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 NFL.com 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.
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