Friday, October 30, 2009

My Panthers-Cardinals prediction

OK, here's a pop quiz. After which 2009 Panther game did Jake Delhomme say, “I should get the blame. It’s inexcusable. It’s disappointing.”

You’ve got a lot of choices there, don’t you? The correct answer is after the Arizona playoff game – the 33-13 loss that started all the mess around here. Delhomme had six turnovers in that one and never has completely recovered.

Now he will play Arizona again, in Phoenix this time. The bad news for Delhomme is that the Cardinal defense may actually be better right now than the one from last year’s Super Bowl team.

-- You may know that Delhomme and Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner were teammates on the 1998 Amsterdam Admirals. Warner beat Delhomme out for the starting job and started almost all season. (They were each paid about $1,600 per game back then – a total of $16,000 for the 10-game season). What you may not know is that the field where the Admirals played had a moat surrounding it to keep unruly fans off the field.

-- It will be really interesting to see how the Panthers cover – or don’t cover – Larry Fitzgerald. Because Warner’s release is so quick, the Panthers’ defensive line won’t have many chances to get to him unless the secondary plays really well.
Putting Chris Gamble on Fitzgerald most of the time is the best way to go, but he better get a lot of safety help, too. Fitzgerald is particularly dangerous near the goal line because of his size – he’s scored five times already this season and absolutely killed the Panthers in the playoff rout.

-- I’ve called for Delhomme’s benching for much of the past month, but coach John Fox hasn’t listened (no surprise there). Fox has wedded himself to Delhomme, and it would be a fine storybook finish for Delhomme today if he could exorcise some Arizona demons.

Could it happen? Yes, but only if the Panthers’ running game and defense dominates. Delhomme has a chance to be effective then.

Still, the Cardinals are hot -- did you see that impressive win over the New York Giants last week? -- and they have too many weapons.

My prediction: Arizona 27, Carolina 17.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

92-59?! Bobcats get rolled

Some thoughts after the Bobcats lost their season opener by 33 and before their home opener against the New York Knicks Friday night:

-- When I first saw the Charlotte Bobcats’ final score roll across a TV screen Wednesday night, I thought I had misread it and that it must say “92-89.”
Well, that’s a respectable season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics on the road, I thought. But 92-59?!

When your season-opening point total can’t eclipse what the New England Patriots put up in an NFL game a couple of weeks ago, you’ve got a team that’s already in trouble. When Bobcats coach Larry Brown said his team looked “scared to death before the game,” that doesn’t speak well for anybody’s preseason preparation.

-- I’m looking forward to seeing new Bobcats center Tyson Chandler play tonight. He made basically no impact against the Celtics, but the Bobcats badly neeed him to be good for them to do anything this season.

-- It’s a very close call as to which of Charlotte’s major pro teams opened the season in worse fashion – the Bobcats’ 33-point loss to Boston Wednesday or the 38-10 thrashing the Panthers took against Philadelphia on Sept.13. I’d vote for the Panthers, though, since that loss came at home.

-- Get ready to see some three-point firing – and misfiring -- tonight. Under coach Mike D’Antoni the Knicks love the uptempo game and the trey, in good times and bad (which is one reason why Stephen Curry so badly wanted to play for New York).
The Knicks jacked up 39 threes in their 22-point season-opening loss to Miami, making only 10. The Bobcats went 0-for-10 from beyond the stripe against Boston.

-- The Bobcats did get a break from the NBA schedule tonight. The Knicks are as mediocre as the Bobcats are and quite possibly worse. New York basically seems to be killing time (and clearing cap space) to make a big splash like signing LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in the star-studded free-agent class of 2010.

So, in the meantime, Charlotte has a pretty good chance of winning its home opener.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The wrong QB decision

So the Panthers are going to start Jake Delhomme Sunday at Arizona, ending two days of speculation after coach John Fox's public indecision on Monday as to who would start vs. the Cardinals.

I think it's the wrong thing to do, as I've written several times before. I'd start Matt Moore in this one. Here's my reasoning in brief: Delhomme just isn't the same QB as he has been for most of what has been a very good career at Carolina. Something broke last January when he threw 5 interceptions against Arizona, and it hasn't been fixed yet.

So when you've got a quarterback who has lost his confidence and you keep putting him out there, what do you get? You get an NFL-high 13 interceptions, a 2-4 record and an uncomfortable locker room.

Now because I personally like Jake very much, I'd be happy for him if Sunday turns into a storybook: if he throws a handful of touchdown passes, cuts the mistakes out and leads Carolina to an upset win. And maybe this will happen -- the NFL fools millions of people every Sunday, which is one reason why all those casinos glisten in Las Vegas.

But I don't think it will work out that way. If you keep doing the same thing, as coach John Fox is doing, and then expect a different result... well, let's just say there are a lot of jobs on the line here, and putting your future in the hands of No.17 these days is pretty shaky.

Fox is a ferociously loyal man, and so it's very hard for him to pull the trigger on this QB switch. But sooner or later this season, I continue to believe it has to happen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jake, Fox and the new QB mystery

I just came from John Fox's Monday afternoon press conference, in which he said he "hadn't decided" who will start at QB Sunday for Carolina at Arizona.

This signified a major shift for Fox, who on most Mondays after Panther losses simply declares his confidence in Delhomme, gives some variation on the "Jake is my guy" theme and moves along to the next question.

Not this time. Fox said he might decide Wednesday, or Friday and even left open the option that he may not even announce a starter this week at all -- that whomever trots out on the field Sunday for the first series will be the starter.

But in reading the tea leaves, it sounds to me like a change is coming and that Fox, for competitive reasons, simply doesn't want to say what it is yet.

Matt Moore would be the likeliest candidate, since A.J. Feeley has barely been a Panther at all, but it's hard to tell which way Fox is going as yet. (It will become more apparent Wednesday, when whichever QB is getting the most snaps with the first-string offense will unofficially have the inside track).

Fox is obviously having trouble pulling the trigger on benching Jake. The coach is famously loyal, and Jake has been the QB for almost every big win here in Fox's tenure. But Fox has to do something. The Panthers are 2-4 and Fox, in one of his most honest statements Monday, said the team was "lucky to be 2-4" given that their current turnover ratio is minus-14. And of course Fox's own job is in question here, too.

Delhomme has thrown an NFL-high 13 interceptions in six games this year. He has looked lost for much of the season and, after throwing three of those picks in Sunday's 20-9 loss to Buffalo, he sounded somewhat lost, too.

As I've written before -- both in Monday's newspaper and back on Sept.29 after Delhomme had such a bad game against Dallas -- the Panthers need to bench Delhomme. He's the same great guy off the field, but he's a different, not-nearly-as-great-in-fact-verging-toward-awful QB on the field this season.

I'd go with Moore, and let Jake be the No.2 QB and come in if Moore struggles. I know Delhomme would want to exorcise some demons against Arizona -- which started the Jake freefall by making him turn it over six times in January.

But Fox owes it to his team (especially a defense that deserved better Sunday) to give some other QB a chance.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

5 things I didn't like in loss to Buffalo

Well, we could make this list a lot longer. But in the interests of time, here are the 5 things I didn't like the most in Carolina's 20-9 loss to Buffalo.

