Thursday, January 28, 2010

Well done, Gerald

Gerald WALLACE, WALL-ace, Wall-ace, wallace...

That's the way they call his name at Time Warner Cable Arena when Wallace makes another spectacular play, and now they'll call it in the all-star game, too, in Dallas.

The Observer's Rick Bonnell has confirmed a report that Wallace will be announced as an Eastern Conference all-star reserve tonight. As I wrote three weeks ago in this column, this needed to happen.

Wallace has been the best player this season on the Bobcats' best-ever team. The guy is an amazing athlete but, more than that, amazingly tough. I don't see how he plays sometimes with the injuries he has, but he does. Kudos to Wallace, for breaking the Bobcats' oh-for-forever streak in the all-star game.

He'll have a busy weekend in Dallas, too, assuming he stays in the dunk contest that he was invited into as well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why is the NFL so hard-headed?

One of the best NFL playoff games I ever saw Sunday night ended just the way I feared.

It was basically decided by a coin toss.

That's right. The winner of the coin toss in overtime of the New Orleans/Minnesota slugfest -- you just knew that team would win the game, didn't you? I had no dog in this hunt, but I still wanted badly to see both teams to get the ball at least once in the overtime.

Instead, New Orleans won the toss and drove for a field goal and a 31-28 victory over the Vikings. A game with 8 TDs and dozens of huge plays was decided by a flip of a coin and a field-goal kicker.

That's so wrong. The NFL likes its sudden-death overtime policy well enough that it has never varied -- first team to score wins, and no exceptions. I have never liked it, much preferring the college method (both teams get the ball an equal number of times from the opponents' 25) or the high school method (in most states, starting at the opponents' 10 and getting four downs to score). That is a much fairer way to decide things.

It wasn't fair to take the ball completely out of Brett Favre's hands in OT, just like it wouldn't have been fair to take it completely out of Drew Brees' hands. And teams should be going for TDs in OT, as they do at other levels of football, not just trying to get in position for former soccer players to win the game.

I know not all NFL overtime games end in one possession, but too many of them do. It's just not the right way to do it.

Other than that, it was a fantastic game, and I'm happy for the Saints, who after all had gone their entire existence without ever making a Super Bowl.

I just don't like the rule that helped to get them there.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why is Steve Smith in Australia?

Carolina Panther WR Steve Smith has been in Australia this week watching the Australian Open tennis tournament. He sat in American John Isner's box for a match this week and got interviewed on ESPN by Pam Shriver (a couple of alert "Scott Says" readers first have pointed this out to me -- I didn't see it live -- but it's true).

Isner, who is from Greensboro and is a Panther fan, told reporters after his match (which he won) about Smith: "I didn't know him before this. Somebody told me... he was coming to town. He had heard of me before. He's a tennis fan. He was coming with his buddy. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to give him a credential and whatnot. Met him about five or six days ago. Hit it off since then. He's watched every one of my matches. I've watched him a million times. Kind of cool to have him in my corner."

(Here's an online story by Greg Couch, a friend of mine who is in Australia, about Isner's match and Smith's presence there).

Smith isn't the highest-profile receiver in Australia watching tennis, either. Terrell Owens -- i.e. T.O. -- has been watching Andy Roddick's matches and others and Twittering about them regularly on his account.

Feel free to insert your own joke here about how these two wideouts have plenty of time on their hands while 4 teams are still battling it out in the championship games Sunday. But being a tennis guy myself, I think it's pretty cool they've gone Down Under to watch some of the world's most underrated athletes.

Smitty is something of a Renaissance man in terms of sports, too -- he doesn't just like the basic ones. He's a soccer guy, too, having gotten interested in it while coaching one of his kids.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

3 thoughts on Duke-UNC flameouts Wednesday

3 thoughts following the UNC and Duke flameouts Wednesday (lots more on our new page on the Duke-UNC rivalry, which can be found here):

1. This ACC basketball season is starting to remind me of the kind of ACC football seasons the league has experienced lately. Check the updated standings here. There is going to be more parity than expected, which will make every week fun. But will the league get someone in the Final Four? The chances are iffy at best.

