Monday, November 30, 2009

Surely, Moore starts now

It may have taken a broken finger to seal the deal, but surely Matt Moore will start for Carolina now on Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Jake Delhomme suffered a broken finger on his throwing hand late in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets, coach John Fox said Monday. Jake's hand apparently got tangled up in someone else's hand, Fox said.

Which finger? Fox wasn't saying, only that it wasn't the thumb.

Why? "Because we don't have to," said Fox, who seems to greatly enjoy giving out the least amount of information about all injuries that he possibly can while still following the NFL's rules (it's Belichick South, in other words, but without the Super Bowl victories).

Anyway, NFL QBs have thrown the ball before in real games with a broken finger. But it not only makes the ball harder to grip, it also makes it tougher to take snaps. It makes fumbles more likely. It makes accuracy more difficult.

In other words, if the Panthers still start Delhomme and his 59.4 passer rating -- now with a broken finger -- over Moore, that will be a scathing indictment of Moore. It's obvious Fox doesn't trust Moore's decision-making, or he would have been in the lineup long ago during this 8-TD, 18-interception nightmare season for Jake.

But I would imagine Fox's hand has been forced here and that Moore starts Sunday.

In the meantime, the jokes have already begun. Quipped one of my buddies when he heard Delhomme had a broken finger: "Which teammate broke it?"

Tiger, you've got to talk

For three straight days now, Tiger Woods has snubbed law-enforcement officials attempting to speak with him about the single-car accident he had in his own driveway in the wee hours of Friday morning. (Here's the latest story about that).

Tiger certainly isn't paying me to tell him what to do, or I'd be doing so from a beach in St. Somewhere. However, here's a bit of unsolicited advice anyway:

Tiger, you have got to talk to the police. Hiding out in your mansion, offering some lame excuse or another (you're asleep, or getting your agent to call, or, more ominously, having your attorney say you're "not available") does you no good.

Official, carefully-parsed statements on your own Web site do you some good, but not enough. You have to actually answer questions. Account for your actions. If it was a careless mistake, big deal.

It's not like you have committed a serious crime here. The only person you actually hurt with this strange wreck was yourself. And yet, by hiding out, Tiger, you're acting a bit like a criminal would. Obviously, there's something embarrassing about this crash that the public doesn't know -- but can it really be that bad? I don't think so. I bet the rumors are worse than the truth.

This is the downside of celebrity, Tiger. I know you value your privacy above all else (to the point of even naming your yacht "Privacy"). But you enjoy all the perks of celebrity's upside -- the endorsements, the millions of dollars, the never having to wait in line anywhere you go.

So explain yourself. First, to the police. Then, to the public.

Trust me, it will all go away much sooner if you do.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

5 things I didn't like in loss to Jets

Here are the five things I didn’t like about the Panthers’ 17-6 loss to the New York Jets Sunday(and the two that I did):

1. Jake Delhomme. Four interceptions?! A 12.7 quarterback rating?! Is Matt Moore really so bad that John Fox is willing to sink or swim with Jake when you could tell by the second quarter that Bad Jake has crashed this party and he ain’t going away?

2. The wide receivers. Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad were targeted 13 times Sunday in Carolina’s 17-6 loss to the New York Jets. You know how many passes they caught? Three.
Now a lot of that is on Delhomme, for sure. But there were many times when he was having to try to throw the ball into a window the size of a shoebox, because those wideouts simply weren’t getting any separation. And I don’t mean just Moose (this is a common problem for him). I mean Smith, too.

3. The bad break. Nine times out of 10 the first-quarter pass Delhomme threw at Smith – who never turned around for the ball – would have fallen harmlessly incomplete. That the ball hit Smith’s foot, kicked up and was returned for a Jets touchdown speaks to the fact that all the good breaks Carolina got in 2008 have returned to haunt them in 2009.

4. The Panther coaching staff. Look, if Delhomme is going to play, you can’t hide him. You can’t run on third-and-long every time when the game is still tight and just hope for the best. Either let him play or sit him down and get someone in there who’s going to throw it around. The Jets defense was able to play run-first all day, single-cover the wideouts and limit DeAngelo Williams to 40 yards rushing. Rex Ryan and his Jets staff thoroughly outcoached John Fox and his guys.

5. The offensive line. Yes, the Jets blitz. That’s no secret. You should occasionally be able to capitalize on that for something big. Instead, the line looked to be overwhelmed for most of the day.


1. Carolina’s defense. The D played a decent game overall, I thought. It gave up only 10 points, caused three fumbles and gave the offense a number of chances (all of which were basically botched).

2. Touch football. I didn’t travel to this game and skipped large portions of the live TV broadcast in favor of playing a marathon touch football game outside with five of my relatives. I later watched a sped-up version of the Panthers-Jets game on DVR. That was the best decision I made all weekend.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Outplayed, LeBron graceful in defeat

This you don't see very often: LeBron James was clearly outplayed Friday night in Charlotte's 94-87 home upset win over Cleveland.

This you do: LeBron, one of the more gracious pro athletes working today, praised the Bobcats Friday (here's my column about the game) and offered a guarded assessment of their playoff chances.

LeBron and Charlotte's Gerald Wallace were matched head-to-head for much of the game. Wallace was sensational; LeBron was merely very good. Wallace went for 31 points and 14 rebounds and even hit three three-pointers (matching the total number of threes he had in Charlotte's first 14 games). Bobcats coach Larry Brown said it would be hard for anyone to play better than Wallace has the past few games.

LeBron had 25 points, six rebounds and four assists, but he also committed six turnovers and flirted with foul trouble for much of the game. He is obviously struggling to co-exist with Shaquille O'Neal, who slows the Cavaliers' offense down immensely.

"When he was out, things just flowed," LeBron said of Shaq's six-game absence due to shoulder problems prior to this one (Cleveland is 5-1 without Shaq and 6-4 with him). That's honest, all right, and it'll probably hurt Shaq's feelings a little bit, too.

LeBron had interesting postgame comments about 3 aspects of the Bobcats:

1) His matchup with Wallace. "It's fun when you've got a competitor and you want to go against some of the best. Gerald is one of the best '3 guys' (small forwards) we have in the Eastern Conference. It's fun when i take the challenge and he takes the challenge."

2) On Stephen Jackson, the shooting guard who has greatly improved the Bobcats' offense since he arrived via trade. "Stephen Jackson is a matchup problem for any team," LeBron said. "He's big, he's strong, he's unselfish... Whatever team Jackson is on is going to be a better team."

3) On the 6-9 Bobcats' playoff chances: "It’s really easy to get up against the Cavs, the Lakers, the Celtics, those types of teams. If they get up the same way when they play some of the lower-tier teams, they can be a playoff team."

Tiger's car accident

Tiger Woods is one of the few athletes around who can command an enormous audience no matter what he does. So it’s no surprise that news of a one-car accident Woods had early this morning is now dominating CNN and other national news outlets, quickly relegating “Black Friday” shopping to secondary status.

