this one.”
Very true. Already in first place in the NFC South, the Panthers (4-1) could hold a two-game edge over Tampa (3-2) with a road win today. And I believe the Bucs will be Carolina’s most likely rival for the South crown this season. New Orleans doesn’t have a good enough defense. Atlanta, despite its impressive 3-2 start, lacks a bit in overall talent.

** Jake Delhomme has haunted Jon Gruden for years. Although Delhomme missed both of last year’s games with an injury, he is 7-1 overall as a starter for Carolina against the Bucs. Delhomme knows the Buc defense so well that he could list their two-deep without a blink. He’s very adept at spotting their weaknesses at the line of scrimmage and playing away from their strengths.

** Carolina’s defense is also playing very well – it is currently ranked No.4 in the NFL. This is the most positive sign for the Panthers this season, trumping even the re-emergence of Delhomme and Muhammad. A good defense means you never get blown out and so you always have a chance.

** With all that said, I think Tampa Bay is going to squeak this one out today. I like Earnest Graham. I like the way the Bucs are playing defense. I think Jeff Garcia is a “harder out” for Carolina than Brian Griese. It’s just a hunch, but I’ll predict:
Tampa Bay 17, Carolina 16.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thank you, Dale Jr.!!

A lot of people like Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a lot of different reasons: His daddy. His honesty. His talent as a racecar driver.

All those are good reasons, but here's my personal best one. Dale Jr. turned me onto "The Office," which has been my favorite TV show for several years now and gets my vote in my personal Top 3 of best comedies ever, joining "Seinfeld" and "Cheers."

I do this thing occasionally called "20 Questions" in the newspaper, when you take a big-time sports figure and ask him... wait for it.... 20 questions.

Anyway, Dale Jr. was one of my all-time best interview subjects for a lot of reasons -- he admitted to liking Barry Manilow, he was very genuine about his complicated relationships with his father and stepmother and so on. But when we got to a question about his favorite TV show, he couldn't stop talking about "The Office." I had never watched it, though I knew of star Steve Carell from "The 40-year-old Virgin" (a hilarious movie).

But Earnhardt was so enthusiastic about it he made me want to watch it, and now I can't get enough of it. And apparently he still can't either -- he told our David Poole not long ago that he would love to work in that fantasy office in Scranton, Pa., selling paper.

What "The Office" should do, of course, is get Dale Jr. on for a guest spot, as a delivery guy or something. He'd probably do it for free.

In the meantime, though, I thank Dale Jr. every Thursday night at 9 in the fall, when the new "Office" episodes come on. Maybe since qualifying got rained out Thursday at Lowe's Motor Speedway, he even got to watch that one live. And listen, if you've never tried "The Office," take it from me and Dale Jr.

You must.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Edwards, Harvick spat spices up a rainy day

So Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick got into it a little bit on a rainy Thursday at Lowe's Motor Speedway -- Read that story by our own Jim Utter here.

Hey, I don't have a problem with this. The brief timeline of events: Edwards caused a wreck in Talladega with his over-aggressive driving (he admits this). Harvick ripped Edwards on TV after the wreck, which also wrecked Harvick's day.

Then Edwards got mad about that, left a "funny" note for Harvick where he cursed him and signed it, "Love, Carl." And then we got the verbal and physical altercation between the 2 that spiced up today's otherwise gray day.

NASCAR needs guys like Edwards and Harvick and Kyle Busch, and it's a shame that Busch -- the best black-hatted villain currently in the game -- isn't better than his current 11th in the points chase. I'm at the LMS track today, and the Harvick-Edwards scuffle is all anyone is talking about.

I explore the "black hat" phenomenon in NASCAR in this column in Friday's Observer (and on our popular website). Darrell Waltrip, a black hat turned white hat himself, had some great comments about it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

2003 vs 2008 -- the Pro Bowlers

OK, here’s my last comparison about the 2003 Panthers and the 2008 Panthers – the subject of my column in Tuesday’s Observer that you can see here. I meant to put this in the last blog but forgot.

Do you know how many Pro Bowlers the 2003 Super Bowl Panthers had? Not that many, actually. Four. Want to guess who they were?

Go ahead, I’ll wait….. (Imagine the theme from “Jeopardy” now playing in the background)….

OK. They were DE Mike Rucker (but not Julius Peppers, who was a second alternate); P Todd Sauerbrun; RB Stephen Davis and DT Kris Jenkins. None of those four Pro Bowlers remain with the team.

Now, in 2008, if you were projecting a “REALLY early, WAY too premature, JUST FOR FUN, no wagering, please” line on Pro Bowlers, I’d project it this way:

Even odds: Julius Peppers. He already has more sacks than he did in all of 2007, and he seems more disruptive at right defensive end than he was on the left.

