Tuesday, September 29, 2009

5 things I didn't like about Panthers' loss to Dallas

There was a lot not to like in the Panthers' 21-7 loss to Dallas, which dropped them to 0-3 at Cowboys Stadium Monday night. But here are 5 of my pet peeves after the game and also here's a link to my postgame column in which I call for the Panthers to bench Jake Delhomme in favor of Matt Moore for Week 4 (I doubt the Panthers will ever do something as radical as that, but that doesn't mean they're right). Anyway, onto the 5 things I didn't like:

1) Panthers' third-down efficiency. They were 1-for-8 on offense, which is one reason they didn't get a first down for the first 24 minutes of the second half (and possessed the ball less than 23 minutes).

2) Julius Peppers. I'll keep saying it over and over again this year until it's not true -- that game was just not worth a million dollars.

3) The "17 to 89" connection. There was a time then Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith used to seem to read each other's minds on the field. Smith would break off a route. Delhomme would read it. Boom -- a freelance play, a huge gain. Smith used to attribute this to the fact both were naturally impatient and thus adjusted in the same way.

But this time, when Smith ran a bad route on a slant pass, Delhomme got picked off and had the ball returned 27 yards by Cowboy Terence Newman for the game-clinching TD. Here's what Newman said about the play by the way: "It was a lucky play on my part, basically. I was just trying to get a jam on him. I got a good hand on him and he tried to re-direct, and I don't know if it was a called slant [it was], but that's what the quarterback threw."

4) Panthers' rushing game on offense. Carolina only had 73 yards rushing against a Dallas team that had struggled mightily against the run for much of the first 2 weeks. That, in turn, led to a lot of Delhomme's problems -- he's just not nearly as good without a strong rushing game.

5) Panthers' rush defense. Give the defense lots of credit for pitching a shutout in the first half -- and for bringing more linebacker pressure to disrupt Tony Romo's timing. But then Dallas just wore the Panthers down in the second half and really should have scored more -- the Cowboys averaged 6.6 yards per carry (32 rushes, 212 yards). Nasty stuff. Still, the defense gave up only one touchdown in this game, and that realistically could have been good enough to win.

But it wasn't. As usual.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dallas wins 21-7 over Panthers

Turn out the lights, the party's over.

Former Dallas Cowboy Dandy Don Meredith used to sing that when a "Monday Night Football" game got out of reach. And it reached that point Monday night late in the fourth quarter, when the Panthers went down.


The Panthers (0-3) still haven't won a game in calendar year 2009.

Down 13-7 deep in the fourth quarter but still in the game, Delhomme threw an interception that was returned 27 yards for a TD by Terence Newman. After a Dallas two-point conversion, that was that.

Blame this loss mostly on Carolina's offense. They were awful in the second half, not getting their first first down until 5:45 remained in the fourth quarter. Delhomme tried to go deep on the next play to Steve Smith, but Smith was double-covered and the pass fell incomplete.

On the following play, Delhomme threw a short 5-6 yard pass in Smith's direction. But Smith was outside, Newman was inside, and the ball was inside, too. Smith later took full blame for that pickoff, saying he should have crossed in front of Newman on the called slant route.

Instead, Newman ran the ball into the end zone as the stadium exploded in celebration.

Carolina lost the ball one last time with a minute to go when Delhomme was sacked and fumbled, adding one last insult to the Panthers' injury. The Panthers, who led 7-0 at halftime, crumbled in the second half.

Final score: Dallas 21, Carolina 7.

Dallas up 13-7 in 4th

The Cowboys have added another field goal early in the fourth quarter, extending their lead to 13-7.

Dallas has totally dominated the second half, but the Panthers did stop the last drive at their own 1, forcing a FG and keeping it a one-possession game rather than a two-possession one.

However, Carolina went 3-and-out on all 3 possessions in the third quarter, which kept the defense on the field way too much.

Dallas outgained the Panthers by 162-32 in the third quarter alone. And the Panthers just went 3-and-out for the fourth straight time in the second half -- at this rate, they're not going to get a first down in the game's final 30 minutes.

Cowboys take 10-7 lead over Panthers

Dallas has struck quickly in the third quarter, scoring 10 unanswered points to take a 10-7 lead over the Panthers.

The Panthers have given the ball up quickly on two possessions, and in both cases Jason Baker punts have been returned for great field position by the Cowboys' Patrick Crayton.

Dallas almost scored a TD on its first drive, but after a successful John Fox challenge of an apparent touchdown, the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal.

But the next time they wouldn't be denied, driving smartly down the field and getting a 5-yard TD run from Tashard Choice.

The Panthers did get a potential TD nullified when Muhsin Muhammad pushed off on what would have been an 84-yard touchdown play. Moose did give a shove to Mike Jenkins on the play and I thought it was indeed a penalty, but it's the sort of thing that sometimes isn't called.

In any event, late in the third quarter, it's Dallas 10, Carolina 7.

Good Jake shows up

Shortly after "Bad Jake" underthrew a pass to Muhsin Muhammad, "Good Jake" has now reappeared for the Panthers, as the Panthers take a 7-0 lead into halftime.

"Good Jake" led the Panthers on a very impressive, 90-yard, 8-play drive in 1:45 deep in the second quarter. The march ended with a 25-yard pass to TE Dante Rosario from QB Jake Delhomme, giving Carolina that 7-0 lead.

Oddly enough, right before that Delhomme hit Rosario on an almost identical play, also for 25 yards. They were two of Delhomme's best throws of the game, as he had to fit each ball in over a defender but not overthrow it and did so beautifully.

Meanwhile, the Panthers defense has had an exemplary first half, holding Dallas to zero points. The Cowboys have been booed off-and-on during their last 2 drives, as the fans at opulemt Cowboys Stadium have started to grow frustrated. The Panthers have been very effective getting pressure on Tony Romo, in part due to LB blitzes.

Of course, there's still a whole lot of football to play, but the Cowboys just got resoundingly booed going into the locker room at halftime. These fans paid a lot of money for those seats, and they're pretty angry right now.

Halftime score: Carolina 7, Dallas 0.

Uh-oh: Bad Jake alert

Bad Jake just made his first appearance of the game: Jake Delhomme underthrew Muhsin Muhammad on a deep route in the second quarter and got intercepted by Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins.

The damage wasn't too severe -- the pickoff worked more or less like a 40-yard punt and Dallas was left at its own 16. The Panthers were a long way from scoring anyway. But the pass had way too much loft on it -- it practically came closer to hitting the video replay board than Jason Baker's first punt of the game.

It's still 0-0 in what has surprisingly been a defensive struggle so far, with both teams starting with terrible field position for most of the game.

On interceptions, though, it's Delhomme 1, Tony Romo 0.

Panthers blitzing early

Carolina has come out blitzing against the Cowboys, trying to bring pressure in different ways after having only 2 total sacks in its first 2 games.

So far, it's working -- LBs Thomas Davis and Jon Beason each have a sack apiece, and both sacks have helped to short-circuit Cowboy drives. The Cowboys also have missed a 40-yard field goal, so late in the first quarter, it's still 0-0.

Cowboys Stadium rocks

I'm sitting here at Cowboys Stadium, awaiting the start of the Panthers-Cowboys Monday night game, and it's pretty remarkable.

The video replay board is stunning, just like you've probably heard. The resolution of it is so good it seems like it's 3-D.