Woods’ injuries in what was a one-car accident were “serious,” according to a report by the Florida Highway Patrol. (That may have been overstating it a little, as Woods is already out of the hospital, according to his spokesman). The accident occurred about 2:25 a.m. in Woods’ own driveway in the Orlando, Fla., area, when Tiger struck a fire hydrant and then hit a tree on his neighbor’s property.

Where was he going? And why, at that hour? Those are the big questions currently left unanswered.

No one else was in the car. He suffered some facial lacerations, apparently, but it's unclear what else.

The accident was not alcohol-related, according to the FHP.

Personally, I’m sure you join me in sending your best thoughts and prayers toward the Woods family and hoping that Tiger’s injuries aren't too bad and don't keep him out for long.

Tiger is on his way to becoming the best golfer in history, if he’s not already. At age 33, he’s in his prime and has a wife and two young children. He’s made comebacks from adversity and injury before. I'm sure he will eventuall make another successful comeback from this one.

Still, a scary and unusual day for all involved.

My Panthers-Jets pick

For sheer entertainment value, I love New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. He said in the offseason that he didn’t come to New York to “kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.” He cried in front of his team after a recent loss, then jokingly introduced Kleenex as his new sponsor a few days later.

Ryan also said last week he felt “disrespected” by the Patriots, who unsuccessfully threw deep with 30 seconds to go with a 31-14 lead. I hope Ryan does something controversial Sunday against Carolina – it’s just a shame he doesn’t coach an NFC South team so we’d get to see him twice a year.

-- My unofficial “over-under” on total interceptions thrown in Sunday’s game: 2.5. Jets’ rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez is second in the NFL with 16. The Panthers’ Jake Delhomme has slowed down his pace some, thankfully, but remains tied for third with 14. (Chicago’s Jay Cutler leads the NFL with 18 picks).

-- The Jets are mediocre at stopping the run, so DeAngelo Williams better get at least 20 carries today. He only had 13 last week, which was a crime given that he averaged 9.4 yards per carry and Carolina lost by a TD. Expect the Jets to run a ton, too – they’ve got one of the NFL’s best rushing offenses (ranked No.2 to Carolina's No.3).

-- The Jets have one of the NFL’s great home fan bases (J-E-T-S), but this game should test those fans. Two 4-6 teams, the Sunday after Thanksgiving when lots of people are traveling – it’s not exactly your ideal circumstance. Still, it will be a greater homefield advantage than the Panthers would have if this game were in Charlotte.

-- The Panthers may as well get used to the visitor’s locker room – they return to the same stadium in a month to play the New York Giants in what seemed like a great game in September but now looks like it won't mean much more than this one.

-- My prediction (albeit reluctantly, given the Panthers' doggish performance vs. Miami): Carolina 23, New York Jets 21.

Notes: I'm only 6-4 picking Panther games this season -- they fooled me with that loss against Miami. Check back on this blog either very late tonight or else sometime Saturday -- I'm going to post some thoughts about the Bobcats and LeBron James after covering tonight's Bobcats-Cavs game in Charlotte).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving yall

Hello, everyone:

I'm going to take a tiny break here from chronicling the local sports scene to just say: Thank you.

You don't know how much I appreciate all of yall who stop by this blog from time to time. If you offer comments, so much the better -- and I don't mind a bit if they disagree with my own opinion (as long as we keep it clean).

Thanksgiving comes at us from lots of different directions, depending on where we are in life. Wherever you are when you see this, and whatever you are either looking forward to doing (or dreading doing) on this holiday, just accept my thanks for checking my blog and reading some of my stuff in The Charlotte Observer.

Now go on with you -- there's got to be some food for you to eat somewhere. "Scott Says" will take Turkey Day off but will be back Friday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to see the blown call

I wrote a column today about a blown call in Monroe's high school playoff game Friday night and its aftermath.

In the story, I urge compassion for all involved -- the players, coaches and fans who got hurt by its impact, and also the well-meaning referee who is an 18-year veteran but made a bad mistake.

Some readers obviously have asked to see the call. And you can do that, although I can't make it quite as straightforward as I'd like. Try this link, which will get you close (on WBTV's Football Friday Night home page). Then look on the right side of the screen and hit "Next" to get to the second package of highlights (the game is not displayed on the first screen).

Then, once you have hit next, click "West Montgomery vs. Monroe." You will see a highlight package that lasts about 90 seconds -- the play in question comes about 60 seconds into it and was filmed by WBTV's Danielle Trotta, who was in perfect position and was the only person who recorded it anywhere near this clearly.

Alternately, if none of that works for you and you still want to see it, e-mail me at and I'll e-mail you the link directly. We're here to serve.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thoughts on the Bobcats

I saw the Bobcats in person for the second time Sunday afternoon. My assignment was to write about NBA rookie Tyler Hansbrough -- you can find that column here.

That didn't leave me much room to comment on the Bobcats (4-9), though, so here are a few quick thoughts about them on a rainy Monday.

-- Stephen Jackson is the most complete player the Bobcats have ever had, and the most graceful, too. He doesn't ever seem to be moving fast, but he gets to where he wants to on the court. It appears Jackson and Gerald Wallace -- who is still the most athletic Bobcat -- are still learning how to play together, though.

-- I think Gerald Henderson should be getting a few more minutes per game.

-- When the ball goes to Flip Murray, you better start heading for the glass and hoping for an offensive rebound. Murray is not exactly shy about jacking it up.

-- Nazr Mohammed led the Bobcats Sunday with 18 points in 18 minutes (here's the game story from our own Rick Bonnell). Mohammed is so much more skilled than DeSagana Diop, who Larry Brown has tried to force-feed minutes in the past as the backup center to little avail. Hopefully Mohammed continues to get more time and Diop less.

Friday, November 20, 2009

5 things I didn't like in loss to Miami

And away we go: Thanks for all your suggestions for the traditional "5 Things" in the comments on the previous blog post. I incorporated some of them into this.

1. Defensive pressure and tackling. The Panthers’ defense gave up three touchdowns to Ricky Williams, who is a good back, yes. But he’s also 32 years old and wasn’t good enough to start in Miami until Ronnie Brown got hurt. Yet Williams was nearly unstoppable and broke off a 46-yard run that was the play of the game with 3:55 left in the fourth quarter. Plus, Carolina never sacked Chad Henne.

2. Offensive playcalling. I know Carolina was behind most of the game, so sure, you’ve got to throw more. But DeAngelo Williams should have rushed for 180-200 yards in this game. Miami could not stop him. And he gets 13 carries?? DeAngelo went for 122 yards – 9.4 a pop – anyway. But it should have been more for the Panthers’ most consistent offensive weapon.

How about this sequence on Carolina’s first offensive series -- first-and-goal at the Miami 7? Incomplete pass. Incomplete pass. Sack. Field goal.