2. Do you remember the old joke in the Matt Doherty days about how you can’t spell “North Carolina” without the letters “N-I-T”? If the Tar Heels don’t improve, that one is going to be resurrected frequently.

3. I thought the announcing team of Tim Brando and Dan Bonner – particularly Brando – was way too pro-Duke during Wednesday’s game given N.C. State’s near-complete dominance in its 88-74 win.

One example: at one point, Duke center Brian Zoubek made a decent move toward the basket but then missed his shot. Brando started talking effusively about how much Zoubek has improved (a theme he would come back to several times during the game).

Almost immediately, N.C. State’s Tracy Smith (who was easily the best player on the court Wednesday) blew by Zoubek for two more points.

“Well, he may be more confident, but he’s not any quicker,” Bonner said of Zoubek.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

5 hoops numbers I can't believe

I find all of this hard to believe about Wednesday night’s basketball action, yet all of it is true. The numbers, please:

2: Years since the Charlotte 49ers had gotten a road win in the A-10. They were 0-8 on the road last season in the conference. I didn’t realize that until Charlotte won at Richmond Wednesday – a nice victory for Bobby Lutz’s club.

4-for-27: Look, I know Davidson is offensively challenged, but my gosh. That’s what the Wildcats shot in the first half – 4 field goals in 27 attempts – against Western Carolina Wednesday. No wonder Davidson lost by 10 – it’s a wonder, in fact, it was that close.

7: Years since a North Carolina team has lost three games in a row. It happened Wednesday night against Wake Forest, as the Tar Heels got whipped again – this time, by 13 points.

14: N.C. State’s winning margin against Duke Wednesday night. Tracy Smith outplayed everyone in a Duke uniform, and the Wolfpack got one of its biggest wins ever under Sidney Lowe.

39: Points the Charlotte Bobcats beat the Miami Heat by Wednesday night to complete a 6-0 homestand. I mean, seriously -- 39 points?! Against a team with Dwyane Wade on it?! Amazing. If the playoffs began today, the Bobcats (21-19) would be seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference. If you haven’t seen this team play yet this season, you owe it to yourself to do so (and you can get tickets cheap).

Monday, January 18, 2010

I'll miss Richard Williamson, Panthers WR coach

Richard Williamson, 68, retired as the Panthers' receivers coach today, and thus ended an era. Williamson was one of the few remaining "only" guys, as in "the only coach who has been with the team since its inception." There's still John Kasay, the "only" Panther left from the original roster, and Jerry Richardson, the team's "only" owner, but there aren't too many more anymore.

Williamson was as old school as a one-room schoolhouse teaching grades K-12. The guy played under Bear Bryant, caught TD passes from Joe Namath and later, as an assistant under Bryant, helped recruit Danny Ford to Alabama. Williamson was a screamer, too.

A "fire and brimstone" guy, as tight end Wesley Walls once said, adding that Williamson could have been a good Baptist preacher if he had wanted to.

If the pass route called for a cut at 12 yards and you made it at 10, Williamson would run onto the field, whip down his white visor at the spot you should have made the cut and start barking.

But man, the guy was good. It's no coincidence that Mark Carrier, Willie Green, Muhsin Muhammad, Donald Hayes, Patrick Jeffers and, of course, Steve Smith, all had the best years of their career under Williamson. Williamson could and did rub his WRs the wrong way sometimes because he was so tough on them -- at times he was very sparing with praise and very free with criticism.

But that old crusty guy could coach, and he was best as a position coach. Williamson had gigs as a head coach in college and in the pros (at Tampa Bay), and he was the offensive coordinator for the Panthers for nearly two years when Bill Musgrave abruptly quit because of a strained relationship with George Seifert four games into the 2000 season.