The whole place feels like you could set Bank of America Stadium inside it with little trouble. The closest thing I've been in to this was the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing (built for the 2008 Olympics). That one was more architecturally significant, but this one seats more folks.

One disappointment: the roof stays closed tonight. And it's an absolutely gorgeous day in Texas -- breezy, sunny, temps in the 70s. Sounds like for all the hullabaloo about the retractable roof that most of the time it's going to end up being a domed stadium. The stadium was open last week for its debut, but that may have been one of the few times it will be for this inaugural season.

Anyway, it's something else -- but the field is still 100 yards long, and it's about to get very full of a lot of desperate men on both sides, determined not to sustain another loss.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Panthers-Cowboys prediction

Cowboys. Panthers. Monday night. New stadium. 100,000 people.

Now that's a serious audience for two teams who are coming off very disappointing losses. Dallas is already 0-1 in its new palace, and the Panthers are 0-2 and haven't won a game in calendar year 2009.

Carolina also has a history of losing to Dallas in the regular season, often under freaky circumstances, but beating the Cowboys in the playoffs.

I don't think history matters much in this one, though. I think Carolina is a slightly better team than Dallas. And, more importantly, as LB Jon Beason told me this week: "It's desperation time."

I think the Panthers will play with a bit more air of desperation than the Cowboys Monday night, although the Cowboys will be favored (and talked about a lot more on the MNF broadcast, be prepared for that, Panther fans).

But in a close, entertaining game, here's my prediction:

Carolina 30, Dallas 26.

The stats so far this season:

My record in picking Panther games: 2-0.
My preseason pick for Panthers in 2009: 7-9.
Number of NFL teams since 1990 that have qualified for the playoffs after starting 0-3: 3.

Follow Scott on Twitter.com/scott_fowler (he will be Twittering live during the Panthers-Cowboys game from the new stadium)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who's tougher to tackle, DeAngelo or Stewart?

I couldn't get quite everything I wanted to into this Jon Beason column that I wrote for today's Charlotte Observer.

All the stuff in this column was from a one-on-one interview I conducted with the Panthers' third-year Pro Bowl linebacker after Beason spoke to several hundred members of Charlotte's Touchdown Club, the excellent organization that has been a wonderful booster for football at all levels around here for many years.

During Beason's speech to the TD Club that preceded our interview, however, he did answer a couple of questions from audience members that I thought were interesting enough to put in this blog.

One questioner asked, "Who's tougher to tackle, DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart?"
Beason picked... drum roll, please.... Stewart.

"Like tackling a wall," Beason said of Stewart.

Beason said in his answer that DeAngelo was a more polished running back, that he was better at finding and using his holes. But he said he always liked his chances against a "scatback" like DeAngelo, a player who uses his speed and explosiveness (much like Beason does) to excel rather than raw power, which is more of Stewart's game.

Beason's opinion of Stewart was that he hadn't come close to fulfilling all of his potential yet.

The second question was sillier: An audience member noted that Beason had a dazzling smile and asked if those were all his real teeth?

Beason flashed that dazzling smile and said that no, they weren't. (And you'll find that to be the case for many pro football players, who lose or chip teeth in one violent collision or another through the years).

Beason said once he signed his contract as a rookie and got a signing bonus that he "decided to get my teeth fixed."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Panthers sign DT Antwon Burton

The Panthers have agreed to terms with DT Antwon Burton, a 6-2, 320-pound run-stuffing specialist who was most recently with the St. Louis Rams before getting cut.

The Panthers announced the signing Tuesday afternoon. Burton's agent, Marty Magid, said that the Panthers and Burton have agreed to a two-year, non-guaranteed contract worth a total of about $1.15 million (if Burton stays on the team). There was no signing bonus.

"He's a good kid who just needs a shot," Magid said. "He's a true nose tackle."

In other words, in size, contract and skill set, it sounds like Burton is a poor man's Maake Kemoeatu. To make room for Burton, the Panthers have put Louis Leonard on injured reserve. Leonard started for Carolina last week and fractured his ankle on the game's final defensive snap. He wasn't a big-name loss, but it was another blow to lose Leonard for the season. Linebacker Jon Beason told me Tuesday that Leonard was a "diamond in the rough" and would have helped the Panthers a lot had he stayed healthy.

Burton, 26, was an undrafted free agent out of Temple who has knocked around the league. His most successful stint came when he stuck with Denver for two years, playing in a career-high six games in 2007. Burton has also spent time in Kansas City, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

You've likely never heard of Burton, but he will get a chance to contribute quickly on a Carolina team that has been decimated by injury at defensive tackle. Burton also has some familiarity with current Panthers' defensive line coach Brian Baker, who supervised Burton for awhile in St. Louis while Baker was the defensive line coach there and apparently liked him.

In other roster news, the Panthers waived safety Nate Salley from injured reserve and released DT George Hypolite from the practice squad.

Panthers' Beason: "Point the finger at me"

I caught up with Panther linebacker Jon Beason Tuesday afternoon for an exclusive interview after Beason spoke to an appreciative crowd of several hundred folks at the Charlotte Touchdown Club. Beason, as usual, was great in front of that crowd – he’s among the most personable and genuine players the Panther have ever had.

But right now, Beason is also very upset about the way the Panthers’ season is going. With Carolina at 0-2, Beason is ready to blame somebody.


Beason told me he played a “horrible” game against Atlanta and that he’s doing some personal “soul-searching” to figure out what he needs to do better against Dallas this Monday night. Always a stand-up guy, Beason said fans need to stop blaming Jake Delhomme or Julius Peppers for Carolina’s first two defeats.

“You can make this your headline,” Beason told me. “With Pep, it’s just because he’s Pep. People are like, ‘Ok, we’re 0-2. Who we are going to point the finger at?’ Last week, Jake played bad. This week he was a lot better – good enough to win. So who are we going to point the finger at? Pep.
“You tell ‘em if they want to point the finger at somebody, they can point the finger at me. You tell ‘em I said I am not playing as good as I should be and I need to get better.”

Beason further said of his own performance: “I haven’t played well. I haven’t played comfortable. I haven’t played free yet. I’m out there, I’m doing my thing, but I need to step up and really be that dominant force that I know that I am.”

Beason made no excuses for his play, but it is true he missed much of the preseason due to a left knee injury and that he hasn’t had a lot of help up front, either. Still, linebacker Thomas Davis has been in on far more tackles and been more active than Beason, who made the Pro Bowl in 2008 in only his second year in the NFL.

Beason also said he still does not feel “fluent” in the defensive system of new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks.

As for the Panthers, Beason said: “We’re still a good team. We’ve dealt with a lot so far. We’re still there. We’re still getting better. The stage is set. What better game – against the Cowboys, new stadium, Monday night game, for the world to see and to silence all the critics. Go out and not just play well but to beat the Dallas Cowboys.”

That sounded almost like a guarantee. I asked Beason if it was.

“It’d be great for you,” Beason laughed. “Foxy [coach John Fox] wouldn’t like it very much.”

So while Beason wouldn’t guarantee a win over Dallas Monday night, he did say this: “I’ll be better. That’s my guarantee.”

I’ll have a lot more from my interview with Beason in my column that will be published in Wednesday’s Charlotte Observer and will also be posted online.