3. Jake Delhomme. Can’t leave the Panthers’ embattled QB out of this list. He threw 42 times, but never had a completion of 30 or more yards. Steve Smith had 87 yards and a TD but could have had a lot more had Delhomme just not sailed a couple of deep balls over head of an open No.89.
And while that final last-gasp drive had a possibility of greatness, throwing the alley-oop from the Miami 26 (especially at Dwayne Jarrett!) is not a very good idea. Throw a bullet like Brett Favre would, straight at Smith, and let him leap high and win or lose it for you.

4. The pass blocking. Wow, does Jordan Gross ever make a difference. Delhomme was sacked four times. Left tackle Travelle Wharton just couldn’t handle Joey Porter, and there were other leaky spots, too.

5. Special-teams coverage. Yes, Miami's Ted Ginn is a force on kickoffs, but a 42.5 return average is simply not acceptable. Jason Baker also hit a horrible punt that got run back 22 yards to set up Miami’s second touchdown.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dolphins win 24-17; Fox says "lot of football left"

The Panthers' last-gasp attempt at a comeback fell short Thursday night and Miami beat Carolina, 24-17, to drop the Panthers to 4-6 this season.

The Panthers' Jake Delhomme got one chance to throw it into the end zone from the Miami 26 as time expired. He was under pressure and his lob was batted down, however, sending the home crowd back home disappointed.

Panther coach John Fox said after the game: "It came down to with their opportunities they scored touchdowns and with our opportunities we scored field goals. That was probably the difference in the game.... The reality is we're 4-6. We've still got a lot of football left.... We're still in no way or stretch out of it."

Miami was ahead for most of the game -- 14-3 at halftime and 24-14 in the fourth quarter after Ricky Williams scored his third TD of the game. Carolina then drove for a long field goal, didn't convert an onside kick but then stopped the Dolphins on four downs to get one last chance.

Carolina would have had to go 72 yards in 39 seconds with no timeouts to tie the game. Delhomme got the Panthers 46 yards before running out of time on the final Hail Mary play.

Note: I'll be posting my "5 things I didn't like" about this game around 12:30 or 1 a.m., but feel free to offer suggestions below for what should make the cut.

24-14 Dolphins as Williams scores third TD

The Panthers' death knell in this game likely just sounded as Ricky Williams burst through a hole up the middle and went 46 yards for a TD -- his third of the game -- to increase Miami's lead to 24-14 late in the fourth quarter.

The Panthers had scored on a 27-yard TD pass from Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith just a couple of minutes before, then made the two-point conversion to cut Miami's lead to 17-14.

But the Panther defense couldn't make the key stop -- in fact, it allowed a 59-yard, four-play drive by a Dolphin team that was really just trying to possess the ball, not necessarily score.

Panthers cut Dolphins' lead to 14-6

Carolina just got its second John Kasay field goal of the game with 14:21 to go, but the Panthers still haven't dented the end zone in this entire game.

Miami leads 14-6, meaning Carolina is within a score and a two-point conversion of tying. That may be a tall order for an offense that has been having problems all game with the notable exception of running back DeAngelo Williams, who once again has more than 100 yards rushing.

The Panthers had a shot at scoring in what turned out to be a scoreless third quarter, but Jake Delhomme ended that threat by underthrowing Steve Smith inside the Panther 10 and getting intercepted. It was Delhomme's 14th interception of the season but his first in four games.

On the drive that netted the Panther field goal, Carolina had a first-and-goal at Miami's 8. But a Jonathan Stewart run, an incompletion (Jeff King was open, but Delhomme had Joey Porter wrapped around him again while throwing) and a sack meant Kasay had to trot out for another FG.

Where's offense? Panthers down 14-3 at half

The Panthers are really struggling to move the ball, and they just drew a scattering of boos as they left the field for halftime, down 14-3.

Carolina took a 3-0 lead on its first possession and has done nothing since, while Miami has gotten both a rushing and receiving TD from Ricky Williams.

The Panthers' passing attack has been short-circuited by an inability to get the ball to Steve Smith -- he and Jake Delhomme just keep misfiring -- and three first-half sacks (Travelle Wharton in particular is having a hard time at LT against Joey Porter).

Get this: Delhomme threw 10 times at Smith in the first half, and only three were completed (for a total of 18 yards). Most of the seven that weren't completed were long passes -- No.17 and No.89 just can't get it together so far. And Miami is daring Carolina to throw, allowing Smith on several of those passes one-on-one coverage.

Meanwhile, Miami played a smart second quarter after doing little early. The Dolphins got one long drive -- an 81-yarder -- and then only had to go 29 yards on their second drive after a very poor Jason Baker punt was returned to Carolina's 29.

Miami takes 7-3 lead in 2nd quarter

Miami running back Ricky Williams just scored on a 14-yard pass from Chad Henne, giving the Dolphins a 7-3 lead with 3:57 left in the second quarter.

The drive was a real kick in the face for the Panthers' defense, which up until then had completely held the Dolphins down. But this drive went nine plays for 81 yards and took up 5:28. Perhaps worst of all, Miami managed to get itself out of a second-and-29 hole at one point with a short pass and a draw play. That just shouldn't happen.

The defenses have really dominated most of the first half. Carolina QB Jake Delhomme has been sacked twice. After a drive for three points on the Panthers' first possession, the team punted the next three times in a row. Several deep throws to Steve Smith have gone awry.

The Dolphins punted the first three times they had the ball, too. But on their fourth drive, Henne threw a strike that went 36 yards to Brian Hartline. Miami also converted a third-and-16 draw play -- yes, Dan Henning called that one -- to get the ball inside the Panther 20.

Then, on third-and-9 from the Carolina 14, Henne hit Ricky Williams coming out of the backfield. Na'il Diggs had the only shot at him, at the 5, and Williams shook off that tackle and jogged into the end zone for Miami's 7-3 lead.

Panthers get FG on first drive, lead 3-0

Carolina started briskly on this rare Thursday night with a 12-play, 51-yard drive that eventually stalled inside the Miami 10. A John Kasay FG from 30 yards out has made it 3-0, Carolina, with 9:31 left in the first quarter.

(9 p.m. UPDATE: The game's next 4 drives ended in punts, so early in the second quarter Kasay's field goal still stands as the only scoring).

The big play on the Panthers' first drive was a 21-yard pass from Jake Delhomme to TE Dante Rosario, and some good running was mixed in as well by both backs. It looked like Delhomme called some of the plays from the no-huddle, but the Panthers also huddled some in a modified hurry-up sort of offense.

Carolina's best chance at the TD was when Delhomme had one-on-one coverage on Steve Smith on second-and-goal from the 7. The Panthers tried to run a flanker screen, and if No.89 had caught it he would have had only Miami CB Vontae Davis to beat. However, Delhomme threw it too low and it skipped to Smith, who then had to content himself with jawing with Davis post-play.

Although Smith had a fender-bender on the way to the game, he looks very fired up. He not only got face-to-face with Davis on this drive, he also got in the face of Miami CB Sean Smith on the other side during the drive. No flags, just some obvious trash-talking both ways going on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

While we're waiting....