1) Kenny Moore's fumble. No, it wasn't all his fault. Not at all. But that punt-return fumble cinched the game for Buffalo just when Carolina had some momentum.

2) Jake Delhomme's 3 interceptions. That makes 13 picks for the season for No.17 if you're counting (compared to 4 TD passes, and still zero TD passes to wide receivers). You've got to think the Panthers will again consider a QB change at this point -- but John Fox is so wedded to Delhomme at this point it will be hard for him to pull the trigger.

"Like all positions we will evaluate it and whatever changes we need to make we'll make," Fox said of the changing-quarterback possibility postgame. Hmmm. That's not nearly as strongly as Fox generally defends Delhomme.

As I wrote following the Dallas loss on Sept.29, I've thought for awhile it's time for Delhomme to sit down -- not permanently, but at least temporarily.

3) 425-167. That's the total yardage in this one -- Carolina had the 425. And still lost by 11. That is just ridiculous, really.

4) Rushing game. Against the NFL's No.32-ranked run defense, the Panthers ran the ball just OK. Yes, they had to throw more because they were behind, but where were the 40-yard bursts in this game? The Panthers ran 25 times for 116 yards with a long run of a modest 17.

5) Defensive turnovers. The Panthers' D generally played well enough to win this one, but it lacked the one big defensive play that could have turned the tide. Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick looked very vulnerable -- a second-stringer on a below-.500 team -- but Carolina let him escape.

Buffalo wins 20-9; Panthers fall to 2-4

Jake Delhomme's third interception provided a fitting conclusion to the Panthers' 20-9 home loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Down 17-9, the Panthers actually had a chance. The defense had just forced a punt by Buffalo, and Carolina was going to get the ball back with plenty of time to score.

However, Kenny Moore (of Butler High and Wake Forest) fumbled the punt return away. Buffalo recovered and kicked another field goal to make it 20-9.

Carolina then got the ball back with less than 2 minutes left and 11 points down. Delhomme's third interception came on a desperation heave as he tried to hit tight end Gary Barnidge deep down the middle.

Carolina is now 2-4 on the season.

Panthers cut Bills' lead to 17-9

Carolina has finally scored its first TD of the game. On fourth-and-1 from the 15, DeAngelo Williams burst through a 9-man front and scored standing up. John Kasay's extra point made it 17-9, Buffalo, with 6:28 to go.

The TD was set up when Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith on a 48-yard pass on fourth-and-4 from Carolina's own 28. The drive covered 9 plays and 78 yards. Carolina would have to do something like that again, then get a two-point conversion to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Buffalo up 17-2 in 4th

The Bills have struck again, this time on a 30-yard field goal from Rian Lindell. They now have a 15-point lead on Carolina with 9:50 to go in a game that has been painful to watch so far for Panther fans.

For a change, Buffalo didn't get those points thanks to a Jake Delhomme interception. This time the Bills got it on their own, on a 55-yard deep ball to Lee Evans (he beat Carolina's Chris Gamble on the play).

Buffalo's drive stalled from there, but now the Panthers would need to score two TDs and a two-point conversion to tie the game up. In 10 minutes.

Buffalo takes 14-2 lead after Jake's 2nd int.

Buffalo just took a 14-2 lead in this game on a two-yard pass from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to WR Lee Evans. It's a good thing this isn't a baseball game, although the score still sounds one, or it might already have been called because of the mercy rule. The score came with 13:52 left in the fourth quarter.

Buffalo still doesn't have 100 yards of total offense, yet leads by 12. Carolina has more than 300 yards of total offense. It's been an odd afternoon.

The Buffalo score was set up when Jake Delhomme got intercepted -- again. All 14 of Buffalo's points today have come off turnovers. The Bills have been thoroughly unable to move the ball on their own.

Buffalo's Jairus Byrd picked off Delhomme for the second time today deep in the third quarter around midfield. The pass, intended for Steve Smith, was overthrown. With a leap, Smith tipped it, but right to Byrd, who ran it back 30 yards to the Carolina 27.

Earlier in the third quarter, Carolina had failed to score yet again on a long drive. The Panthers got into the red zone shortly after a 52-yard pass from Jake Delhomme to tight end Gary Barnidge, who had sneaked behind the defense deep down the right sideline. It was the longest offensive play (by 20 yards) that Carolina had had all season.

But later on the drive, on fourth-and-1, John Fox went for it after kicker John Kasay had already missed twice (from 39 and 43 yards -- it's been a really bad afternoon for Kasay so far).

And that didn't work either (although I liked the decision to go for it). Jonathan Stewart was stopped for a two-yard loss.

Also, Carolina tight end Dante Rosario has a knee injury and will not return.

7-2 at halftime; Kasay misses again

The Panthers have the edge in just about every statistic but the score in this one. It's halftime, and Buffalo still leads, 7-2.

On the closing play of the first half, John Kasay missed wide left on a 39-yard field goal. He had already missed a 43-yard field goal earlier in the half -- an uncharacteristically bad half for the original Panther.

In terms of statistics, Carolina is just creaming the Bills. Buffalo's only scoring drive was only 7 yards, thanks to Jake Delhomme's lone interception (Delhomme is 16-26 for 154 yards in the first half). DeAngelo Williams has rushed for 65 yards in the first half and Steve "The Asset" Smith has four catches for 43 yards.

Buffalo, meanwhile, has just two first downs. The Panthers' D has totally dominated the Bills except for allowing the TD from 7 yards out. Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is 3-for-9 for 30 yards.

But the only number that really matters is the scoreboard, and Carolina is still down by 5 there.

Carolina gets safety; Buffalo leads 7-2

The Panthers just got their second safety of the season (after not having one since 2006 prior to that) and have cut Buffalo's lead to 7-2.

The safety was set up at first by Jason Baker's excellent punt, which pushed Buffalo to its own 4. After a false-start penalty on the Bills, the ball was placed at the 2. Then Carolina called a quick timeout to avoid getting its own flag for 12 men on the field.

Following the timeout, nose tackle Hollis Thomas and several others piled onto Buffalo tailback Fred Jackson, who didn't come close to making it out of the end zone. So the Panthers' defense is trying to inspire its anemic offense, which hasn't scored in its first 5 possessions (see previous blog post below).

One other note: Muhsin Muhammad left the game briefly with what was described as a knee injury, but he's now back in the game.

4 punts, 1 int for Panthers in first 5 drives

Carolina's first 5 drives have not been anything to write home about: 4 punts and an interception so far. It remains Buffalo 7, Carolina 0 midway through the second quarter.

The Panthers' best chance at scoring so far came midway through the second quarter, but was not helped along by its head coach.

John Fox -- who has been going for it on fourth down more often this year -- reverted to his conservative ways early in the second quarter. On fourth-and-inches from the Buffalo 25, Fox sent out kicker John Kasay. And Kasay, usually automatic from the 43-yard distance, made this timid decision look even worse by hooking the ball wide right.

A look at a couple of key Panther players so far:

-- Steve Smith, who said he no longer was an "asset" to the Panthers after catching 1 ball for 4 yards, has caught a couple of passes, but the longest only for 10 yards (that drew a huge cheer from the fans). On this blog I predicted Smith would touch the ball within Carolina's first 5 plays in this game -- he caught a 5-yard pass on Carolina's second offensive play.