Follow Scott at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Panthers, Peppers and the Cowboys

After going to head coach John Fox's day-after news conference Monday following Carolina's 28-20 loss to Atlanta, here are 3 quick thoughts. I'll address the Panthers more in depth in my column for Tuesday's Charlotte Observer and online here at CharlotteObserver.com:

1. The most positive development Sunday? It had to be Jake Delhomme's play. At least the Panthers don't have to worry quite so much about Delhomme (25-41 for 308 yards) right now -- his Sunday was better than Tom Brady's or a whole lot of other quarterbacks you could name.
Fox said Delhomme played "very well," although ultimately it wasn't enough. The Panthers have so many other problems that if Delhomme implodes this season it'll be all over. But right now, despite the 0-2 record, it's not all over for Carolina.

2) In Texas, the level of distress is at least as high as it is in the Carolinas. That's what happens when the Cowboys lose a game, especially the opener in their new 105,000-seat palace to the New York Giants like they did Sunday night. You think Delhomme is feeling some pressure? Try being Tony Romo this week.

3) As usual, Fox continues to be quite protective of Julius Peppers, the Panthers' million-dollar-per-game man, even when Peppers has a nearly invisible game like Sunday. Said Fox during the press conference when I asked him to evaluate Peppers' play against the Falcons: "Like I did our team's -- good, but not quite good enough."

And, later, Fox said when asked what exactly it was that Peppers did well Sunday: "He executed well enough for us to be in position to win. The reality is we didn't, but I don't know that it is Julius' fault."

Well, no, it's not Julius's fault entirely. But you can't just be a guy when you're getting that kind of money. you have to be THE guy at least several times a game when it matters.

Follow Scott at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Panthers' loss to Falcons: What I liked, what I didn't

Carolina has dropped to 0-2 with its 28-20 loss to Atlanta today. We’ll have lots of coverage from our Observer team at the game site in Atlanta, but here are a few things that occurred to me as I watched this one on TV. I’ll break it down into 6 things I didn’t like and 3 that I did.

6 Things I Didn’t Like
1. Julius Peppers. Wow. A million dollars just doesn’t go as far as it used to.

2. Defensive philosophy. Chris Gamble’s coverage on a slant play to Roddy White for a touchdown that happened right in front of him was way too soft and emblematic of a lot of the Panthers’ defensive problems. OK, so Matt Ryan didn’t beat them for 60-yard touchdowns. Instead, he just got 10-15 yards on one pass play after another, and that led to Ryan’s first-ever three-TD passing game in the pros. We’re only two games in, but the Panthers are allowing 33 points per game and the defense under new coordinator Ron Meeks doesn’t look a bit better than it did at the end of 2008.

3. DeAngelo Williams’ fumble. DeAngelo didn’t fumble all of last season or in 2007, either, which is part of the great appeal of the Panthers’ most explosive running back in team history. However, he lost a critical one Sunday – only the second lost fumble in his four-year career.

4. Special-teams breakdown (again). Last week the Panthers allowed a punt-return TD to Philadelphia. This time the Panthers got a punt blocked.

5. The Gonzalez effect. The Panthers couldn’t seem to cover the former Kansas City tight end without interfering with him. Tony Gonzalez – with his incredible hands – had 71 receiving yards and a TD.

6. Fox Sports’ coverage in the final two minutes. The TV coverage seemed fine early but faltered late. There was not enough explanation of the clock runoff for Louis Leonard’s injury, too little credence given to the possibility of a Panthers comeback (with the crew seeming surprised the Panthers ever got themselves in position for that last Hail Mary), a silly and mistimed promo for Fox Sports itself and not enough explanation of why the game was delayed at the end by a final official review.

3 Things I Did Like

1. Jake Delhomme. I thought the Good Jake would resurface, and he did Sunday. His one interception came deep in the fourth quarter, yes, but he had no other choice but to try and force that one in against great Falcons’ coverage – to throw it away was to turn the ball over as well. Otherwise, Delhomme was much better -- 25 for 41 for 308 yards, one TD and one interception.

2. Steve Smith. He and Delhomme were reading the same book once again. They even had the “loft it up and let Steve run under it” play going, and also connected several times in very tight coverage as Smith gained 131 yards receiving.

3. Overall energy level. At least it felt like the Panthers had some passion in this one.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My Panthers-Falcons prediction

I’ve already gone on record this week in the newspaper and online saying that “Good Jake” will make a reappearance against the Falcons. I just don’t see Jake Delhomme having three nightmares in a row.

Of course many of you don’t believe that: my column expressing that opinion this week drew more than 250 comments directly on the story and e-mailed to me (most of them from Jake haters).

I still believe Delhomme isn’t done, however, and I don’t think he will lose the Falcons game on his own. With that said, Delhomme is only one of the Panthers’ concerns in Georgia. Atlanta stands as the favorite to win the NFC South this season: the Falcons have top-notch skill players, a sound philosophy and an emerging defense.

-- Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams are speedsters, and as such they always look faster on artificial turf like that in the Georgia Dome. I expect both to have far better games than they did in that 38-10 pounding Philadelphia laid on the Panthers in Week 1.

-- I have always liked the Falcons-Panthers series, in part because it seems to be high on the weirdness factor. That started in Carolina’s first-ever game – an overtime loss at Atlanta in 1995 in which Dom Capers wanted to go for a game-winning two-pointer at the end of regulation, only to be undone by an offensive tackle’s false start.

My prediction: Atlanta 27, Carolina 23.

And now to the stats -- a new feature of my weekly prediction on the Panthers:

My year to date record predicting the Panthers: 1-0.

My preseason prediction of Panthers' 2009 record: 7-9.

Likelihood that my preseason record was too high: 60 percent.

Follow Scott on Twitter at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Jake: you don't seem to believe me

My column on Jake Delhomme today -- predicting that "Good Jake" will make an appearance in the Atlanta game Sunday -- has drawn over 130 comments so far online.

The comments mostly range on one extreme from "Did they really pay you to write such a horrible article" to the other extreme of "You are the worst writer in the history of all writers."

In other words, there's not a lot of range.

There are some Jake fans out there still, but mostly they are hiding behind the bushes for now, worried that if they publicly declare themselves it will be grounds for a humiliating and/or a public stoning i.e. that short story many of us read in school once, "The Lottery." I'm getting some e-mails to that effect -- people who like Jake but don't want to say so in a public forum because of the vitriol they might be letting themselves in for.

As for me, I can take the vitriol -- years of practice, you know. So say what you like, but I still think Delhomme will have a good game against Atlanta Sunday.

And if he doesn't, I'm sure you will let me know about it.

Follow Scott on Twitter at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Panthers officially sign Feeley

As expected, the Panthers officially signed A.J. Feeley and placed Josh McCown on injured reserve Tuesday.

Feeley, 32, was available because the Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick -- Feeley was the guy who got fired due to that move.

He's not a bad quarterback, but has rarely been a very good one, either. Feeley's career stats: 27 TDs, 29 interceptions, QB rating a shade under 70. (By comparison: Jake Delhomme has 115 career TDs, 80 career interceptions and a career QB rating of 84.2).

Feeley should practice Wednesday and will be feverishly learning the playbook, but the Panthers will start Delhomme Sunday at Atlanta. McCown had the hard luck of getting injured at just the wrong time -- his knee and foot injuries could have kept him out for up to six weeks.

It could have been shorter than that, too, but the Panthers aren't in a mood to sit still after that 38-10 whipping they took in the season opener to Philly.

Delhomme will be the subject of my column in Wednesday's Charlotte Observer and online.