As the Panthers' rare Thursday-night kickoff approaches, let me mention briefly that I will appear with former UNC basketball stars Al Wood and Brian Reese on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Scoreboard Shoppe located in Medical Center Pharmacy in Gastonia, NC. The address is 515 Cox Road. You take exit 21 off Interstate 85, and it's right there.

Al, Brian and I will be signing copies of "Tar Heels: Where Have You Gone?" That's a book I wrote about whatever happened to about 3 dozen UNC basketball stars after the cheering stopped. Wood and Reese were among those featured.

Wood was a star for the Tar Heels from 1977-81 and is still remembered for scoring 39 points against a Virginia team featuring Ralph Sampson in the 1981 Final Four. Reese was a starter on the 1993 UNC National Championship Team and is now an assistant basketball coach at Wingate University.

I'll also be signing copies of my other books there as well, including "Tales from the Carolina Panthers Sideline," which was published after the Panthers' Super Bowl season. For more information, contact the pharmacy at 704-867-5343.

Panthers will win again Thursday

Since the Panthers are playing their first-ever regular-season game on Thursday this week, I'm posting my prediction on Wednesday rather than on Friday as I normally do.

OK, here's the deal: I think Carolina is going to win this one by 11.

Why? I think Carolina is catching the Dolphins at a good time, first of all. Miami won't have RB Ronnie Brown in this one, and he's the most effective weapon the Dolphins have got. I'm sure crusty old former Panthers coordinator Dan Henning will have some "Wildcat" tricks up his sleeve in Miami, but I don't think the Panthers will allow Ricky Williams or Chad Henne to have too big of a day.

Also, Carolina's own running game has been very good for most of the past month. Even without Pro Bowl LT Jordan Gross, I think it will be that way again. I think Carolina will control the clock and that Jake Delhomme will make a few good things happen.

Let's face it, neither of these teams is exactly going to contend for a Super Bowl spot. With both of them 4-5, the best you can say about this one is the winner gets to .500. But I think Carolina ultimately has more talent and is rounding into form a little better, having won 4 of its past 6.

My prediction: Carolina 27, Miami 16.

The stats: I am 6-3 predicting Panther games so far this season and am on a mild two-game win streak, including my pick of Carolina's home upset victory over the Falcons Sunday.

Charlotte 49ers: first viewing

Tuesday was the first time I have seen the Charlotte 49ers play in person this season, and I guess I didn't catch them on a very good day. A 42-point defeat at the hands of Duke was the subject of my column in Wednesday's paper, which you can also find here.

Like so many teams before them, Charlotte got flustered early by Duke's pressure. It's easy to say, "Well, just cut backdoor, Duke overplays everyone." But it takes a bunch of athletes to be able to do that effectively -- athletes at the top of their game. Charlotte has a few big-time athletes, but not as many as the Blue Devils, and other than Shamari Spears, no 49er was close to the top of his game Tuesday.

Speaking of Spears, though, he may be a poor man's Charles Barkley for the 49ers this season. He's got a nice touch around the basket and although undersized to play power forward in terms of height, he uses his weight well to work his way around the basket. He's the biggest reason the 49ers, while embarrassed Tuesday, will be an improved team after last season's 11-20 debacle.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

5 things I liked in Panthers' win over Atlanta

Here’s my weekly lists of likes and dislikes following Carolina’s 28-19 win over Atlanta, which pushed the Panthers to 4-5.

1. Jake Delhomme was mistake-free. For the third straight game, the Panthers’ embattled QB didn’t throw an interception. In fact, the Panthers didn’t have a turnover all day.

2. The wide receivers showed up. Muhsin Muhammad finally looked young again after a dismal first half of the season, catching six passes for 91 yards. Steve Smith only had four catches for 34 yards, but two of those were 4-yard TDs in close quarters for touchdowns.

3. Jason Baker’s tackle. Smith joked later he would have run over Baker had he tried to tackle him that way, but the Panthers' punter went high and shoved Atlanta kick returner Eric Weems forcibly out of bounds to save a possible TD late in the fourth quarter.

4. Defensive sticky fingers. The Panthers often seem to drop interceptions, but Sherrod Martin and Richard Marshall held onto two big ones off Matt Ryan today. (Ryan, incidentally, is now up to 12 pickoffs for the year; Delhomme has 13).

5. Double Trouble. Both DeAngelo Williams (92 yards) and Stewart (82 yards, two TDs) had big days. Williams, who was questionable to even play, added a 30-yard reception.

2 things I didn’t like

1. Jordan Gross’s injury. Gross has a broken ankle. Although coach John Fox wouldn’t say what that meant postgame, I will – Gross almost surely is done for the year.

2. Michael Turner turning it on. One of the Panthers’ luckiest breaks in this game came the way you never want it to – when Turner left the game late in the second quarter with a severe ankle sprain. Turner already had 111 yards in only nine carries at that point. When he left, a substantial part of Atlanta’s offense left with him.

But that's how it goes in the NFL -- you play with what you have. On Sunday, the Panthers made the bigger plays, stayed nearly mistake-free and got a big one.

Panthers win 28-19 over Atlanta

Carolina just clinched a 9-point victory over Atlanta by stopping the Falcons quickly on defense and running out the clock following Jonathan Stewart's 45-yard TD run.

The Panthers' 28-19 win improves Carolina's record to 4-5. The Panthers will have a chance to even that mark Thursday night, when they face Miami.

It was virtually a mistake-free game for the Carolina offense, which didn't turn the ball over. For the third straight game, Jake Delhomme didn't throw an interception.

The Panthers' defense came up with a couple of key interceptions of Atlanta's Matt Ryan -- by Sherrod Martin and Richard Marshall -- and that made the difference.

"Double Trouble" was huge in this one -- DeAngelo Williams and Stewart both ran for more than 80 yards. And the Panthers caught a break when Atlanta's powerhouse RB Michael Turner missed the entire second half with a severe ankle sprain -- he had rushed for 111 yards in the first, and the Falcons' offense was not the same without him.

I'll have my "5 Things I Liked About the Win" post coming in about an hour or so. This was a big one for the Panthers, who have now won four of their past six and are creeping back a little in the NFC.

Panthers 28-19 as Stewart goes 45 for TD

The Panthers may have just cemented this one with a 45-yard TD from Jonathan Stewart -- the longest rush of his career.

It was shaky a moment before. Carolina led only 21-19 and Atlanta had the ball at midfield with four minutes left. But Matt Ryan overthrew a receiver -- he's the QB with pickoff problems today, not Jake Delhomme -- and Richard Marshall intercepted it and ran it back to the Carolina 49.

The Panthers then needed at least to make a first down to seal the game. They did better than that, with Stewart's run on third down giving Carolina the 9-point lead.

Still 21-19 as Jason Elam misses a FG

The Panthers still are clinging to a 21-19 lead with 6:35 left, thanks in large part to Atlanta kicker Jason Elam.