-- Jonathan Stewart left with a hand injury, which required rookie Mike Goodson to carry the ball for a couple of plays. But Stewart is now back.

-- Julius Peppers has been playing well early: he's made a couple of nice plays in the running game. He also has been unusually demonstrative, going down the sideline to slap about 10 teammates' hands in a row and also seeking out a nearby Terrell Owens after one play to slap hands with him.

Buffalo takes 7-0 lead

Jake Delhomme's 11th interception of the season has led to an early lead for the Buffalo Bills.

The first two possessions for each team ended in punts, but the game sparked to life (in a bad way for the Panthers) when Delhomme faded back and tried to hit tight end Gary Barnidge about 25 yards downfield.

Many of Delhomme's interceptions this season have come on throws up the middle, and this was another. The ball was badly overthrown and intercepted by Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, who returned it all the way to the Carolina 7.

Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch waltzed in on the second play from there -- he started slowing down about the 5 when he realized how easy it was going to be -- and Buffalo had taken a quick 7-0 lead.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Buffalo-Carolina prediction

A few thoughts on Sunday's game:

** If you think these two teams have problems – well, this is nothing. Let me take you back to the Buffalo-Carolina game of 2001, which produced one of my favorite all-time quotes.

In 2001, these two teams met in a thoroughly forgettable game in Buffalo. Carolina was 1-11. Buffalo was 1-10.
The Panthers sped out to a 24-6 lead late in the second period behind quarterback Chris Weinke and a rookie wide receiver/kick returner named Steve Smith.

But Buffalo scored the game’s last 19 points to win 25-24 and help ensure that horrendous 1-15 record for the Panthers. Panther head coach George Seifert would be fired once the season concluded.

But Seifert was still coach at the time and he said right after blowing that 18-point lead: “The problem here is that we haven’t solved the problem. And it’s been an ongoing problem.” It sounded for a minute like Yogi Berra was coaching the Panthers and, in fact, he couldn't have done any worse.

** You think anyone will be watching No.89 for Carolina and No.81 for Buffalo Sunday?

Smith and Terrell Owens are both off to terrible starts (together, they have combined for 1 TD, which is T.O.’s). But I think both are going to see the ball more today. It’s Smith who has made the most noise this month. Owens has been very low-profile, for him, anyway, in Buffalo thus far. Smith wants to be considered an “asset” again. I bet the Panthers make sure he gets a catch within their first five offensive plays today.

** Although Smith certainly wants more touches, the Panthers would be nuts to veer far off the 48-run, 17-pass formula that got them a win last Sunday in Tampa Bay. Buffalo’s rush defense is worst in the league. The only way DeAngelo Williams doesn’t go for 100 yards today is if he gets hurt.

** My prediction: Carolina 29, Buffalo 20.

(The stats: So far this season, I am 4-1 picking Panthers' games this season, missing on the Dallas game. Before the season began, I picked Carolina to go 7-9. )

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Smith doesn't back off? Good

I was glad to see Steve Smith didn't back off Wednesday from his comment on Sunday after the Panthers' win. Smith said he was no longer an "asset" after that one -- and while it sounded something like a prima donna, he also had a valid point. (Read my column on that incident here).

Sometimes, a truth-teller in an NFL locker room is pulled back down into the fold, by fines or peer pressure or what have you (Case in point: Jon Beason on Julius Peppers -- although I still think Beason's since-apologized-for comments helped light the recent fire under No.90).

Smith made a point that needed to be made, and it will force the Panthers' offense to be better. Jake Delhomme already said Smith practiced "at a different level" Wednesday -- I think ultimately what Smith said will turn out to be something of a positive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stephen Curry column coming

Just wanted to let yall know that I spoke to Stephen Curry today via phone -- he's in Oakland, preparing for the start of the NBA season next week. And you'll be glad to know he's still got a "704" area code on his cel phone -- a little touch of home.

A column based on that interview is here. Much of it concerns Curry's idea to send out 2,000 "Thank You" postcards to the Davidson community -- quite a gesture for a 21-year-old NBA rookie, I thought.

Curry sounded good. He said he'd only been really homesick once, when Davidson had its "Midnight Madness" last Friday night and he wasn't there.

Curry hasn't been starting but has been playing 27 minutes a game in the preseason for Golden State, which oddly enough sports another product from a Charlotte private school -- Anthony Morrow, who could give Curry a run for his money in H-O-R-S-E. Someone with the Warriors told me Morrow was doing a three-point shooting drill not too long ago and he shot 112 threes with no one guarding him and an assistant coach rebounding for him.

Know how many Morrow made? 97.

But I digress. This column is about the 21-year-old Curry, his transition to the NBA game and the fairly remarkable way he decided to say "Thank You" to the Davidson community recently. Again, here's the link.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Smith, Wesley and Peppers

A few thoughts on the 2-3 Panthers, who suddenly have a chance to get to .500 at home vs. Buffalo Sunday (kickoff is 4:05 p.m., remember):

1. As I wrote in my column today, Steve Smith does have a valid point when he says he's no longer an asset to this team. He is, but he has been a poorly-used weapon so far this season. And even though Buffalo has the NFL's No.32-ranked run defense -- dead last -- I still expect things to change some Sunday. Carolina may run 48 times and throw only 17 again as they did vs. Tampa, but you can bet 7-8 of those throws are headed toward No.89.
Does Smith have to be coddled a little on this one? Yes. You make a mistake if you treat all your players exactly the same in the NFL. You have to keep Smith involved because if he were to check out, teams would simply stack 9 players in the box and Carolina would get nowhere. Yes, he's a prima donna at times, but he's worth the effort.

2. I thought the NFL's one-game suspension of Dante Wesley was completely justified for his heinous hit on a vulnerable Tampa Bay punt returner. (Here's the video from if you missed it). Wesley said he's not a dirty player in Charles Chandler's story today, and that's true, but he sure looked like one on this play. The NFL had to do this, and Wesley is fortunate it wasn't worse. As is, he'll lose a paycheck totaling $36,470.

3. Coach John Fox sounded very relieved Monday when he said Julius Peppers has been absolutely "tremendous" the past two games. I'm sure it's just coincidence, but Peppers has been a house afire ever since I wrote this rather scathing play-by-play analysis of his first 3 games this season. That was also the week Jon Beason kind of called Peppers out on a radio show, which undoubtedly had more impact.
In any event, Peppers has had 4 sacks over the past two games and also seems far more engaged in the game. Beason, though, seemed most impressed that Peppers chased down Tampa Bay wide receiver Sammie Stroughter in the open field Sunday for a fine tackle, and I'd have to agree. When Peppers is playing like this, the Panthers' defense actually can look dangerous instead of dawdling.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Yes, Smith is an asset

Steve Smith is angry.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor an unusual thing. Smith told The Observer after the Panthers' 28-21 win over Tampa Sunday, in which he had one catch for four yards: “I am no longer an asset to this team.”