Follow Scott at twitter.com/scott_fowler

Jordan speech: Hall of fame or hall of shame?

I'm getting a lot of e-mail about the column I wrote today about Michael Jordan's hall of fame speech. I found Jordan's speech to be candid and refreshing -- a peek behind the corporate image that has been so carefully crafted by Jordan's handlers for all these many years.

It was 22 minutes of pure Jordan, unvarnished and unplugged, and I liked it. The folks in the audience mostly did, too -- no one screamed out "You lie!" or anything like that (although at one point I think Isiah Thomas wanted to).

Other folks I respect have had a very opposite take. My e-mail is running about 50-50 as to whether the speech was hall of fame or hall of shame material, with some readers saying the speech was "classless" or "petty" or "vindictive."

Those readers are probably best represented by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Adrian is an excellent writer and a friend. On this speech, however, I disagreed with him totally. In the interest of fair play, though, here is what Adrian wrote. Read that, read my column, watch the speech -- draw your own conclusions. Hey, but ain't that America... as John Mellencamp might say.

Follow Scott on Twitter at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A pathetic opening day: Panthers lose by 28

OK, now that was ridiculous.

So ridiculous, in fact, that John Fox finally gave up the ghost and has taken Jake Delhomme out of the game. Josh McCown entered to loud cheers -- down 38-10 midway through the third quarter. But he didn't last long, getting sacked and hurting his left knee early in the fourth quarter. Then Matt Moore came in -- the Panthers' third QB. He played the fourth quarter for Carolina and got the team to the 1 on its last drive, but DeAngelo Williams was stopped short of the goal line, so it ended 38-10.

McCown has a sprained knee -- it's unclear how long he will be out. Coach John Fox said after the game when asked who his quarterback would be next week at Atlanta: "I think we start back with Jake. We've got to go back and evaluate what happened to us.... I don't think that it was all Jake's fault."

Delhomme's last two passes were intercepted, giving him 5 turnovers for the game (and only 7 completions). One of those third-quarter picks came on a screen pass -- with Delhomme under huge pressure, but still. Philadelphia ran that one back to the 10 and scored.

That score may have come at a price, however. Donovan McNabb scrambled for the TD but was tackled hard and stayed on the field for about 5 minutes on his back. He had a rib injury -- some outlets are reporting he will be out 2-4 weeks, although Eagles coach Andy Reid did not say anything that strong and implied McNabb might even play next week.

The Eagles brought in backup QB Kevin Kolb (Michael Vick was in Charlotte too, but in streetclothes, watching from a skybox). Kolb finished the game but couldn't score against the Panthers, so the game's last 21 minutes were scoreless and Carolina STILL lost by 28.

After that screen-pass pick the Panthers sent Delhomme back in -- to a torrent of boos -- and had him throw deep. Delhomme threw a 40-yard jump ball toward Steve Smith, who had one-on-one coverage. But the coverage was really good and that one got intercepted, too. I was surprised Smith didn't knock it down at least.

So that was four interceptions for Delhomme as well as his fumble that got taken back for a TD. The similarities to the Arizona playoff game were uncanny -- and painful.

Smith expressed confidence in Delhomme after the game, as well as compassion for his friend. But it's clear that the Panthers are going nowhere until the QB situation gets sorted out. All in all, it was a pathetic opening day for the Panthers.

Follow Scott on Twitter at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Getting way out of hand: Eagles 31, Panthers 10 at the half

Wow, this game turned sour in a hurry for Carolina.

The Panthers defense is actually playing OK, and yet Philadelphia put up 31 straight points before a Carolina field goal finally stopped the bleeding. Jake Delhomme already has committed 3 turnovers and has been booed vociferously by the home crowd. He's picking up pretty much right where he left off from the Arizona game, and fans are angry about it. (Delhomme has now committed 9 turnovers in his last 6 quarters of play).

Most of the 31 points weren't the fault of the defense, although the most recent TD (which took Philly from 24 to 31 points) was. But it's striking how this game is a carbon copy of Arizona, where Carolina also scored first and then got trounced.

How'd the 31 straight points happen (28 of them in the second quarter for Philly)?

Carolina held Philadelphia to a field goal after Jake Delhomme threw a bad interception with Carolina leading, 7-0 (after that beautiful first drive, which looks like a mirage right now more than anything else).

Down 7-3, the Eagles put a beautiful blitz on Delhomme, and the ball squirted from his grasp after he was hit by an untouched blitzer. The Eagles picked it up, went 2 yards and boom, it was 10-7, Philly.

Then came another unsuccessful Panther drive, this one at least ending in a punt rather than another turnover. But wait -- that was just as bad. Philly's DeSean Jackson took the ensuing punt return 85 yards for a TD, and no one other than Jason Baker came within 5 yards of the speedy Jackson.

Then, down 17-7, Delhomme tried to force one into Steve Smith, who had been gesticulating about not getting the ball after a couple of routes. Instead, that got picked off, too, and run back inside the 10 by Eagles CB Sheldon Brown, who had already picked off No.17 once. Donovan McNabb immediately threw a TD pass to his TE Brent Celek and it was 24-7, Philadelphia.

Then Philly finally scored a TD the old-fashioned way, driving more than 70 yards on Carolina's defense. The TD came when McNabb threw a shovel pass to Brian Westbrook for the score.

This home crowd is sitting here stunned right now, oblivious to the beautiful weather and just about everything else as the Panthers try to get untracked. They've got lots of time to do it, but Philadelphia has taken over this game. It's halftime, the home team is down 21 points, and it will be interesting to see how many people even return to their seats to watch the second half.

#Panthers 1st drive full of surprises -- Panthers lead #Eagles 7-0

Carolina looked better on its first drive than it did for almost all of that 0-4 preseason -- and definitely different. Among the surprises on the 13-play, 70-yard drive:

-- The Panthers ran the "Wildcat" formation once, with Steve Smith taking the snap rather than DeAngelo Williams.

-- After going for it on fourth down an NFL-low eight times in 2008, John Fox made a nice call on fourth-and-1 from the 2 on Carolina's first drive. Jonathan Stewart got the ball and scraped out a yard-and-a-half for the first down.

-- Carolina burned two of its timeouts on the drive.

-- The Panthers got two straight false-start penalties, changing a first-and-goal from the half-yard line to a first-and-goal from the 10 1/2.

-- And then, after both those penalties, DeAngelo changed direction, sprinted to the end zone's left corner and scored from 11 yards out. Carolina 7, Philadelphia 0.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My pick for Panthers-Eagles

A few notes prior to Carolina's season opener against Philadelphia, with my prediction at the bottom...

** Big key for Carolina: cornerback Chris Gamble. The Panthers are paying him shutdown corner money. Time to earn it.

** The matchup I’ll watch most closely today is Carolina’s offense vs. Philadelphia’s defense. The Eagles were excellent on D in 2008 – a Top 5 defense in every significant category. But Carolina probably needs to score at least 20 points to win this one. With DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith, they’ll at least have a chance.

** The Eagles have their own injury problems, and the big question mark is running back Brian Westbrook. He’s a great threat when healthy. But – after trying to fight through both knee and ankle injuries -- is he healthy?

** If you’re watching the game on TV Sunday (1 p.m. on Fox), you get the pleasure of Dick Stockton on play-by-play. He’s such a reliable voice and one of my favorites. You will likely not be familiar, however, with analyst Charles Davis. He’s broadcast college sports almost exclusively in his career – it will be interesting to see how Davis performs on this big stage.