Elam had a 34-yard field goal lined up that would have given Atlanta a 22-21 lead just a few minutes ago. That's a field goal NFL kickers make around 90 percent of the time.

Instead, Elam stutter-stepped before he got going as he awaited the ball to be snapped, then yanked the kick left. Elam and his holder had a bad miscommunication during this sequence and had a long conversation afterward.

Still, though, Carolina is in danger. The Panthers haven't scored a point in the second half, their defense has been shaky and they are about to get the ball back -- Carolina just went 3-and-out with 4:30 to go.

21-19 Panthers early in 4th

Atlanta has sliced into Carolina's lead again -- it's now 21-19 early in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons drove 59 yards in 11 plays, ending the drive with a fourth-down, 3-yard TD reception by Justin Peelle from Matt Ryan.

Ryan has played better in the second half so far and Jake Delhomme has cooled off -- the Panthers are scoreless so far in the half. Carolina did have a 51-yard field goal try from John Kasay, but that was blocked.

After scoring the TD on fourth-and-1 from the 3, the Falcons went for 2 to tie the game. But Ryan couldn't find anyone in the end zone, dumped the ball off to RB Jason Snelling and saw him tackled at the 5 by Carolina's Chris Gamble.

So that was something of a moral victory for Carolina, and the Panthers still lead -- but barely.

Atlanta FG cuts Panther lead to 21-13

Atlanta took the opening drive of the second half and rolled to a 74-yard drive. But on third-and-4 from the Carolina 6, Richard Marshall put some excellent coverage on Atlanta TE Tony Gonzalez and stopped the march.

Marshall, in fact, should have intercepted the ball -- it hit him right in the hands. But give him credit for the pass deflection. It forced Atlanta into a 24-yard field goal by Jason Elam, which sliced Carolina's lead to 21-13.

Steve Smith, who had a bruised rib at the end of the first half, is in the huddle for the Panthers' opening drive of the second half and looks to be OK. Smith has caught all four balls thrown at him in this game for 34 yards and two TDs, doubling his TD total from the first 8 games of the season.

21-10 at the half, Carolina

The Panthers finished up a fine first half by scoring a third TD -- this one set up by rookie Sherrod Martin's third interception of the season. That gives Carolina a 21-10 lead at halftime -- Steve Smith already has two 4-yard TD receptions from Jake Delhomme today.

Carolina, however, has also suffered two major injuries. On Smith's second TD catch, he bruised some ribs. His return is questionable. And Pro Bowl LT Jordan Gross is done at least for this game and possibly for a lot longer (maybe even the season).

Gross hurt his right ankle on a block. Badly, it looked like. They put an immobilizing device on Gross on the field and then carted him off, and that combo usually means something is broken.

As for positive news, Jake has a 147.0 QB rating at halftime (11-14-137, 2 TDs, zero interceptions).

Atlanta cuts Panther lead to 14-10

Atlanta just sliced Carolina's lead to 14-10 with a 14-play, 80-yard drive -- the third 80-yard TD drive of this game (Carolina has the other two).

The Falcons took a big gamble and had it pay off -- with the aid of an official's flag. On fourth-and-8 from the Carolina 37, Atlanta coach Mike Smith decided to go for it. Ryan threw an incomplete slant pass to Roddy White, who was covered tightly by Chris Gamble. After the ball went incomplete, a late flag came sailing in -- interference on Gamble.

From there, Atlanta marched down to the 1, getting a key third-down conversion on another pass to White. On third-and-goal from the 1, Ryan pitched wide to Jason Snelling for the TD.

That made it 14-10, Carolina. Michael Turner missed the last part of the drive for Atlanta -- team trainers appear to be working on Turner's ankle on the sideline. Turner already has 111 yards in only nine carries.

14-3 as Smith scores

Jake Delhomme has continued to play very well in the first half so far. He just led his second 80-yard TD drive of the game, this one finished off with a 4-yard TD pass to Steve Smith with 12:26 to go in the second quarter.

It was only the second TD pass Delhomme has thrown this season to a wide receiver. Smith, who has caught both of those, was interfered with on the play but caught the ball anyway.

So far, everything is clicking for the Panthers. Then again, remember that Carolina was up by 14 on New Orleans last Sunday as well. Ain't over yet, by a long shot, but a great start for the Panthers.

Panthers up 7-3 as Jake hot early

Panthers QB Jake Delhomme threw for 308 yards against Atlanta in September, and he just led an excellent 80-yard drive to put Carolina up 7-3 midway through the first quarter.

Delhomme threw two passes for 43 yards to Muhsin Muhammad on the drive, as well as one to Steve Smith for 19 and another to tight end Jeff King for 13 that picked up a key third down. Carolina went no-huddle for the entire drive after going 3-and-out with a slower pace on its first possession. Jonathan Stewart finished it off with a 1-yard TD, which earned a big Jake fist pump.

Atlanta scored a field goal on its first drive, mainly because RB Michael Turner broke off a 40-yard run to set it up. Julius Peppers is playing sparingly because of his messed-up right hand, which is heavily bandaged. Peppers looks like he's going to be used mostly as a situational pass rusher today -- he only played one snap on Atlanta's first possession.

A Panther defense totally without Thomas Davis and largely without Peppers? That's a vulnerable D.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Prediction: Panthers will win

A few pregame thoughts on the Falcons-Panthers game:

-- Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is going through a bit of a sophomore slump. After throwing only 11 interceptions in his rookie season of 2008, he already has 10 this year. If the Panthers’ defense can get Ryan into some third-and-long situations, he’s apt to make a couple of poor decisions Sunday.

-- Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 308 yards against the Falcons the last time out in September, so I expect coach John Fox will at least loosen the handcuffs a little on the Panthers’ most-discussed player. But Fox also knows that in Carolina’s three wins this season Delhomme has thrown only 25, 17 and 14 times, so the third-and-12 draw play will still be very much in use.

-- I like this fact for some reason and am not sure why: The Falcons decided to bus to Charlotte for this game rather than fly like they have always done in the past.

-- Atlanta is only 1-3 on the road in 2009 and the Panthers played them relatively well in September before losing, 28-20. In that game, Panther defensive end Julius Peppers was single-teamed on almost every pass play and was no factor, getting neutralized by Atlanta tackle Tyson Clabo virtually every time. Peppers has played extremely well for most of the past five weeks, however, and it will be interesting to see if the Falcons gamble by single-teaming him again today.

-- Atlanta (5-3) is a slight favorite, but for some reason I think the Panthers (3-5) are going to get this one.

My prediction: Carolina 23, Atlanta 22.

Stat update: I'm 5-3 picking the Panthers' games so far in 2009. After a two-game slump, I did a little better last week, picking Carolina to lose by 10 (34-24) to New Orleans in a game they ultimately did lose by 10 (30-20).

Note: I'll be blogging during and after the game Sunday, so check back in here Sunday sometime and post your comments on the game, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Panthers throwing scared?

I enjoyed Charles Chandler's story today on the Panthers' passing game problems, which provided a thorough look at why Carolina only has one TD pass to its wide receivers in the first half of the season.