OK, let's dispense with the obvious first. Of course Smith is an asset. Two defenders hover near him on almost every pass play. This makes it a 10-on-9 game for everyone else. Unfortunately, the Panthers' passing attack was so bad against Tampa Bay (65 yards, two interceptions, 1 TD) that they couldn't win even with an extra man.

So Smith is getting tired of it. He's tired of being a decoy. He's tired of watching Delhomme throw underneath to the tight ends for 5 yards. When he is targeted, he's tired of getting thrown to late, or overthrown, or underthrown, or all the other things that have happened when Jake Delhomme tries to get him the ball. (Delhomme tried 5 times to get it to No.89 Sunday. The results: 1 interception, 1 completion for 4 yards, 3 incompletions).

And so Smith dropped that little "no longer an asset" bomb postgame Sunday in a brief interview.

It will undoubtedly be a wake-up call for the Panthers' coaching staff Monday. They will work to soothe Smith's ruffled feathers Monday, for while Smith can be a fiery, high-maintenance prima donna at times, he also can be a great team guy as well as the Panthers' best player when he used correctly.

And they're not using him correctly -- I'd agree with Smith to a point in that he's not nearly the asset he should be right now.

Why not put him in motion more? Put him in the slot? Throw him a few more slants? Let him run the ball on a reverse or in the Wildcat formation every now and then?

Other great receivers are routinely double-teamed, too. And they still come up with far better numbers than Smith (21 catches, 259 yards and ZERO TDs through five games in 2009). At this 52-yard per game rate, Smith isn't going to reach 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in five seasons.

Part of the problem is that Muhsin Muhammad and Dwayne Jarrett can't seem to get any separation with one-on-one coverage right now, so other teams are rarely burned by double-teaming Smith.

The biggest problem I see right now, though, is that Jake Delhomme isn't the same quarterback as he's been most of his career here. He's too scattered, too on-and-off, too mistake-prone. Delhomme is trying to convince himself that's not the case, but at the moment that's true.

Fortunately for Carolina, they still won with no passing game Sunday. The Panthers simply ran the ball down Tampa Bay's throat on the final drive -- 15 runs and 1 pass for an 80-yard, 8-minute game-winning march -- but that only works against teams who aren't very strong.

Smith better become a big-time asset again soon. The Panthers don't have anyone else like him. He's not a disposable asset. He's one of the team's core strengths, and they must remember how to get him the football again.

5 things I liked in Panthers' win (and 3 I didn't)

It's time for the traditional postgame countdown on "Scott Says." I am writing this from the Tampa Bay pressbox after visiting the Panthers' locker room. So without further ado....


1) Double Trouble. Finally looked worthy of the nickname. 100-yard games for both RBs -- DeAngelo Williams (152 and two TDs) and Jonathan Stewart (110 and 1 TD).

2) The offensive line. Simply outwilled Tampa Bay on the final TD drive (8 minutes, 15 runs, 1 pass, 80 yards). "That's what we were supposed to be all along," tackle Jordan Gross said.

3) Overall defense. The Panthers' D only allowed 1 TD, sacked the Bucs 4 times (2 by Julius Peppers, 2 by Charles Johnson) and caused 5 fumbles (all by Bucs QB Josh Johnson, who looked very good in the first quarter and average at best after that). Thomas Davis continued his spectacular season by making an acrobatic interception to set up a Panther TD.

4) The weather. The Panthers picked a nice day to visit Florida. It was a sunny 64 degrees at kickoff and, while a bit breezy, a far sight warmer than it was in Charlotte.

5) John Fox's calls. The Panthers coach went for a key 4th-and-1 and made it, won a big coach's challenge to keep Tampa Bay short of a first down and kept the ball almost entirely out of his quarterback's hands on that decisive last drive, just like he should have.


1) Jake Delhomme. Carolina won this game in spite of their QB, not because of him. Delhomme threw 2 interceptions and only managed 65 yards through the air. On the positive side, he did perform 15 handoffs without an error on that final drive.

2) Dante Wesley. His terrible personal foul against a defenseless Bucs punt returner got him thrown out of the game and earned a 15-yard penalty and at least a fine from the NFL (if not a suspension). The Bucs returner, Clifton Smith, got a concussion and missed the rest of the game. Wesley said after the game he didn't mean to hurt Smith but he mis-timed his hit.

3) That 97-yard Tampa kickoff return. The Panthers allowed a big TD return late in the third quarter just after taking a 21-7 lead, in part due to shoddy tackling (yes, Richard Marshall, I'm talking about you). That made Carolina (2-3) work a lot harder to win this one. But give them credit, the Panthers did ultimately win it, and have a chance to even their record at 3-3 next Sunday, Oct.25th, at home against Buffalo.

Panthers win 28-21 thanks to Double Trouble

The Panthers survived a late comeback by Tampa Bay and won their second straight game, 28-21, Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, behind 100-yard plus rushing games from both DeAngelo Williams (152) and Jonathan Stewart (110).

Carolina is now 2-3 on the season and has another winnable game at home against Buffalo next Sunday. Tampa Bay is 0-6.

With the score tied 21-all following a Jake Delhomme interception that was returned for a TD, the Panthers put the game in the hands of their running backs and offensive line. On the final drive, Carolina repeatedly ran the ball with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and Tampa Bay seemed almost powerless to stop them.

UPDATED: Much like the Panthers' Monday night win over Tampa Bay last December, this game was ultimately decided by the Panthers' ability to bash their way through the Bucs. In fact, those games now rank No.1 and No.2 in terms of Panthers' all-time rushing yardage: 299 against Tampa last December and 267 against Tampa on Sunday.

The Panthers' 80-yard game-winning drive, which started with 8:33 left in the fourth quarter, ultimately ended with a 1-yard DeAngelo Williams TD plunge with 0:29 left. The 8-minute drive consisted of 16 plays -- 15 runs and one 4-yard flanker screen from Delhomme to Steve Smith (which was Smith's only catch of the game).

Tampa Bay then got the ball back with 29 seconds left on its own 20 but only got to its own 28 before time ran out.

21-all as Jake throws a pick-six

The Carolina Panthers, once ahead 21-7 late in the third quarter, just got tied 21-all with 8:33 left in the fourth quarter without Tampa Bay scoring an offensive TD.

How did it happen? Tampa first ran a kickoff back 97 yards for a TD. Then, Jake Delhomme made one of his worst throws from the season (and there have been a lot to choose from), getting picked off by Tanard Jackson, who ran it back 26 yards for a game-tying score.

It was Delhomme's 10th interception of the season (he's had two today). The Panthers have run the ball for close to 200 yards today but their passing game has been mostly awful so far.

Delhomme remains in the game, trying to get the Panthers back in front again.

21-14 Carolina late in third

The Panthers' "Double Trouble" running attack has finally deserved the nickname this week. Jonathan Stewart scored on a 26-yard cutback run and Carolina took a 21-7 lead with 2:33 remaining in the third quarter.

However, Tampa Bay's Sammie Stroughter ran the ensuing kickoff back for a 97-yard TD, quickly slicing the Panthers lead to 21-14.

DeAngelo Williams has more than 100 yards rushing already in this game and Stewart has been good in relief as well (although he did lose a fumble at the Tampa Bay 3). Carolina has been controlling the ball in the second half, but the special-teams error (allowing the kickoff return TD) means the Bucs are still in striking distance.