2-1: Steve Smith (above). I would guess he would make it, and talent-wise he should, as long as the horrible mistake he made by punching Ken Lucas in training camp doesn’t bite him.

5-1: John Kasay. Hasn’t missed a field goal all season.

8-1: Jon Beason, Chris Harris, Chris Gamble OR Thomas Davis. Some other defensive player besides Peppers will make it if the Panthers continue to rank as a Top 5 defense. I would say ONE of these guys would make it – maybe 2 of them at most. If it were me, I'd vote for middle linebacker Beason out of this group at the moment (and again, we're not even a third of the way through).

12-1: Jake Delhomme. Having a nice season so far, but the field at QB is very strong.

15-1: Muhsin Muhammad: Not only having a great season so far for a 35-year-old receiver, but he is also a sentimental choice because of his respect throughout the league. Would be hurt, however, by not being the most dangerous WR on his own team.

20-1: The Field. Some random player – most likely defensive -- who comes up with a big season the rest of the way.

Bottom line: the 2008 Panthers team isn’t filled with all-stars (after all, this is a squad which couldn’t boast a SINGLE Pro Bowler following the 2007 season. Not one).

But if the Panthers win the NFC South, I’d guess they will parallel the 2003 Panthers in one more way, with 3-4 Pro Bowlers. Feel free to post your guesses here if you like.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2003 vs 2008 Panthers continued...

My column in today's Observer focused on the similarities between the 2003 and the 2008 Panthers.
Here's the link. There are about 30 comments down there at the bottom right now if you want to check out some back-and-forth stuff from fans who believe the Panthers will win the Super Bowl this year and fans (some of other teams) who are dissing them.

Anyway, there were a couple of other things I wanted to share with you. The first is about today's column -- a fact I didn't have time to explore much: There's only one defensive holdover from the 2003 team. One!!

That would be Julius Peppers of course. But 10 of 11 defensive starters have changed! This, I believe, is endemic of the way the NFL goes: QBs can last a long time. WRs can last a long time (Marvin Harrison, Muhsin Muhammad, etc). Offensive linemen can hold on for 10-15 years. RBs hardly ever can. But I think, as a whole, defensive players just don't last as long as offensive players. Five of the 11 offensive starters from the '03 Super Bowl team are still around (Smith, Muhammad, Delhomme, Hoover and Gross).

Also, for the last couple of months I've been doing double duty online, starting this "Scott Says" blog as well as continuing the "Fowler Q and A" on sports that I've done for several years for

Honestly, I'm enjoying the blog more. Plus, it's getting about 10 times the hits of the Q and A at the moment. So I've shut the Q and A down, as of today, after 4,745 questions answered. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

This is the point I wanted to make, though: I read every comment on this blog. So if you really want to ask me a question publicly, you can still do so here and I'll try to answer it. Or, if you want a more private forum, just e-mail me at Thanks to all of you who have read this blog and/or participated in my Q and A forum over the years -- I appreciate you all very much.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tampa's QB and the NASCAR controversy

** Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden says that he will announce his starting QB Wednesday for the Carolina game -- it'll either be Brian Griese, who hurt his shoulder in the loss to Denver yesterday, or Jeff Garcia. I think the Panthers would be better off with Griese starting, actually -- a little banged up and quite immobile. Garcia (above) is more of a moving target.

** If that had been Dale Earnhardt Jr. instead of Regan Smith passing Tony Stewart "illegally" on the final lap at Talladega, I'd bet you a Wachovia takeover offer that Earnhardt Jr.'s victory would have stood.

** John Fox's news conference Monday was boooooring -- if you need help sleeping tonight, read the transcript here. The Panthers won by the most lopsided margin in their 14-year history Sunday, but if you had been listening to Fox, you might have guessed they just had a preseason scrimmage that ended in a scoreless tie.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

5 things I liked about the Panthers' win

The Panthers haven’t been this dominant on a Sunday in years – they totally dismantled Kansas City, 34-0, to go to 4-1. It was a win so devastating that now I even remember which backup QB McCown brother the Panthers employ, since Josh played most of the fourth quarter.

Normally, I make my first postgame Panther blog a list of things I liked and things I didn’t about the Panthers’ performance. Given the enormity of this whipping, however, we’ll drop the dislikes just this once.

As for the 5 things I liked the most:

** THE PANTHERS' DEFENSE. Linebacker Jon Beason said only last week that he was ready for some “goose eggs” from this squad, and darned if Carolina didn’t post its first one of the season today. The Panthers were so dominant in the first half that Kansas City had only one first down. Carolina looked like a varsity high school squad facing a bunch of eighth-graders and just creamed Larry Johnson (7 carries, 2 yards).