I also got a laugh out of Steve Smith's comment about how the coaches can get him the ball more: "I'm not dipping up in that can of chili." That should be a new catch-phrase for the Panthers -- it's a much more colorful way to say "no comment."

I thought the most telling quote in the story, however, came from veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. "Maybe we're trying to play with too much caution," Moose said, and that's exactly it.

Now Moose is part of this problem. He can't get open deep anymore, he's not winning as many jump-ball battles as he used to and he hasn't scored all year. Nevertheless, I think he nailed it here. The Panthers' offense looks like it is always navigating a treacherous road with "Caution" signs all over the place.

Run on first down. Run on second down. Short throw -- or draw play -- on third down. Rinse and repeat.

That's an oversimplication, and it's true this offense has also provided Carolina with an upset of Arizona and a near-upset of New Orleans. And Jake Delhomme hasn't thrown an interception the past 2 games, either.

But you can't hide your quarterback in the NFL. If Delhomme is going to play, as I've written before, let him play. The Panthers are playing offense right now like a boxer who has one hand tied behind his back -- they can occasionally score a surprise knockout, but they are never going to be that good unless they at least try to utilize all their weapons.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NASCAR CEO Brian France speaks out

I had the opportunity Wednesday to spend about 20 minutes interviewing Brian France, NASCAR's chairman, about the state of the sport. We'll have a big story in Thursday's Charlotte Observer about this. (You'll also be able to access it on our excellent racing website -- (UPDATE: Full column now posted here.)

To whet your appetite, though, here's a taste of what France said in this exclusive interview in which he answered questions from myself and Mike Persinger, The Observer's executive sports editor:

-- France believes that David Pearson should have gotten in to the hall of fame’s first class.
“I thought David Pearson should have made it in,” France said. Pearson didn’t make it into the hall – which will open in Charlotte in May 2010 -- but France’s father and grandfather did (Bill France Jr. and Sr.), along with former drivers Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Junior Johnson. France wouldn’t divulge the other four names on his ballot, which was one of 51 cast.

-- NASCAR may have Danica Patrick running races in one of its series as early as February at Daytona. Although Patrick has not publicly made a commitment to stock-car racing, France said: “My sense is she probably will.”

-- The struggles of Dale Earnhardt Jr. are part of NASCAR’s current set of problems.
“It’s sort of like when the NBA doesn’t have the L.A. Lakers or Boston – a couple of their key historic franchises – in the race,” France said. “That impacts the league. We’re in the same boat.”
France then smiled and said that if Dale Jr. had a resurgence that “the world would be a better place.”

More to come in Thursday's newspaper and online.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Davis ACL injury -- ouch!

Remember 2008?

The Carolina Panthers' 12-4 regular season was keyed in part by an extremely stable defense. It was if the Panthers had sprayed "Off -- the NFL version" all over their D, in which all 11 starters started the first 14 games in a row.

Not this year. Carolina's run of great injury luck in 2008 has caught up with it in 2009, starting with losing DT Maake Kemoeatu 10 minutes into training camp and continuing today with the announcement that linebacker Thomas Davis has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and will miss the rest of the season.

Davis -- called "T.D." by his teammates -- was having a Pro Bowl-type season. An amazingly fast linebacker, he had thrived in the "Tampa Two" system installed by new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks much like Derrick Brooks used to thrive in the same system at the same outside linebacker position at Tampa Bay.

Here's a small excerpt of a column I wrote about Davis earlier this season:
"For my money, Davis has made a greater impact this season for Carolina than anyone on the squad. On a team that has too often during the past month seemed that the key players are either too old or too young, Davis, 26, stands smack in the middle of his prime.
"Davis has played well all season - a fact somewhat lost with Carolina's 1-3 start. He had an astonishing 18 tackles in the season opener against Philadelphia, which is about two games worth for most good linebackers....
As coach John Fox said... "Thomas is having an excellent season. Unfortunately, the Panthers aren't. It hasn't been his fault."

To lose Davis halfway through the season is perhaps even more significant than the Kemoeatu injury, which Carolina didn't really recover from until signing self-proclaimed "fat guy" Hollis Thomas to eat up space in the middle. Carolina did have two super-speedy linebackers to erase a lot of mistakes and make a lot of plays on the field in Davis and Jon Beason.

Now it's down to one. No matter how the Panthers reshuffle the linebackers, Davis isn't really someone you can replace. It's just another sad signpost in a 3-5 season that seems headed straight toward oblivion.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

5 things I didn't like in loss to New Orleans

I wasn't in New Orleans for The Observer this time. Columnist Tom Sorensen and I split coverage of the road games while our two beat writers, Charles Chandler and David Scott, attend all of them. But here's how it looked in front of the TV to me as I count up the traditional postgame "5 things I didn't like."

1. Fumblin’ and bumblin’. DeAngelo Williams’ fumble at the 2 that resulted in a Saints TD late in New Orleans’ 30-20 win over Carolina was the game’s most egregious error.

Williams has had a serious case of fumble-it is this season compared to past years: No.34 lost only one fumble in his first three seasons and now has lost three in 2009. (And Williams also had two passes in his hands right around the goal line against the Saints and dropped both of them -- ouch).

But DeAngelo – who to be fair also scored both Panther TDs, gained 149 yards rushing and has clearly surpassed Steve Smith as the Panthers' best offensive player -- wasn’t the only one having trouble with the ball. Jonathan Stewart lost a fumble, too. And Jake Delhomme, on a fourth-down play with three minutes left when you absolutely have to get rid of the ball, instead held it too long, got sacked and lost a fumble.

2. Clock management on the Panthers' final drive. After Williams’ fumble, Carolina was down 30-20. The Panthers got a gorgeous 46-yard pass from Delhomme to Smith, who had done little until then.

But then, on first-and-goal from the New Orleans 8 with less than a minute to go and no timeouts, the Panthers actually called a running play. DeAngelo didn’t score and Jake had to spike the ball on second down with only 25 seconds left. Then, he threw two incompletions and it was “Game over.”

I’m OK with the decision to try to get the TD there rather than kick the field goal and hope for both an onside kick and a Hail Mary. But a running play with no timeouts? C’mon. (And why did Delhomme run the last two drives from under center rather than in the shotgun? Just doesn't make sense to me).

3. Julius Peppers was completely nullified by the Saints after a month-long explosion. He had no sacks and really was no factor. And, as we all know, he got paid $1 million for those 60 minutes.

4. Delhomme’s short leash. OK, so John Fox is interested in resurrecting Jake, not benching him. But for three quarters Fox mostly tried to work around his QB (much as the Panthers did successfully last week against Arizona). Jake had only thrown 12 passes in the first three quarters.

I know the Panthers like to run the ball, but this isn’t college football and they aren’t Navy. You can’t hide your quarterback forever. Even though the third-and-10 draw play worked a few times, Delhomme needed to get a chance to throw the ball a little more. If he's going to play, let him play.