Panthers up 14-7 after Davis int.

Thomas Davis started the third quarter off nicely for Carolina, leaping high to intercept a pass and returning it 24 yards to Tampa Bay's 12. Bucs QB Josh Johnson really locked onto his receiver on the pass, but Davis also made a great catch (the kind that the Panther DBs have generally dropped this season).

Carolina then scored the hard way -- running the ball 4 straight times, including a fourth-and-1 play to DeAngelo Williams that gained 2 yards. Then Jake Delhomme threw on the fifth play off play-action to TE Jeff King for a 1-yard TD. (King made a nice play to grab a ball that was slightly behind him).

Delhomme now has four TD passes on the season -- all to tight ends. Carolina leads, 14-7, early in the third quarter.

Also, Clifton Smith -- the player Dante Wesley blatantly hit too early on a punt return just before halftime -- has a concussion and won't return for the second half.

7-7 at halftime (and a big scrum)

The Panthers and Bucs showed why they are a combined 1-8 in the first half. And they have set the stage for what promises to be an angry second half following a terrible personal foul on Carolina's Dante Wesley that incited the entire Tampa Bay bench and crowd.

Both teams have now missed field goals -- the Bucs had a 43-yarder go short, and John Kasay had a 52-yarder blocked. And they've both fumbled the ball in bad situations.

As for the fumbles: First, Tampa Bay lost one on a pitchout at its own 23, and Carolina's Hollis Thomas recovered.

However, the Panthers' Jonathan Stewart then returned that gift, fumbling after a 14-yard run to Tampa Bay's 3. That negated a possible Carolina TD and instead kept the score at 7-7.

So that's where it remained at halftime -- tied at 7-all. Tampa Bay had another mild drive short-circuited by a penalty and a Julius Peppers sack. Carolina then got the ball on its own 20 with 56 seconds left and all three timeouts but couldn't get but one first down (Jake Delhomme wasn't helped by two Dante Rosario drops on that drive).

Carolina then ran its patented third-and-10 draw play and fell well short, which was about to bring a forgettable half to a thankful close. But first, there was a big scrum that began when Carolina's Dante Wesley absolutely creamed a helpless Clifton Smith while Smith was waiting for a punt.

What got into Wesley is hard to imagine -- he's never been considered a dirty player. It will be interesting to hear his explanation.

Wesley got a 15-yard personal foul penalty and was correctly thrown out of the game. The crowd yelled "Throw him out! Throw him out!" before the official action was announced. Smith stayed on the ground for some time, flat on his back, but then walked off under his own power.

7-7 as DeAngelo scores

The Panthers have gotten their running game untracked early in the second quarter, and just tied the game against Tampa Bay with a 20-yard TD run by DeAngelo Williams.

Williams, who has had a slow start to the season, turned the left corner beautifully on the TD run and scored standing up, much like Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams had (same yardage, same end zone) earlier in the game.

The Panthers' drive was 67 yards in seven plays, mostly by run. Jonathan Stewart had a key third-and-1 run and a 14-yard burst to help it out.

Before Carolina's TD drive, Tampa Bay missed a 43-yard field goal on its second drive, thus losing a chance for a 10-0 lead.

Bucs up 7-0 after 4 minutes

Carolina just got off to the same sort of awful start it did last week against the Redskins.

The Panthers trailed quickly in that one, 7-0, and now have had the same thing happen again. Carolina went 3-and-out in its first series -- two runs by DeAngelo Williams went nowhere and then Jake Delhomme couldn't find Steve Smith deep (despite 1-on-1 coverage) on third-and-long. Delhomme overthrew the ball.

Tampa Bay immediately took the ball 59 yards in five plays. Chris Gamble missed a key tackle that would have gotten Carolina off the field on third down -- instead, the Bucs gained 29 on the pass. And then Cadillac Williams scored standing up from 20 yards out when Panthers DE Tyler Brayton got caught inside.

Williams easily circled outside of Brayton and then everyone else was gone -- he coasted into the end zone. With 10:57 still left in the first quarter, it's Tampa Bay 7, Carolina 0.

Bring on the Bucs

It's a gorgeous day in Tampa -- 63 degrees with a nice breeze as kickoff approaches here.

As for the teams playing, well.... that's why the stadium (although officially sold out) is about a quarter-full with kickoff just 15 minutes away.

Carolina (1-3) vs. Tampa Bay (0-5) isn't going to inspire any sonnets. But the Panthers really need to win this one, no matter how they do it, to avoid losing more ground. Here's my pregame column today that appeared in the Sunday Charlotte Observer. I'll be blogging during the game as well once we get started.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Panthers-Bucs prediction

Here are a few thoughts on Sunday's game between 1-3 Carolina and 0-5 Tampa Bay during a Panther news week so slow that the "big" news is that Jon Beason never really did invite Julius Peppers to dinner to talk about his performance after all and that Beason is sorry that he kinda sorta called Peppers out last week on radio station WFNZ (in a pretty gentle and quite honest way, I thought -- nothing much to be sorry about there).

What a tempest in a teapot that whole thing is. In any case:

** If the Panthers can’t gain 100 yards rushing against Tampa Bay Sunday – and they’ve only done that once in four tries this season – then their run game is really in trouble. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a good run defense (28th in the NFL) and by all rights Carolina should be able to beat them up a little.
But Carolina badly needs a breakout game from DeAngelo Williams to loosen everything else up. Neutralizing Tampa Bay’s fine middle linebacker Barrett Ruud will also be a key.

** I bet the NFL is kicking itself for sending Tampa Bay over to London to face the New England Patriots Oct.25th. The Pats in England? Sure. They’re a glamour team. Bucs? They’re horrible, they’re filled with players who are household names only in their own households – they are not exactly your ideal representatives for American football.

** I’m not saying Panther wide receivers coach Richard Williamson is old, but he once was an assistant for Bear Bryant at Alabama. He was also Tampa Bay’s head coach for the entire 1991 season, back when the Carolina Panthers didn’t exist. Incidentally, who do you think is older – Williamson or Bobcats head coach Larry Brown? Brown wins by an eyelash – 69 to 68.

** Expect at least one no-name Panther to make a huge play Sunday against Tampa Bay and possibly more. This is the sort of game where that happens – Tampa Bay is bad enough to present a lot of opportunities in that regard.

** The Panthers have fallen a long way since their 12-4 regular season in 2008, that’s for sure. But they haven’t fallen this far.

My prediction: Carolina 26, Tampa Bay 16.

(The stats: I'm 3-1 picking the Panthers so far this season, having missed the Dallas game and gotten the other 3 right. My preseason prediction for Carolina was 7-9).

Editor's note: Scott will be blogging live here on Sunday for the Carolina-Tampa Bay game. You can also follow him on Twitter: @scott_fowler.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No Pearson? C'mon!

Only two men ever won more than 100 races in NASCAR's top series. Richard Petty is one. David Pearson is the other.

And one of them isn't going into the inaugural Hall of Fame class in Charlotte.