** DeANGELO WILLIAMS. The Panther tailback had zero TDs on the season entering the afternoon. Now he has three following that spectacular first half, along with his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. I'm sure it was only coincidence he did so after I wrote in Sunday's Charlotte Observer he needed to have a breakout game soon to keep his starting job.

** THE PANTHERS' OFFENSIVE LINE. Despite missing both starting offensive tackles in Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah, it blocked admirably for both the run and the pass.

** AN ACTUAL HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE. Carolina went 2-6 in 2007 at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers are now 3-0 in 2008, and you could see the fans had some pep in their step as they walked into the stadium Sunday.

** JAKE DELHOMME. He’s had one poor throw in the past two weeks – an interception in the end zone Sunday. But he makes so many good decisions – he threw for 236 yards and two TDs Sunday -- that the Panthers have a chance to go a long way with him this season. He will be the subject of my column in Monday's Observer.


31-0 Carolina at the end of 3 quarters

Now is the time to pile up your stats if you're the Carolina Panthers. Other than perhaps the Detroit game later this year, there will never be as good of an opportunity.

The Panthers slowed down a bit in the third quarter, scoring only 10 points, on a crossing route to Muhsin Muhammad that was covered so poorly that Moose took it all the way. Jake Delhomme just had this goofy grin on his face after that one, like, "Can you believe that they let Muhammad do that to them?"

Charles Chandler, incidentally, had an excellent story about how Muhammad has changed over the past couple of years in today's paper. Here's the link. It struck me while reading it that I did a story this past week on Mike Minter coaching a high school team in Concord, and here Minter is, actually a year younger than Moose.

Turnover-prone 3rd; Panthers lead 24-0

There were 3 turnovers in the first 2 minutes, 41 seconds of the third quarter. First, Carolina DE Julius Peppers knocked the ball out of Damon Huard's hand and Carolina recovered 13 seconds into the period.

It looked like the Panthers would at least get 3 points on that drive. But on third-and-goal from the KC five, Jake Delhomme made his worst throw of the game (actually, of the past 2 weeks). Trying to force the ball in to Steve Smith, he instead was intercepted by Jarrad Page.

That gave KC the ball back, and Huard immediately threw an interception to Carolina LB Jon Beason, who made an acrobatic grab. The Panthers couldn't get a first down, so John Kasay knocked in a 32-yard FG, and it's Carolina 24, KC 0.

My friend Joe Posnanski, the columnist for the Kansas City Star, said he's been trying to convince folks all season that the Chiefs are the worst team in football. He didn't get much help last week for that, when KC beat Denver 33-19, but he's got a lot to work with this week.

3 TDs in one half for DeAngelo

DeAngelo Williams just blasted for his third TD of the first half -- a 32-yard burst up the middle on a third-and-long. It's 21-0, Carolina, at halftime -- the Panthers have played just about as well as they can in the first 30 minutes. Williams has 13 carries for 97 yards in the first half, as well as one catch for 25 on which he also scored.

It's so lopsided I'm starting to feel sorry for Kansas City. The Chiefs had 1 first down compared to Carolina's 15, and 28 total yards compared to Carolina's 291.

If there were a mercy rule in the NFL, this one would already have been called.

DeAngelo scores 2nd TD: Panthers up by 14

DeAngelo Williams is having quite a half so far for Carolina -- he just scored his second TD on a 25-yard swing pass from Jake Delhomme on a third-and-8. It's Carolina, 14-0, after that one.

Here's what I wrote about Williams for Sunday's Observer. I said I was fine with him still starting over rookie Jonathan Stewart, but I thought he needed a breakout game before long to keep justifying that No.1 role.

Well, we may be in the middle of the breakout, although it's early. Stewart has lost a fumble today while Williams has scored twice.

Stewart fumbles; KC holds

The Chiefs defense doesn't do very much well -- it ranks 30th against the run, for instance. But one thing it does do superbly is cause fumbles -- it's like the Chiefs and Panther safety Chris Harris all attended the same seminar.

So KC, the league leader in forced fumbles, just struck. On a Carolina second-and-10 from the Kansas City 15, rookie running back Jonathan Stewart fumbled for the first time in his NFL career when KC's Glenn Dorsey poked the ball out on a carry up the middle.

KC recovered and saved at least 3 points doing so. It's still Carolina 7, KC 0 because of the turnover, early in the second quarter.

Panthers dominant in first quarter

The first quarter for the Panthers couldn't have started much better. Their defense has totally dominated Kansas City in the Chiefs' first two series, putting Kansas City in third-and-25 and third-and-16 situations and getting the fans fired up (KC, of course, made neither of those, and running back Larry Johnson has 2 carries for only 2 yards so far).

They gave out towels today at Bank of America Stadium, and so the fans have been swinging them around. B of A will sell a whole lot of drinks today -- you betcha it's darn hot out here, as Sarah Palin might say.