** The Panthers’ 0-4 preseason vanishes in everyone’s mind today if Carolina can win its opener. I can see it happening if Carolina rushes for 150 yards as a team. But I don’t think that will happen. My prediction: Philadelphia 20, Carolina 16.

Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scott_fowler

Shaq calls Jordan the "hip-hop Dr. J"

A couple of leftovers from Michael Jordan's enshrinement ceremony that I attended Friday night in Springfield, Mass, which inspired me to write the following column:

To Jordan's credit, he didn't do a sugary speech. That's not him. He cried beforehand after watching an extended highlight video of his career, which was interspersed with some entertaining interviews. I thought the best quote came from Shaquille O'Neal, who when putting Jordan into perspective called him the "hip-hop Dr. J."

As I wrote in today's column, Jordan reminded us of what it is like to be like Mike -- eloquent, honest, occasionally arrogant. There were a few uncomfortable moments in the speech, as when Jordan called out Isiah Thomas, who was in the audience and allegedly orchestrated a "freezeout" of Jordan in his first All-Star Game.

While Jordan said he has never known if that was true (Thomas has denied it in previous interviews, but it is true MJ rarely got the ball in that game), he said it fueled his fire. "I wanted to prove to you, Magic [Johnson], Larry [Bird], George [Gervin], everybody that I deserved [to be there] just as much as anybody else, and I hope over the period of my career I've done that without a doubt," Jordan said, looking directly to Thomas.

Jordan also told his three kids in the audience that he loved them but understood how difficult their lives were, growing up in his long shadow. He also fondly mentioned Buzz Peterson -- his close friend, former roommate in college and the player Jordan tried to whip every day as a freshman because Peterson had been chosen as N.C.'s high school player of the year over him.

It was classic Jordan -- he cried before the speech, but then righted himself and ripped his way through 22 minutes worth of a magnetic, "What's he going to say next?" address. It felt like a game night -- as I wrote in today's paper, you couldn't take your eyes off him.

Follow Scott on Twitter at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Friday, September 11, 2009

Q&A with Michael Jordan

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Michael Jordan spoke to hundreds of media members and guests at basketball’s hall of fame here Friday in a 20-minute question-and-answer session. He said, among other things: “There’s not going to be another Michael Jordan.”

Jordan also laughed as he recounted a conversation with former Chicago Bulls assistant coach Tex Winter after Jordan had scored a bushel of points in a row to win a game for Chicago.
“There’s No ‘I’ in team,” Winter said.

Jordan said he looked Winter in the eye and said: “There’s an ‘I’ in ‘win.’”

Here are other highlights from Jordan’s question-and-answer session with the media. The official induction ceremony – which also honors former players David Robinson and John Stockton and coaches Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer – is Friday night in Springfield.

- Scott Fowler

Q: So many people wanted to “Be Like Mike” growing up. Who did Mike want to be like?A: Probably my father. I have a strong resemblance to him. If you want to be like Mike, that starts with a haircut and a suntan. I’m just happy to be myself.

Q: What was the favorite moment of your basketball career?
A: That’s like asking which one of your kids is your best kid. I had a lot of great accomplishments, spectacular plays, game-winning shots – it’s hard for me to pick out one.
I could start in 1982 with the shot at UNC and I could end with the shot in 1998 at Utah, or with the Dream Team (in 1992) or playing baseball. Although you guys don’t consider that to be successful, I do. It’d be too difficult for me to pick out one.

Q: What is your message to your fans in Chicago?
A: I still live there. A lot of people don’t think I do, but I still do. (When the Bulls drafted me), they took this kid who had never been to the big city. They believed in me. That marriage lasted until now. The city and the team supported my efforts. I will always have the deepest warmth for the city of Chicago.

Q: You’re going into the hall of fame with player John Stockton and coach Jerry Sloan, both of the Utah Jazz. Stockton was labeled back then as maybe the dirtiest guard in the league. Could you reminisce some about that rivalry?
A: I wouldn’t say Stockton was the dirtiest player in the league, or point guard. I could name a couple of other ones. He was a tough, hard-nosed guy who played with every inch of his body. Utah was a great team, even though it never won a championship. Stockton, Karl Malone, coach Sloan – that was a great team that easily could have beaten us a couple of times in the NBA Finals. They were great adversaries.

Q: What would your father James (who was murdered in 1993 in North Carolina) say about this day if he were here?
A: He’d probably love to be standing here, answering all of your questions. He loved to speak for me. I think now he’d understand I’m a grown person. He taught me well. If he was here today, he’d be living it up with all these flashes and cameras, but I think he’d be very proud of what I’ve done over my career. When you see me, you see him. You see my mother. You see my brothers and sisters. I represent my whole family.

Q: You have often been acclaimed the “best” or “greatest” player of all time. What do you think when you hear those accolades?
A: When people say I’m the greatest to ever play the game, I cringe a little bit. It’s an opinion.
For me personally, I never played against Jerry West. I never played against Elgin Baylor. I never played against Wilt Chamberlain. Yeah, I would have loved to. But to say I’m better than those people is not for me to decide. I would never give myself that type of accolade because I never competed against everybody in this hall of fame.

Q: When you came to Chicago (in 1984), the franchise was at one of its lowest points. Talk about some of the struggles you faced there.
A: When I first got to Chicago, the only way we could go was up. Couldn’t go any further down. I came from a prestigious university that was built on winning. At that time winning for us (in Chicago) was getting into the playoffs. And once we got into the playoffs, it was getting past the first round, and getting to the Eastern Conference finals and to the finals.
That growth happened over a period of time. We got better players….
Phil (Jackson) came in. Once we got on top, we didn’t want to relinquish that attitude… Toward the end, I had to be a little more assertive. I was a little more animated, stronger-voiced. I had a conversation with Tex Winter, an unbelievable (assistant) coach, one time after scoring about 20 points in a row to win the game. Tex reminded me, “There’s No I in team.”
I looked back at Tex and I said, “There’s an ‘I’ in ‘W-I-N.’ (Laughter)

Q: For a long time, people didn’t handle the burden of being ‘the next Michael Jordan’ very well. There are two guys now who seem to be carrying that mantle. What have you seen from Kobe and LeBron?
A: I see some resemblance. How can you not see that in Kobe Bryant and LeBron James? They’re going to be fine. But don’t be in a rush to find the next Michael Jordan. There’s not going to be another Michael Jordan. (Applause) Times are different. The game is different.
We – you guys – are constantly trying to find that next Michael Jordan. First of all, you didn’t find me. I just happened to come along and next thing you know, here I am. You won’t have to find me and you won’t have to find that next person, if you haven’t (found him) already. And I think those guys have the strong potential to be better than Michael Jordan down the road. They are their own people.

Q: Have you talked to Phil Jackson (Jordan’s head coach for all six of his NBA championships) about this honor?
A: I haven’t talked to Phil. He’s elusive… But he challenged me at times I needed challenging. Mentally, he made me expand my outlook of the game. He put me in difficult positions in dealing with other players, like Dennis Rodman. But I came around. He’s very deserving of being in the hall of fame, also.

Q: You scored 63 in a playoff game against the Boston Celtics in 1986 and afterward Bird said that was “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Did that game do a lot for your confidence?
A: Yes. When you look at it up to that point, there was so many media guys saying he’s good but he’s not in the same class as Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. I earned Larry Bird’s respect – to me that showed me I was on the right track. Not the points that I scored, because at the end of the day we lost the game. It’s a good highlight to watch, but not too much fun because I lost. That was the biggest compliment I had at that particular time.