I admit being a bit prejudiced on the side of Pearson, as I spent half my childhood in Spartanburg and that's where Pearson is from. But Pearson is also one of the most gifted racers of any generation, and his record speaks for itself. The Silver Fox won 105 races -- second only to Petty's 200 -- and was one of the smoothest drivers of all time.

However, 40 percent of this first class that was announced Wednesday has been taken up by members of the France family, who basically created NASCAR and have run it for decades. Not only Bill France Sr. is in Class No.1 -- and I'd agree with that one, since he founded the sport -- but also Bill France Jr.

Now Bill France Jr. made some great contributions to the sport, steering it expertly through a period of explosive growth, and there's no doubt he should be in the Hall of Fame.

At some point. Like in Class No.2, in 2011.

But I think the first class should have contained four drivers, not three (Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Sr. all made it, and rightfully so). The drivers, after all, are who the fans come to see. They are the stars. Pearson, one of the greatest stars ever, deserved to be among them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

4 interesting Panther stats

1) Thomas Davis has exactly the same number of points scored as Steve Smith (two apiece). Read more about Davis and his excellent quarter-season in my column coming Tuesday in The Observer and online at

2) The Panthers boast big-play threats Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams, but they are one of only five NFL teams NOT to have a play of 40 or more yards from scrimmage yet this season.

3) The Panthers are dead last in the NFL at the moment with a turnover differential of minus-9.

4) The Panthers have already gone for it on fourth down six times this season (making three). They went for it on fourth down only eight times all of last season (fewer times than any other NFL team). Of course, some of that was the product of being ahead late in games and not needing to go for it to catch up, but still, it's obvious John Fox is being more aggressive this season. Here's my column on Fox's feistiness following the win over Washington Sunday.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

5 things I liked about Panthers' win over Redskins

Here are the five things I liked the most about the Panthers’ 20-17 win over Washington Sunday:

1. Carolina outscored Washington 11-0 in the fourth quarter.
In an imperfect game which had TD drives of 1, 12, 13 and 40 yards, the Panthers finally did something big when it counted.

2. Carolina blitzed a lot more (some credit is due to D-coordinator Ron Meeks here).
Linebacker Thomas Davis estimated he blitzed 10-15 times in this one. Davis is having a monstrous season – probably the best on the team so far – and in this one he was credited with a safety (on a run-blitz and helped along by Julius Peppers) and affected the play numerous times.

3. The naked bootleg. OK, it’s third-and-8. You need a first down to keep Washington from getting the ball back with two minutes to go. And you run Jake Delhomme on a naked bootleg to the right?
It was startling. And – thanks to Delhomme getting a couple of extra yards on his own against Washington CB DeAngelo Hall – it worked to clinch the game. Delhomme’s celebration was also priceless.

4. Quinton Teal’s shove. Who knew that you could shove the opposing blocker into his own punt returner without penalty? Teal did just that, causing the game’s biggest play and giving Carolina possession at the Washington 12.

5. John Fox’s defiance. The coach was pretty unvarnished in his postgame interview – especially for Fox. Although there was a report Sunday that Fox had told some of his friends he expected to be fired at the end of the season, Fox denied it, laughing it off by saying he would tell his friends he expected a new five-year contract.

I also liked Fox going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in this game, even though it didn’t work. The coach has been more aggressive this year on fourth downs, and the Panthers need aggressiveness to get this season turned around. After this Sunday’s result, odds are that the first coach fired out of this game will be Washington’s Jim Zorn, whose squad lost a 17-2 lead to an 0-3 team.

Jake's naked bootleg clinches 20-17 win

The Panthers just won their first game of the season, 20-17 -- with a naked bootleg from Jake Delhomme clinching the win at the end of the game.

The Panthers forced Washington to punt at midfield and needed a couple of first downs to ensure that Washington didn't get the ball back.

They got them -- first on a tough run by DeAngelo Williams and then, on third-and-8 from their own 25, on Delhomme's bootleg.

Delhomme faked to the left and then had to beat Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall one-on-one to the right to make the first down. Hall had hold of him, but Delhomme fought through the tackle to barely pick up the first down.

He then jumped up, his left shoulder pad hanging out, and started celebrating wildly. For the first time in 2009, Carolina had won a game.

Panthers go up 20-17 in 4th

Carolina took its first lead of the game, 20-17, on an 8-yard TD run from Jonathan Stewart followed by a two-point conversion pass from Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith.

Stewart's TD followed a huge break for Carolina: the Redskins muffed a very high Jason Baker punt and Carolina recovered at the Washington 12. The play was reviewed and it turned out that Washington CB Byron Westbrook had it hit off his foot -- he was pushed backward by Carolina S Quinton Teal.

Carolina took advantage immediately, running Stewart twice from the 12 for the TD. The crowd went nuts. The two-point play was nice, too -- Smith started wide and cut in on a slant pattern.

Panthers down 17-12 early in 4th

Carolina has cut Washington's lead to five points early in the fourth quarter on a 43-yard John Kasay field goal.

The Panthers' drive came after the defense had stopped Washington on a fourth-down play from the Carolina 37; Thomas Davis, who is having another huge game, had deflected Jason Campbell's fourth-down pass to end that threat.

Carolina then moved to the Washington 21 on a succession of sharp passes from Jake Delhomme. Delhomme tried to hit Steve Smith in the end zone once and had the ball knocked away; a sack ended the drive, and Kasay came out to cut the margin to 5.

Panthers down 17-9 midway thru third

Washington and Carolina have traded TDs early in the third quarter, leaving the Redskins up, 17-9, over Carolina.

The first TD came after a Delhomme throw was picked off by Washington's DeAngelo Hall and run back 44 yards to the Carolina 1. The pass was behind Muhsin Muhammad, but Moose did get both hands on it before deflecting it to Hall.

Washington quickly scored on a 1-yard dive by Clinton Portis to go ahead 17-2.

Carolina finally showed some life after that. Kenny Moore ran the ensuing kickoff back to Washington's 40, and Carolina took only 4 plays to score. The TD came on a 17-yard Delhomme pass to TE Jeff King, who celebrated with a spike through his legs.

That made it 17-9, Washington, with 8:31 left in the third quarter.

Panthers down 10-2 at halftime

No, that's not a score from a lopsided playoff game: Carolina trails Washington by a 10-2 score at halftime before some disgruntled fans at Bank of America Stadium.

Washington got a field goal to increase its 7-2 lead to 10-2 with about 90 seconds to go, leaving the Panthers what should have been plenty of time to run a 2-minute drill EXCEPT:

1) They had already used up all their timeouts.

2) They insisted on throwing very short to the middle of the field.

Because of that, the drive quickly ran out of time at the Washington 45. Instead of trying a 62-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, the Panthers instead tried to get lucky on an end zone tipped ball. But Jake Delhomme's throw was too wide and ended up slightly out of bounds; Muhsin Muhammad actually grabbed it, but there was no doubt Moose was out of bounds.

So, 10-2 at halftime, and it's been a l-o-o-o-ng time since Carolina has scored a touchdown (in the second quarter of the Dallas game on Sept.28, to be exact).

Carolina gets safety, trails 7-2

The Panthers got a consolation prize after having a TD taken away (see the post below this one).

Washington, taking over on its own 1, then allowed a safety. On first down, the Redskins had QB Jason Campbell sneak forward for a couple of yards.