5. Second-half pass defense. The Panthers’ D played a wonderful first half and was the main reason whhy Carolina led 17-6 at halftime. New Orleans’ vaunted offense got to the red zone three times and only got two field goals out of it, and Carolina’s defense set up one of those TDs with a Jon Beason fumble recovery at the New Orleans 11.

But in the second half, the Saints' long pass plays started to multiply, and Drew Brees (330 passing yards) looked like the best player on the field again. Carolina got outscored 24-3 in the second half, faltering down the stretch like an average team does against a very good team and wasting a whole lot of good plays in this 10-point loss that really was a lot closer than the final score indicates.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Butler-Indy: what a game!

I went to cover the Butler-Independence game tonight at Independence -- here's my column about it -- and it was definitely one of the sports highlights of my year so far. Butler's 31-24 win wasn't decided until Independence fumbled the ball away inside the Butler 20 with about two minutes to go.

The game was chockful of big plays -- 3 touchdown passes of 65 yards or longer, a key turnover about every 5 minutes, one or the other team close to scoring on just about every play.

For the 4,250 fans lucky enough to get a $6 ticket to a game where no tickets were sold at the door, this one was worth a lot more than that. In fact, I saw Bruce Springsteen perform earlier this week in Charlotte and I'd even say that this game was...

OK, I'm getting a little carried away here. It wasn't better than Springsteen.

But for high school football, it was just about as good as it gets. Butler was stronger, more balanced on offense and more disciplined. Independence was down 24-7 and 31-10, but Independence QB Anthony Carrothers had a wonderful second half after throwing four interceptions in the first and nearly got the Patriots all the way back.

Indy coach Tom Knotts told me after the game: “I hope we play them once more in the playoffs. Because they won’t beat us again. I’m sure of that.”

I'm not sure of that at all -- Butler head coach Mike Newsome and his staff had a team with more discipline and more overall talent Friday. But I'm with Knotts on part of that statement: I sure hope the two of them play again -- and at a much bigger venue next time. Because that was something.

My Saints-Panthers prediction

A few pregame thoughts on New Orleans and Carolina, who play at 4:05 p.m. Sunday:

-- I love watching Saints receiver Marques Colston play. He’s not that fast, but he’s big and strong and just goes up and gets it over shorter defensive backs. He’s everything, in other words, that Dwayne Jarrett should be but hasn’t been for the Panthers. And Colston was a seventh-round pick; Jarrett a second-rounder.

-- The key for Carolina in this game: a lot of 10- to 12-play drives on offense. That means running the ball effectively, as usual. I think Carolina’s only chance at an upset is to gain 200 yards on the ground, which likely would translate into 35 minutes of possession time, which would give New Orleans a couple fewer shots than the Saints are used to in terms of scoring.

-- Don’t discount the confidence factor in this one with Jake Delhomme. He’s never lost a game as a starter in the Superdome. For a quarterback whose confidence has been on-and-off all season, that’s big. He’s comfortable there – the city has long been a home away from home for him, personally and professionally.

-- There isn’t a more fun offense to watch this season than the one that Drew Brees runs for the Saints. I mean, 39 points per game? That’s ridiculously good. The Charlotte Bobcats often don’t get 39 in a half.

-- The Saints are 7-0, but they aren’t going to go undefeated. I think they will ultimately lose 2-3 games this regular season. But despite their lack of previous success at home against Carolina, they are clearly the hotter team and their defense has finally stopped being so much of a liability. It will be entertaining, but ultimately: New Orleans 34, Carolina 24.

The stats: After starting 4-1 picking Panthers’ games this season, I’ve faltered the past two weeks on Panther predictions and now rest at a mediocre 4-3. Before the 2009 season began, I picked Carolina to go 7-9, and I’ll stick by that one until it’s no longer statistically possible.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Should Panthers have hosted Butler-Independence?

In my column today on the Butler-Independence showdown Friday night, I briefly raised an issue that deserves more explanation.

Because 24,000-seat Memorial Stadium is closed for repairs (and believe me, that place needs it), this game will be played in the 4,250-seat stadium at Independence. It is already sold out -- I'd advise you not to show up without a ticket.

Obviously, this game could draw far more than 4,250. Probably 15,000-25,000, depending on the venue.

There was a campaign to get the game moved to the Panthers' stadium, but the Panthers said they wouldn't host the game.

Why? Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton told The Observer recently: "There are several considerations that prevent Bank of America Stadium from being the site of the Butler-Independence game, including fairness to other area schools. There is also the consideration of field damage if we were to have three days of (bad) weather as we (experienced a couple of weeks ago)."

Butler coach Mike Newsome -- who I really like and respect -- was vocal in my interview with him about his displeasure that the Panthers wouldn't host the game.

“With the season they’re having right now,” Newsome said of the Panthers, “I think it would have been a big community gesture for them to allow this to happen…. What if Clemson would have said years ago, ‘No Panthers, we don’t really want you tearing up our field?’ What if every other college had said that, too?”

The Panthers played their home games in 1995 at Clemson while their privately-owned stadium was being built.

Newsome also said about the issue -- and I didn't have room for this in the column: "It really bothers me as a community that we couldn’t have come together and allowed that to happen. When you look at how many other NFL stadiums allow high school and college teams play at their place…"

Then the coach cited as examples the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Steelers sharing Heinz Field and sometimes playing on the same weekend. The same thing happens in Tampa, with the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sharing Raymond James Stadium. Other NFL stadiums occasionally have been used for high-school state title games and the like.

Those stadiums are generally public venues, however -- the Panthers' stadium is primarily owned by the Richardson family. The Panthers have traditionally not let the grass be used for much of anything except Panthers' games, which means the stadium seats are vacant close to 350 days a year (and the field is routinely ranked very high in NFL Players' Association of best fields in the league).

Long ago, the stadium hosted a highly successful Billy Graham crusade and the Rolling Stones. It still has an annual college football bowl game right after Christmas and a smattering of other college football games (including the ACC football championship in Dec. 2010) on the horizon.

But I would agree with Newsome to a point -- the stadium is under-utilized. The grass certainly isn't going to tear up with a few more events per year, and it'd be nice to see a couple of high school games played there every season.

Then again, you can see the Panthers' point. Let's say Friday night's game is played there and Butler wins. That means Butler would be the higher playoff seed. In 3-4 weeks, the two teams could very well meet again -- this time in Butler's 2,500-seat stadium! Do the Panthers have to host that one, too?

It's a slippery slope -- there are dozens of very good high school football teams around here. All would clamor loudly for a chance to get into the stadium if the door was ever opened.

With all that said, though, I really wish the Panthers would have made an exception for this particular game.

The weather is going to be beautiful Friday night. The field would not have torn up. And about 20,000 more people could have seen live what could well be the best high school football game of 2009 in the state of North Carolina.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Springsteen rocks Charlotte

Bruce Springsteen played the entire "Born to Run" album at his concert in Charlotte Tuesday night.