CLT connections at hall of fame induction

I'm in Springfield, Mass., today watching Michael Jordan as he prepares for tonight's induction ceremony. There's a lot of "official" things happening -- MJ just got his official jacket, and his official picture is now up at the hall of fame, and he will later get his official ring. Here's my "official" pre-induction column that ran today in The Charlotte Observer.

Jordan also spoke just for a moment to the media this morning, with plans to talk more later. "Contrary to what you guys believe," Jordan said, "it's not just me going into the hall of fame. It's a group of us."

And that's true. Jordan belongs to one of the stellar classes in hall of fame history, which also includes players David Robinson and John Stockton and coaches Vivian Stringer and Jerry Sloan.

Jordan will be presented tonight by David Thompson, who now lives in Charlotte, works with the excellent 2XSalt ministry and was N.C. State's best player of all time. Robinson will have two presenters -- George Gervin and current Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown.

Jordan also said today in front of his hall of fame cohorts: "It’s truly a pleasure to be here. I can honestly say when I was growing up I never thought about getting into the hall of fame. Next thing you know, here we are. It all started with that little round ball. And if you take that away from any one of us I’m pretty sure we would have struggled. That’s how much the game meant to us, the ball meant to us."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jordan's top 10 pro moments ever

For Friday's newspaper and online, I have written this column about Michael Jordan's legendary legacy in the pros and his mixed feelings about entering the hall of fame. It's part of our three-part series on Jordan -- Robbi Pickeral did an excellent job on Part 1 (MJ growing up in Wilmington) and Part 2 (Jordan at UNC).I'll also be going to Springfield, Mass., Friday to cover Jordan's induction into basketball's hall of fame, so watch for my coverage of that both online and in the newspaper Friday and Saturday.

As a preview of all that, here's the way I would rank Jordan's Top 10 moments in the pros:

1. June 14, 1998 – In what would be his last game as a Chicago Bull, Jordan wins the decisive Game 6 (and his sixth and final NBA title). He scores 45 points and in the final minutes steals the ball from Karl Malone, more or less shoves Utah’s Bryon Russell out of the way (no call) and swishes the game-winning jumper for an 87-86 victory.

2. May 7, 1989 – Jordan hits “The Shot” – an 18-foot jumper -- over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo to win a first-round playoff series in the final seconds. Although it wasn’t for an NBA title (which is why I haven't put it No.1), Jordan’s fist-pumping celebration after the basket before a stunned Cleveland crowd remains his most purely jubilant.

3. June 12, 1991 – Jordan’s first NBA title with Chicago refutes the notion that the game’s greatest scorer couldn’t also lead his team to championship. With father James at his side, he tearfully embraces the championship trophy. The Bulls would go on to dominate the decade, winning six NBA titles with Jordan as their centerpiece.

4. April 20, 1986 – In his second year in the NBA, Jordan scores 63 points in a double-overtime playoff loss to Boston. After the game, Boston’s Larry Bird says MJ played like “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

5. June 16, 1996 – On Father’s Day, Jordan wins an NBA title for the first time since the death of his father James. Jordan then sprawls on the locker room floor, crying unabashedly while hugging the trophy.

6. June 11, 1997 – The “flu game.” Jordan gets hold of some bad pizza in Utah. Dehydrated and obviously sick, Jordan still scores 38 points against the Jazz while the Bulls win another playoff game on the way to title No.5.

7. Feb.6, 1988 -- In a monumental dunking face-off with Dominique Wilkins during NBA all-star weekend, Jordan wins the event for the second time by starting at the far end of the court, lifting off from the free-throw line, double-clutching in midair and slamming it home. Jordan gets a perfect score on the dunk – he never participates in the event again.

8. Summer 1992 – The “Dream Team.” As the biggest star on the U.S. Olympic “Dream Team,” Jordan wins a gold medal (as the Dream Team rolled to eight straight wins). He also helps ensure the worldwide popularity of basketball and stirs up controversy by covering up a Reebok logo with an American flag during the medal ceremony.

9. March 28, 1995 – In his “double nickel game” at Madison Square Garden, Jordan lights up the New York Knicks for 55 points only five games after returning from his ill-fated stab at baseball. Jordan also ends the game with a surprise twist, passing to Bill Wennington in the final moments for a game-winning dunk.

10. Dec.29, 2001 – As a Washington Wizard, Jordan scores 51 against the Charlotte Hornets, showing that at age 38 the old man still has some game. “He kind of went back in time tonight,” the Hornets’ P.J. Brown says.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NFL openers: Do they really set the tone?

You’ll hear a lot in the next few days about how season openers “set the tone” for NFL teams -- how that first game is somehow a lot more important than the ensuing 15 because it tells everyone what kind of team you really have. Talking heads on TV use this term about every 20 seconds during Week 1.

Well, I don’t buy it. As I wrote in Tuesday’s newspaper, I think the Panthers are going to go 7-9 this season – and that’s no matter how the opener Sunday at home against Philadelphia works out.

But occasionally the season opener truly does provide an accurate snapshot of the upcoming season. Sticking only with this decade, here’s my list of the three times the first game really did set the tone for Carolina and the three times it didn’t come close.


1) 2003 – Carolina 24, Jacksonville 23. Jake Delhomme, in his first game as a Panther, leads an amazing second-half comeback against Jacksonville at home. The “Cardiac Cats” were born, the team would go to the Super Bowl and Delhomme remains the starting QB.

2) 2004 – Green Bay 24, Carolina 14. Panthers fall flat in a Monday night debut following their Super Bowl season. And that’s the way it stayed for months, as Carolina started 1-7 in a 7-9 season.

3) 2008 – Carolina 26, San Diego 24. Dante Rosario’s only TD catch of the year was one of the season’s biggest plays, as the Panthers began a 12-4 season with a shocking win at San Diego.


1) 2001 – Carolina 24, Minnesota 13. Rookie Steve Smith takes the opening kick back for a TD, Chris Weinke looks good at QB and Panthers show promise. Then came 15 straight losses. Never in NFL history has a season-opening win been more misleading.

2) 2005 -- New Orleans 23, Carolina 20. Panthers not only lost that one, they would eventually start this season 1-2. Then they would go on to an 11-5 regular season and NFC title game.

3) 2007 – Carolina 27, St. Louis 13. Panthers’ impressive road win against St. Louis was a mirage, mainly built on the fact the Rams were in a major downward spiral but no one knew it yet. Panthers would finish a desultory 7-9.

Bottom line: The season opener counts for 1/16th of the season – or basically 6.67 percent. Nothing less, nothing more. You’re rarely as good as you seem when you win it, nor as bad as you seem when you lose it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Panthers fan rips team in e-mail

I wrote this column in Sunday's Charlotte Observer about the Panthers' 0-4 preseason, and specifically how their poor performance in exhibitions had made one longtime Panther fan already sell his two tickets for the season opener Sept.13 vs. Philadelphia.

That column has stirred up quite a hornet's nest of comments. Given that, I thought I would reprint John Rohner's e-mail in full here -- I only used excerpts of it in the paper due to space concerns. You can decide after reading it yourself whether you consider Rohner (whom I also talked to by phone for some more details used in the column):

1) an impassioned fan who has a very good perspective on the 2009 Panthers since he has held PSLs since 1997 and seen a whole lot of good and bad Carolina football, or;

2) a traitorous fan who is putting too much stock in preseason and bailing out way too early.