But then running back Clinton Portis was tackled in the end zone by Julius Peppers and Thomas Davis, who each beat their men so badly on the play that Portis had no shot at getting out of the end zone. Peppers showed a rare burst of emotion after the play, which cut the Redskins' lead to 7-2.

Carolina robbed at goal line??

We've got controversy at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers were just awarded a TD on the scoreboard, only to have it taken away by an officials' ruling.

On fourth-and-goal from the 1 -- after three previous running plays from the 2 netted only 1 yard -- the Panthers tried a quick hitter with fullback Brad Hoover.

It was close. At first, there was no signal. Then, as officials scurried in, they put up the TD signal and fans rejoiced. It looked like Carolina was about to tie the game at 7-7.

But then, before the Panthers could kick the extra point to cap what had apparently been an impressive 58-yard drive (keyed mostly by Jake Delhomme's passing), the officials stopped the game and had a conference.

And the TD was waved off.

Referee Walt Coleman explained it over the microphone to the fans -- Hoover had actually fumbled the ball on the play and it had been recovered by TE Jeff King. You can't recover a "forward fumble" in the end zone, however, and so instead Washington took over inside its own 1.

Carolina challenged the ruling, but to no avail.

Redskins up 7-0 after 66 seconds

Can we all just get along? There are a lot of Redskin-Panther combos in the stands today, sitting right beside each other.

One thing I'm reminded of every time the Redskins come to town -- Washington had dibs on this territory long before Carolina did. The Redskins were on every Sunday in the Carolinas back when I was growing up, and they forced you to have an opinion about them.

In my case, I couldn't stand them. In a lot of my friends' cases, it means they were huge Redskin fans. A lot of those allegiances remain today.

Those Redskin fans have a lot to cheer about early. On Carolina's first offensive play, Albert Haynesworth first blew it up by getting into Carolina's backfield. Then, DeAngelo Williams fumbled (that's 2 fumbles for DeAngelo this season after he didn't have a single one in 2008). Then, Haynesworth recovered it.

And then, Washington took only two plays to score on a short pass from Jason Campbell to Clinton Portis. It's 7-0, Washington, with only 66 seconds gone in the game.


How I wrote the Peppers "Is he worth it?" story

Here's a link to the Julius Peppers story that I worked on all this week and part of last week as well. And here's how I did it.

To try and quantify the impact Peppers has had since he became the first Panther player to get paid a million dollars per game in base salary, I watched every defensive snap in the Panthers’ first three games after recording the games at home off TV.

On each play, I noted whether Peppers was in the game (he played on 82 percent of the defensive snaps). I also noted whether the play was a run or pass, where Peppers lined up, whether he was double-teamed, whether he dropped into coverage, whether he disrupted the offense in any sense and what the play’s overall result was. I watched almost every play twice to make sure of what I saw. (I did not count kneel-downs at the end of games in my play totals).

Any time Peppers was touched by more than one player – such as a running back “chipping” him with a shoulder on the way out of the backfield to a short pass route – I counted that as a double-team. I also counted it as a double-team when two players were obviously available to block him, even if he only made contact with one.

(Note: I've already had a couple of questions from readers about this story, so here are a couple of answers to those reader questions below).

Q: How did the Panthers' other defensive ends compare to Peppers when you watched them all on tape?
A: Even worse. For all his faults, Peppers is still clearly Carolina's best pass rusher. Damione Lewis and Charles Johnson at least get around the QB some. Tyler Brayton and rookie Everette Brown? They've basically been swallowed up on every pass play this season (no QB pressures between them, although Brown has had far fewer snaps).

Q: What, do you think you're an assistant coach or something?
A: No, not at all. I recognize that even after covering NFL football for something like 20 years, my eye is untrained compared to someone who coaches football for a living. But this story, I believe, at least helps to quantify some of the mysteries that surround Peppers and all defensive ends like them because there are so few defensive stats available for positions such as theirs.

Q: Do you think Peppers is taking plays off out there?
A: As I wrote in the column -- again, the link is here -- I think he takes the "second half" of a significant number of plays off. In other words, if Peppers' initial burst is contained within the first two seconds of a play, you don't see him doing much if anything after that. There's no sense of "Wow, he really kept fighting and look at that, he lucked into a coverage sack" or him chasing down a ball-carrier held up in traffic 30 yards downfield. If he doesn't get there immediately -- and the 4-time Pro Bowler has rarely gotten there immediately this season -- then he doesn't get there at all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Coming Sunday: Peppers play-by-play

Do you remember when Julius Peppers said this? It was back in August, and The Observer's own Charles Chandler asked Peppers in an exclusive interview about his reputation for taking plays off -- not trying his hardest, basically -- during games.

Peppers said this:

"I don't know who put it out there. But it seems like everybody jumped on the bandwagon and formed an opinion for themselves based on what (someone) else said. But if they look at the tape, they'll see whether I play hard or not, and I do."

So, after the Panthers' 0-3 start, we came up with an idea at The Observer: I would look at the tape. I mean, really look at it. Chart it. Study it. Not just watch Peppers for an occasional defensive series and try to glean what is happening to No.90 from that. I did that for all 3 games the Panthers have played this season.

You'll find the results in Sunday's Charlotte Observer and on online. I think some of the numbers will surprise you.

And if you're curious about where my prediction for Sunday's Washington-Carolina game is, read the blog entry just below this one.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Washington-Carolina prediction

A few notes about the Panthers' 1 p.m. home game against Washington Sunday, followed by my prediction (I am 2-1 predicting Panther games so far this season but missed on the Dallas game two weeks ago):

-- This is a game where the Panthers need to run something like 40 times for 180 yards. That’s their game plan for success. Quarterback Jake Delhomme is so much more effective if teams actually believe the play-action fake occasionally.

-- One big problem for Carolina: Washington’s 350-pound defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. He may be the league’s best run-stuffer. The last time he played Carolina, in 2007, he also had three sacks (while playing for Tennessee and running after the hapless David Carr).

When asked about Haynesworth this week, Panther running back DeAngelo Williams said: “That’s the million dollar man over there – the $100 million man. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to short him $99 million.” Indeed, Haynesworth signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Redskins this offseason.

-- When asked what sort of impact Haynesworth can make, Williams said: “Huge. I mean, in all aspects – his body size and his wallet and his game on the field. He is a three-dimensional player.” I just love that quote.

-- Another big question Sunday: Which No.89 is more electrifying? The Redskins’ Santana Moss has had better statistics than Carolina’s Steve Smith so far in 2009, scoring twice on TDs of more than 55 yards. They are similarly (under)sized players with similar skill sets, so you'll see both of them streaking deep a number of times Sunday afternoon.

-- After a week off, the Panthers are about as healthy as they have been over the past month and they are playing a team with just about as many problems as they have. I think Carolina pulls out its first win of the season. My prediction: Carolina 23, Washington 17.

An untrue Panther rumor

It's time to try and stamp out a persistent Carolina Panther rumor once and for all. I don't know why, but I keep getting calls and e-mails from people wondering if Jake Delhomme is married to a) someone in Jerry Richardson's family or b) someone in John Fox's family and that is why he keeps his starting job.