A few of you have noticed that I am moonlighting occasionally as a concert reviewer for The Charlotte Observer and asked me why. Music has always been a passion of mine -- can't play it well, can't sing it worth a darn but can enjoy the heck out of it as a fan. I've probably attended close to 100 concerts in my lifetime at this point -- like the best sporting events, I find them to be great entertainment.

The Bruce Springsteen show Tuesday night in Charlotte was the fourth I've covered for the newspaper (following the Eagles, Jewel and Jimmy Buffett) and was undoubtedly the best of that quartet. Springsteen is a legendary live performer for good reason -- here's my review of the show. At 60, it's remarkable what he can still do on a stage, and that gravelly voice is still so commanding.

I'd be interested in the thoughts of any of yall who attended The Boss's show in Charlotte. Please post below if you saw it (or have been to any of his concerts on this most recent tour).

I had seen him in concert a couple of times before -- once in the old Charlotte Coliseum with the full E Street Band and another time in Ovens Auditorium in a much more intimate, stripped-down show. I like the big shows better with the full band, and my personal highlight Tuesday came when Springsteen played the full "Born to Run" album, in order, early in his set.

"Thunder Road" is my favorite song on that album (and also my favorite rollercoaster at Carowinds, incidentally) and I thought he did that one beautifully. Be interested in what yall think, too, about Springsteen, whether you've seen zero "Bruuuuce" shows or 100 or more of them.

Springsteen crowd-surfs Charlotte Click here for a slideshow of Charlotte images.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No I.D., no wallet, no money -- a personal story

In Monday's paper, you may have noticed this column I wrote from the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

There's a little story behind that story, and here it is.

Talladega is about a six-hour drive from Charlotte. The race started Sunday, Nov.1 at 1 p.m. Eastern. I had nothing I had to do prior to the race -- I just needed to be there to cover it.

So I decided to stay as late as I could on Saturday night in N.C. so I could take my 4 kids trick-or-treating. They range in age from 2 to 11, so Halloween is a big deal in our house.

Around 9 p.m. Saturday, with Halloween duties complete, I took off in a hurry with the intention of driving to just outside of Atlanta that night. Then I would get up early and drive the last several hours in the morning, arriving in plenty of time for the race.

Just past Spartanburg, at around 10:30 p.m. and about 90 miles from home, I stopped for gas. I reached for my wallet and...

No wallet.

I started to panic a little. I looked all through my car. I had about $1.25 in quarters, 1/8th of a tank of gas. No credit cards, no photo ID, nothing.

I called my wife. "Yes, I'm looking at your wallet right now," she said after I asked her to go look in the drawer where I sometimes keep it.

So now what?

Option 1: Go back home, arrive a little after midnight, then get up at 5 a.m. and do all 352 miles of the drive in one day?

Option 2: Try to skate through and skip the extra 3 hours of driving?? My parents lived only a few miles outside of Spartanburg. Maybe I could figure something out with them.

I decided on Option No.2. My parents could loan me some money and a credit card. Maybe I could talk my way into the race the next day without a photo ID.

So I drove over to my parents' house. It was nearly 11 p.m. by the time I arrived. I was afraid I would wake at least my Mom up; my Dad usually stays up late.

Instead, neither one of were home! My parents are close to 70 years old! Where could they possibly be at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night?

I have a key to their house, so I let myself in. Then I started to act like I was one of those grown-up kids on drugs that are always in the news for robbing their parents -- ransacking the house in a desperate search for cash and credit cards. Even while I was doing it, I was embarrassed for myself.

I found nothing, but their ugly and very sweet dog Stella happily nuzzled me wherever I went. She has never carried a wallet and thus had no idea of my rising sense of panic.

Eventually, my folks got home -- they had been to a local play and were quite surprised to find me there. But they loaned me money and a credit card. They have always been wonderful parents, and I have to say it was their right to enjoy the hearty laugh at my predicament that they enjoyed.

The next day, at Talladega, I contacted the track's excellent PR staff ahead of time. They allowed me to pick up my credentials outside the track.

But then I still almost didn't make it inside. I got to the track gate, only to be stopped by a young but ornery security guard who demanded my photo ID.

"No photo ID and you don't get in," he said.

I tried to explain that I had been through this once before already. I tried to be nice, because he looked like he would enjoy very much the idea of beating me up.

Then I tried to call the PR folks, who were a half-mile away at this point. I got one on a cell phone but, as I talked to her, a raucous jet flyover made conversation impossible and the call got dropped.

Meanwhile, the race engines were gunning and the green flag was about to fly. I could hear them -- I was so close, but yet so far. I tried the cel phone number of the PR woman again. No luck.

The security guard watched all this with some amusement. I don't think I looked too threatening as he saw me fumbling in my backpack for various items.

Then, after making me suffer awhile longer, he jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the track.

"Go on," he said. "I guess I'll let you in."

And so I made it, and wrote my column from Talladega.

And on the way back home, no cop stopped me. But it was still a nerve-racking 36 hours, and I'm still sort of amazed it all worked out in this post-9/11 world. I had to depend on the kindness of strangers (and family members), and they all came through for me.

But you better believe I'm checking my pockets 10 times each for my wallet before every trip from now on.

If you're a guy, you know that sickening feeling when you check for your wallet and realize you don't have it. I'm determined not to have it again for a loooong time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

3 things I liked in Panthers' win

I'm sitting in the press box at Talladega -- writing about the latest huge crashes at this dangerous racetrack -- so I'm not in the best position to talk about the Panthers tonight.

Given that Carolina just upset Arizona 34-21, however, I think the tradition of "Things I Did or Didn't Like" must continue from afar. I did manage to see a bit of the game in this pressbox as well as the highlights and the stats. Here's what I liked:

1. The Panther defense. They turned Kurt Warner into "Jake Delhomme from the Arizona playoff game." It seemed like every time I looked at the stats, Warner was getting intercepted again. He ended up with Jake's exact turnover numbers from the playoffs in fact -- 5 interceptions, 1 lost fumble.
And Julius Peppers finally made one of those big-ticket signature plays -- his pick-six for a TD was superb and constituted his first TD since 2004.

2. Double Trouble. Carolina led 28-7 at halftime in large part because Williams and Stewart couldn't be contained by the Cardinals. This was huge for the Panthers' passing game, which needed to be able to play from ahead for once and got to. As in the Tampa win, Delhomme spent much of the game handing off.

3. John Fox. Hey, he went against popular decision and started Jake Delhomme. It worked out fine. His coaching staff came up with a way to stop Warner, run the ball so effectively Jake only had to throw 14 times (he had a chest injury and came out of the game late) and get a huge win on the road.

Give Fox credit -- that's why he is going on his 8th year coaching at Carolina.

Just when you think it's all over for Fox, he pulls one out like this. And if you think about it, so many of Fox's best wins as a Panther coach have come on the road, just as this one did.

The Panthers are still only 3-4, but they deserve to celebrate this one. For the first time in the calendar year 2009, they just beat a good team.