Here's the full text of Rohner's e-mail -- originally sent to The Observer's executive sports editor Gary Schwab -- which Rohner gave me permission to make public:

"I read your paper on-line daily and appreciate your staff writers' honesty in reporting on the Panthers. Yet, as a 14 year season ticket holder, I see a team that has very little heart or pride.

"If only they could show a little of the determination Mr.Richardson has shown over the past several months! For the last several years my wife and I have driven to almost every home game (8 hours round trip) and each one of those years we had hope of seeing a team that would give their all, which they generally did.

"We have been more than "fair weather fans" but what we have seen in this pre-season is an embarrassment - these young men and coaches should be ashamed of themselves. Yes, it's "only pre-season", but if you can't show you can play the game in practice, what are we to expect in a "real game"?

"I made a promise to myself before the season this year; to never again boo my team when things are not going as hoped - I feel the only way I can keep that promise is to stay home. I have sold my tickets for the first home game and will see if the Panthers have somehow received their own heart transplant so we may return and support our team."

John Rohner
Myrtle Beach, SC

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Panthers lose 21-10 in preseason finale

Carolina closed out an inglorious 0-4 preseason with a 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.

The Steelers led, 14-0, in the first quarter and mostly coasted after that. Both teams' starters were off the field before halftime. Pittsburgh scored its TDs on an 80-yard punt return, a 10-yard run and a 31-yard interception return of an errant Matt Moore pass.

The only Carolina TD came on a 1-yard run by Canadian Jamall Lee. John Kasay added a field goal. Rookie running back Mike Goodson again flashed some major potential but lost another fumble, this time inside the Pittsburgh 5.

The Panthers open the regular season Sept.13 against Philadelphia at home -- a scary prospect at the moment.

I posted some of these thoughts earlier on this blog, but in case you missed them, here's a brief rundown of what happened when the game mattered -- i.e. when the Panther starters were still in the game.

Panthers offense: Two series and one total first down. One dropped pass (by Muhsin Muhammad). One third-and-1 run that lost two yards. One sack of Jake Delhomme. One tipped Delhomme pass at the line. One first down (a pass to Muhammad). No touches for Steve Smith.

Panthers defense: Two series. One excellent three-and-out (while facing Ben Roethlisberger in his only action – he threw one pass before leaving). One horrid touchdown allowed.

On the TD, the Carolina D allowed Pittsburgh’s third-string running back Isaac Redman to roll right through five attempted tackles for a 10-yard scoring run. Among the men who missed or bounced off Redman: safety Chris Harris and defensive end Julius Peppers. And bear in mind, that was Pittsburgh's second-team offense out there blocking, too.

On that desultory note, the Panther defense was done for the night. It was 14-0, Pittsburgh, when the last Panther starter left the field. In other words, it was par for the course during this Carolina preseason.

However, John Fox was happier with the defense than most fans probably were. He said after the game: "I thought defensively we were much better."

-- Pittsburgh’s other early touchdown came courtesy of an 80-yard punt return by the Steelers’ Stefan Logan. Logan completed that run only 100 seconds into the game and was greeted by an onslaught of Terrible Towels – at least one third of the fans in attendance seemed to be for the Steelers. They all were having a good time, at least, on a gorgeous night for football.

-- Again, Panther rookie Mike Goodson (79 rushing yards, including a 22-yard run where he reversed field completely) looked very good at times but his fumbling problems continued – he lost one inside the Pittsburgh 5 in the second quarter.

-- The best individual play made by any Panther in the first half was a beautiful one-handed catch by tight end Dante Rosario that would have resulted in about a 25-yard gain. Sadly, it was nullified by an illegal motion penalty on Kenneth Moore.

Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scott_fowler

A nasty night for Panther starters

Some thoughts on the Carolina-Pittsburgh preseason game as the Panthers' exhibition season limps to a merciful close:

-- It was really nasty for Carolina -- especially when the starters were in the game. The Panther offensive and defensive regulars each played two series apiece before retiring for the night in the team’s final preseason game against Pittsburgh. It was a close call as to which one was worse. Here’s a brief review.

-- Panthers offense: Two series and one total first down. One dropped pass (by Muhsin Muhammad). One third-and-1 run that lost two yards. One sack of Jake Delhomme. One tipped Delhomme pass at the line. One first down (a pass to Muhammad). No touches for Steve Smith.

Panthers defense: Two series. One excellent three-and-out (while facing Ben Roethlisberger in his only action – he threw one pass before leaving). One horrid touchdown allowed.

On the TD, the Carolina D allowed Pittsburgh’s third-string running back Isaac Redman to roll right through five attempted tackles for a 10-yard scoring run. Among the men who missed or bounced off Redman: safety Chris Harris and defensive end Julius Peppers. And bear in mind, that was Pittsburgh's second-team offense out there blocking, too.

On that desultory note, the Panther defense was done for the night. It was 14-0, Pittsburgh, when the last Panther starter left the field. In other words, it was par for the course during this Carolina preseason.

-- Pittsburgh’s other early touchdown came courtesy of an 80-yard punt return by the Steelers’ Stefan Logan. Logan completed that run only 100 seconds into the game and was greeted by an onslaught of Terrible Towels – at least one third of the fans in attendance seemed to be for the Steelers. They all were having a good time, at least, on a gorgeous night for football.

-- Again, Panther rookie Mike Goodson looked very good at times but his fumbling problems continued – he lost one inside the Pittsburgh 5 in the second quarter.

-- The best individual play made by any Panther in the first half was a beautiful one-handed catch by tight end Dante Rosario that would have resulted in about a 25-yard gain. Sadly, it was nullified by an illegal motion penalty on Kenneth Moore.

-- Funny moment during the coin toss. Because of the referee’s open mike, you could hear the Panthers win the toss and take the ball, followed by a Steeler shouting playfully: “We didn’t want it anyway!”

You know that poor #Panthers tackling? Still a MAJOR problem

The Panthers just went down 14-0 in their preseason game against Pittsburgh, and the way they did it was disturbing.

OK, let's set the scene. It's already 7-0, Pittsburgh, midway through the first quarter. The Steelers get the ball at Carolina's 35 because Panther QB Josh McCown gets stripped on a pass play and fumbles it away.

So Pittsburgh puts all its second-stringers in on offense, and Carolina KEEPS all its first-stringers in on defense. Mismatch, right?

And it was -- in Pittsburgh's favor. The Steelers slammed the ball into the end zone, with the final 10 yards coming on Isaac Redman's 10-yard run in which he broke or ran through five attempted Panther tackles (including Chris Harris and Julius Peppers).

The Panthers first-string offense can only watch this. It's already been retired, with 8:36 left in the first quarter, after two possessions and one first down. Not much of a night so far unless you're a Steelers fan, and there are a ton of them here.

100 seconds gone and Panthers already down 7-0?!

How many times can a team utter the phrase "Thank goodness it's only preseason?"

The Panthers may be approaching their limit. After their 0-3 preseason start, they have already managed to go down 7-0 in Fake Game No.4 following an 80-yard Pittsburgh punt return for a TD.

How'd Carolina get behind so fast? Carolina got the ball and started with a nine-yard run by DeAngelo Williams.