No and no. I don't know how this one ever got started, but it certainly has a life of its own. I got another call at the office from a fan just today about it as well as a couple of e-mails.

Delhomme is married to a Louisiana girl that he knew growing up. Her name is Keri. She's a very nice lady. Her family name is Melancon. She has nothing to do with any of the power structure in place at Carolina.

Now I understand why people keep trying to figure out why Jake Delhomme hasn't been benched yet. And I get why they keep asking me to some extent -- I called for Delhomme's benching, after all, in this recent column.

But there's no nepotism going on here. John Fox simply thinks Delhomme gives his team the best chance to win. It's a football decision, nothing more.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Curing the Panthers

I wrote my column today about 4 quick fixes for the Panthers. Now don't misunderstand -- this isn't a long-term solution. And it pre-supposes that Carolina won't be firing coach John Fox or benching QB Jake Delhomme anytime soon (although I advocated Delhomme being benched, at least temporarily, following the Dallas game).

These aren't about overhauling the car with a new engine; this is about making enough repairs to at least get it back on the road at all. The short version of the column: More DeAngelo, more 8-man fronts on defense, getting Jason Baker to punt the ball out of bounds on every play -- stuff like that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

4 Panther stats I can't believe

Here are four Panther numbers I just can’t believe following Sunday’s NFL games and headed into 0-3 Carolina’s home game on Sunday against 2-2 Washington:

1 -- That's the rank of Steve Smith in receiving yards per game (at 102.8 yards, he’s the only NFL receiver averaging more than 100 per game). But it’s not Carolina’s Steve Smith – it’s the one that plays for the New York Giants! The Panthers’ No.89 is only No.27 on this list, at 63.3 yards per game so far this season.

7 -- Jake Delhomme still leads the NFL with this many interceptions despite playing one fewer game than most of the league’s starting QBs due to this past week’s bye. (Former Panther QB Kerry Collins, now at Tennessee, is tied for second with six).

11 to 10 -- From the Panthers’ official defensive stats, that’s how many tackles that defensive tackle Louis Leonard has so far this season compared to defensive end Julius Peppers. Not much of a difference, but consider this. Leonard is out for the season with an injury and missed the Dallas game. Peppers has played in all three contests.

17 -- That’s the longest rush DeAngelo Williams has had in his 41 carries this season (not enough touches, but that’s another story). Williams’ explosiveness has been muted so far this season, in part due to a generally awful start by the Panthers' offensive line.

Remember, Williams had an astonishing six rushing TDs of 30 or more yards last season. It is worth noting that Williams had a slow September last season, too, before breaking out in the final three months. His performance against Washington Sunday will be a huge key for Carolina. Washington is ranked only 21st in the NFL in rushing defense, so the Panthers will try to hammer them with Williams and Jonathan Stewart (who have so far not lived up to the "Double Trouble" nickname yet in 2009).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Blame it on Rio? Chicago gets whipped

Chicago just got stomped.

The Windy City's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics was today soundly voted down by the International Olympic Committee. Chicago finished fourth out of the four finalists -- Rio de Janeiro finished first, which will give South America the right to host that continent's first-ever Olympics.

What's most interesting about this vote was how even Madrid (No.2) and Tokyo (No.3) finished better than Chicago among the four finalists. Although Chicago wasn't widely considered the favorite -- you'll read a few stories that say that, but in reality Chicago and Brazil were co-favorites -- it was expected to make at least the final three among veteran Olympic observers.

Was it because the Chicago bid was bad? No. I once got a preview of the Chicago bid while in the Windy City interviewing some Olympic athletes (I have covered four Olympics in person for The Observer). The Chicago bid was extremely solid. Much of downtown Chicago would have been transformed. The transportation, the venues, the logistics -- it was all well-organized and imaginative.

And for the IOC vote in Copenhagen this week, America brought out the heaviest hitters with Chicago connections that it could have possibly mustered -- Barack and Michelle Obama. Oprah Winfrey was heavily involved in the Chicago bid, too.

But of course the other bids were very good as well -- it was a heckuva Final Four -- and Rio's carnival atmosphere is something Chicago really can't duplicate.

There's another force at work here, too, though. Many in the U.S. Olympic movement have long privately grumbled that the IOC has an anti-American sentiment and that it usually favors European countries. (New York, which bid for the 2012 Olympics, was beaten a few years ago for the right to host those Olympics by London).

But it's also true that the last two times America held the Olympics -- the Summer Games in 1996 in Atlanta and the Winter in 2002 in Salt Lake City -- the former site was bombed and the latter was marred by a bid controversy.

In any case, I feel sorry for the U.S. Olympic leaders who put so much time into this bid (as well as the U.S. individual sport organizations, such as the U.S. canoe/kayak group based in Charlotte, which will not be able to gain the monetary benefits from a home-country Olympics).

I know a tiny bit how they feel. Once in eighth grade, I entered a public-speaking contest. I think I was the only one in my school who bothered to enter, so I advanced to the regionals. There were a total of 4 contestants, and it was held at the local library.

I worked on my speech hard, gave it my best... and finished dead last. Fourth out of four.

Thirty years later, I still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when those results were announced. On a far bigger stage, those involved in Chicago's unsuccessful bid won't ever forget this loss, either.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Friday night lights in small-town S.C.

I wrote a long column today about Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C., which is ranked No.2 nationally by USA Today entering Friday night's game (on ESPNU) against national No.1 St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale.

Byrnes is one of those "Friday Night Lights" programs, where a high school brings together just about everyone in the community each weekend in the fall. There are many others in the Carolinas, of course -- Shelby, A.L. Brown in Kannapolis, Concord, Summerville (S.C.) and Richmond County in Rockingham just to name a few. (I've left out several from that list -- if you know of one you'd throw in, put it in the comments).

I have gotten several questions from folks interested in Byrnes' college prospects and what I thought about them. At least a half-dozen and maybe closer to a dozen Byrnes players will get Division I-A scholarship offers before all is said and done.

Marcus Lattimore, Byrnes' star running back, is the one who gets the most publicity. He's thought to be one of the top 2-3 running backs in the USA. Lattimore is really good -- big, fast and doesn't shy from contact. However, his breakaway speed isn't dazzling.

In the game I saw, he touched the ball over 20 times and never went more than 25 yards on any single play. Of course, the other team was totally geared to stop him, but Lattimore wasn't as dazzling as the best high school running back I've ever seen -- Nick Maddox of Kannapolis. Still, Lattimore may well have the better college career (Maddox was a part-time starter at Florida State), for he's a good bit bigger.

Lattimore has narrowed his college choices to UNC, USC, Oregon, Auburn and Penn State. He doesn't plan to decide anytime soon.

The two players who totally impressed me, though, were Byrnes' bookend defensive ends -- Brandon Willis and Corey Miller. Both have committed to Tennessee. However, both previously committed to Florida State, so I wouldn't be totally certain that they're both headed for Knoxville.

Both seemed basically unblockable at the college level. They were men among boys, even more so than Lattimore. If you watch Byrnes play St. Thomas Aquinas Friday night at 8 p.m. -- the game will be telecast on ESPNU -- see what you think.