The Panthers scored on their second possession, mostly by running the ball just like they want to. DeAngelo Williams took it in on a 10-yard burst to make it Carolina 7, Kansas City 0.

And that's where it stands after the first quarter, but the Panthers are threatening again. They've got a first-and-10 on the K.C. 15 as the period ends.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pregame Panthers-Chiefs thoughts

NOTE to readers: I'll be blogging live during and after the Carolina-Kansas City game at 1 p.m. Sunday in Charlotte, so check back on this blog to see that... Here are my thoughts going into this game between Carolina (3-1) and Kansas City (1-3)....

** The best thing that could have happened to Carolina was for Kansas City to play so superbly a week ago in its 33-19 victory over Denver. Without that, Panther coach John Fox would have had a hard time convincing the Panthers they weren’t going to beat the Chiefs by at least 14. With it, he and his staff had ammunition.

** I believe a Carolina running back will surpass 100 yards today for the first time this season – even with franchise offensive tackle Jordan Gross missing the game. I don’t know if it will be DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, but one of them will. The Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in defending the run, and they are about to get a steady diet of it today. And when the Chiefs commit more defenders to stop it, I expect Carolina to try at least 2-3 deep balls today to Steve Smith and to connect on one.

** Kansas City isn’t the worst team in the NFL (hello, St. Louis!), but the Chiefs would make my Bottom 5. There are no gimme putts in the NFL, but this is about as close as it comes – a two-footer, straight uphill. If the Panthers miss this one, they’ll be regretting it the rest of the season.

** Watch for Carolina to keep a safety in the tackle box for most of the game, meaning at least eight Carolina defenders will line up near the snap. The Panthers know Larry Johnson could beat them, but they would like to dare Kansas City quarterback Damon Huard to do so.

** The Panthers won’t do everything right in this one – it won’t be the rout that some people expect – but they will do enough. My pick: Carolina 30, Kansas City 17.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Mike Minter, flip flops and Jonathan Stewart

It was cool seeing former Panther Mike Minter as a head coach at Concord's First Assembly high school Thursday -- here's where you can find my column about his first season there. In the picture to your right, he's watching practice in his T-shirt, dress slacks, designer sunglasses and dress shoes, having come straight from a speaking engagement to the field.

But I couldn't fit all I wanted to in that story, including some facts about a cool service project that kids at First Assembly and Charlotte's Hickory Grove are doing. They have been collecting flip flops that will be shipped to Haiti soon, where some people don't have shoes at all -- thousands of pairs of them. That project grew out of a mission trip to Haiti that First Christian star running back Andrew Burton took last summer.

Burton goes to Kings Way Baptist church with Minter in Concord. Also attending that church is star QB Dayne Pickett of Hickory Grove, who took a mission trip to Guatemala this past summer. He and Burton are friends and decided to get their schools to team up on various service projects to benefit Haiti and Guatemala -- the flip-flop project is the first.

Minter told me that he thought he had about 10 players on his team that could play college football at some level in the future. He's got about 35 guys on it total, although only 20 or so were there Thursday because the JV team (where Minter's son, an 8th-grader, is a RB) had a game. Minter said he likes his offense to run out of the spread formation almost exclusively, yet they usually run the ball out of it.

Minter also said that he knew Panther RB Jonathan Stewart could play from the first time he laid eyes on him. Why? "Because he doesn't hesitate when it's time to hit a hole," Minter said. "That's how you tell with a rookie running back. In college, you can hesitate. In the NFL, you better get it, or else they'll get you."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Al Davis -- worst boss in sports?

Have you ever had a boss like Al Davis? I hope for your sake, you haven't. I had a teacher sort of like him once, in seventh grade back in Spartanburg, S.C., but at least he didn't hold televised press conferences about our class's shortcomings.

Now I'm not saying that Lane Kiffin is God's gift to coaching. Perhaps even the most even-tempered, smart, understanding owner would have fired Kiffin from his job as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

But Al Davis is none of those things. The guy who runs the Oakland Raiders has got to be a serious candidate for worst boss in sports. I mean, even when he hires the right guy -- like a Jon Gruden or a Mike Shanahan -- he manages to run them off. And did you watch any of Davis's rambling press conference Tuesday about why he fired Kiffin? Did you see where he read a letter that he had written Kiffin about their feud? Here's a link to the letter.

The Raiders have been a joke for most of the past decade, with that one Super Bowl appearance a notable exception. Who in their right mind would coach that team now?

Thousands of guys would, of course. It pays well, there are only 32 jobs like that in the country and they would be convinced they could turn it around. So now Tom Cable, the Raiders' former offensive line coach until this sudden promotion, gets his chance.

I feel sorry for Cable. And I hope he has negotiated a really good severance package.