On second-and-1, a nice offensive call: a play-action pass to a wide open Muhsin Muhammad. Unfortunately, Moose dropped a nicely thrown ball 15 yards downfield.

Then, on 3rd-and-1, the Steelers defense did what it does -- stacked DeAngelo up for a 2-yard loss.

Then came the clincher: a 52-yard Jason Baker punt followed by an 80-yard punt return for a TD by Pittsburgh's Stefan Logan.

Danny Morrison making the rounds at Panther stadium with Steelers in the house

New Panthers president Danny Morrison is shaking hands and getting to know everyone -- two of the things he does best -- as he makes the pregame rounds at Bank of America Stadium.

Morrison could just about shake everyone's hand in here right now -- 20 minutes before kickoff, there may be 7,000 people seated in the 70,000-seat stadium (and about half of them are wearing Steeler jerseys).

But the Panther fans will eventually file in, and they better do it pretty quick -- the first quarter is the only one that really matters much tonight other than the marginal players trying to grab one of the final roster spots available.

Morrison did a couple of pregame TV interviews and has also been walking around the press box. He said he'll probably start his new job in late September in Charlotte, once he ties up all the loose ends as TCU's athletic director.

What will he see tonight? A Panther team that is 0-3 in the preseason and still needs some serious work but doesn't have a lot of time to do it. The Panther starters are expected to play no more than 1-3 series tonight.

Carolina did get some decent pregame news, I suppose. Michael Vick definitely won't play in Carolina's season opener vs. Philadelphia Sept.13. Vick's suspension has been shortened, but he won't be eligible to return until Week 3.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Morrison a safe choice as Panthers president

Davidson basketball coach Bob McKillop praised new Panther president Danny Morrison Wednesday as “a classy gentleman” and "consensus builder" predicted Morrison would do well in his new high-profile role with the Carolina Panthers.

“He makes a great appearance,” McKillop said of Morrison. “He can disarm you. But I think he’s tough, too. You can’t take advantage of him.”

Morrison’s hiring – one day after the stunning resignation of brothers Mark and Jon Richardson from the organization – continued the news binge in Pantherland.

For the past four years, Morrison has been the athletic director at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Prior to that he was also the athletic director at Wofford (where he helped manage the transition of that small college into a Division I-AA program and into becoming the Panthers’ training camp home for the past 15 years).

My dealings with Morrison mainly came while he was at Wofford. He struck me as a charming man – always dressed nicely, always glad-handing folks, always walking around and making sure everything was OK. I remember him frequently wearing a button-down blue dress shirt and a tie on 95-degree days at Wofford, strolling around the training-camp practices but never seeming to sweat. (That sounds just like something Jerry Richardson would do, and in fact it is).

I don’t claim to know Morrison as well as McKillop, though, who saw Morrison’s efforts up close while Morrison was the commissioner of the Southern Conference (which includes Davidson) from 2001-05.

“Danny was a consensus builder,” McKillop said. “He dealt with a lot of different schools – state schools, private schools, recent members of the conference and schools that had been in it for 60 years. And he was often able to build some type of consensus despite dealing with a lot of significant differences between the schools.”

Morrison, 55, leaves a very good job to come to an even better job. He will have Mark Richardson’s duties – running the business side of the Panther operations. I think Morrison will do just fine. He’s got the Wofford connection with Richardson (they both went to school there). He’s a good businessman. He’s both an outsider and and an old friend of the Richardson family, and he can work all that to his advantage.

Morrison’s hiring comes out of left field in two senses. Reaching all the way to Texas is a long way to go to find the next team president, and Morrison has absolutely no experience in an NFL front office. But overall he’s a safe choice during this very surprising week.

Follow Scott at Twitter.com/scott_fowler

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Strange Panther doings at the top

In one of the oddest and most jarring Carolina Panther announcements in franchise history, the team said today that team president Mark Richardson and stadium president Jon Richardson have announced their resignations from the Carolina Panthers.

Excuse me?!

A team official has told me that there is no plan to sell or move the team in the wake of this announcement, so at least that rumor can (more or less) be put to rest.

But an announcement like this makes all sorts of other rumors pop up. The quotes in the Panthers' press release – one apiece from owner Jerry Richardson, Mark and Jon – tried to smooth over any rumblings of internal discontent. Those quotes also gave absolutely no reason for why this was happening, which makes me think, of course, that there’s some serious internal discontent somewhere -- in fact, likely in several places.

Mark and Jon used words like “exciting” and “fortunate” and “unique” and “great” to describe their experience with the team in the press release. That begs the question: Why would you leave all that? They are still retaining a minority ownership stake in the team, but as far as the day-to-day operations, that’s done. Only Jerry Richardson is left.

And this is (or was) the Richardson family business, after all. Once it was hamburgers. Now it is football. You don't walk away -- or get pushed away -- from that lightly. (I left phone messages for Jon, Mark and Jerry Richardson, but haven't heard back from any of that trio).

Mark was groomed as Jerry Richardson’s heir apparent for years as No.1 on the Panthers' organizational chart. Who fills that role now is one of the biggest questions about this announcement. Well-liked Panther ticket guru Phil Youtsey -- who has been with the team since its inception -- would be one obvious candidate to run the business side like Mark did, but there will be others. Scott Paul will help direct the stadium operations side to help fill Jon's void. But titles may change -- no one is saying the Panthers are automatically going to add another president on the org chart.

Mark has been team president since 1997, since the generally beloved Mike McCormack retired. Mark is the dapper dresser with the expensive tastes who oversaw the business side of the Panther operations. The announcement of his resignation is the one that absolutely has stunned the Panthers' staff.

Jon is the more down-to-earth brother – the one who has battled cancer off-and-on for the past decade. He loves to wear jeans and eat at diners. Jon has been the head of Bank of America Stadium operations since it opened in 1996. The team release said Jon had told the Panthers’ staff awhile back he was going to resign.

In fact, Jon sent out an e-mail at least a month ago telling Panther staff members that he would be leaving without giving a timetable. From what a Panther source tells me, Jon's decision is lifestyle-related. Although his health is OK as of now, the long battle with cancer has taken a toll. He wants to have more time, basically, to enjoy life. This was a decision he had been mulling for many months.

But Mark Richardson no longer functioning as the team president? Now there's the shocker.

Here’s their father, team founder/owner Jerry "Big Cat" Richardson, in the team press release about their resignations: “Both Mark and Jon made great contributions to the stadium and team that have enabled us to enjoy much success over the last 15 years. At the same time, I am thankful that we have a staff that has been in place for many years and knows our philosophy.”

Hmm. If you’re reading the tea leaves on that quote, it’s not exactly brimming with praise, is it?

“Great contributions,” yes. That gets one sentence. But Jerry Richardson quickly comes back in the second sentence to make it sound like the staff in place can do the job just as well as his sons did.

Strange doings, for sure. Stay tuned. And make sure to read Wednesday's Charlotte Observer -- and on CharlotteObserver.com -- for more news on this developing story.

** And in the meantime, the Panthers traded for a defensive tackle -- Louis Leonard of Cleveland -- today. That was for an undisclosed draft choice, which usually means a late-round choice. Leonard only started 4 games in Cleveland the past two years -- he's no Kris Jenkins or Maake Kemoeatu -- but at least he weighs 325 pounds and can function as a space-eater if not much else.

On most days, that trade would have been huge news for the Panthers. Today, though, it's not much more than an afterthought due to the seismic tremors from the front office.