John Fox put Williamson back at the WR role when he came on the staff in 2002, and that was probably about right. That's where Williamson seemed to flourish. It won't be the same around Panther land without him.

'Don't tell Coach Brown but...'

3 thoughts on the Bobcats' 105-103 win over Sacramento Monday afternoon, which was Charlotte's fifth win in a row. My column on Raymond Felton from the game is here:

1. Gerald Wallace's sprained ankle looked fairly bad when he went out midway through the fourth quarter. Wallace usually thinks he's indestructible -- Stephen Jackson calls him "crash dummy" for the way Wallace can bounce up after incredible falls -- but he sounded worried after this one.
"It's very frustrating," said Wallace, who still led Charlotte with 28 points. "Don't tell Coach Brown, but I didn't even make a hard cut."

On the play, Wallace was trying to go backdoor and stepped on an opposing player's foot. He said if he had made a harder cut it might not have happened.

2. Sean May was a non-factor for Sacramento, not even suiting up. It's apparent coach Paul Westphal doesn't have May in his plans, and I imagine May will be looking for another team over the summer. I saw May afterward briefly and he looked slim, for him, but it's obvious the Kings are going in a different direction.

3. This isn't that weird since the Bobcats are 17-4 at home this season. But I've now gone to seven Bobcats games this season, and they are 7-0. Six of those games were for coverage for the newspaper, and one was as a fan when I bought tickets. Strange, huh?

The Bobcats' media relations staff has noticed this trend now, up to the point that it is a running joke. I need to go see Charlotte on the road for a game -- where the Bobcats are 3-15 -- to get a more realistic glimpse of these guys.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bobby Phills' death: 10 years later

I wrote a long column today about former Charlotte Hornet Bobby Phills, who died 10 years ago in a crash in Charlotte on Tyvola Road.

The column is focused upon whatever happened to Bobby's wife Kendall Phills and the couple's two children (now 13 and 11), as well as David Wesley, Phills' best friend and teammate at the time. Both Wesley and Bobby Phills were speeding excessively at the time in their separate Porsches, headed toward breakfast at a pancake house after a game-day shootaround before a Hornets home game. (Although police theorized the two were racing on Tyvola, Wesley has always denied that. He was acquitted of racing charges -- but convicted of reckless driving -- six months later).

I remember that day distinctly -- Jan.12, 2000. I was in the same job as a sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer back then, too. My boss, Mike Persinger, called me with the news.

It was hard to grasp it, of course. Phills had been a favorite of media members who covered the Hornets regularly -- he was good to have a conversation with, and a natural leader, and honest. He was a family man with one, ultimately fatal flaw -- he loved speed. He drove too fast on a regular basis -- it was a terribly irresponsible thing to do, and he's fortunate he didn't kill anybody else because of this addiction.

The guy Phills hit was a local insurance adjuster named Rob Woolard, who was just minding his own business when Phills' black Porsche came skidding toward him. Woolard is the subject of this nicely-written sidebar by Peter St. Onge, also published today.

Seems like even longer than 10 years in some ways. The Hornets are long gone, to New Orleans. The Bobcats have been here for six seasons now, and finally have a team that may make the playoffs.

Wesley is 39 now, retired, living in Texas and hoping to become a basketball coach. Kendall Phills is now the shortest member of her family -- both her 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter are taller than she is. She jokes that she has to wear five-inch heels just to seem more like a Mom so she can get up above them occasionally.

But in some ways, it seems like it couldn't have been that long ago.

Ten years?! Oh, man.

"I just wish..." Wesley said, when we were talking about Phills at one point in our interview. And then the call got dropped. He was driving on a rainy highway in Texas, fading in and out already, before I lost him.

When I got hold of Wesley again a few minutes later, he started telling a story about how he and Phills were way down once at a blackjack table in Las Vegas, and he wanted to walk away, but Phills kept encouraging him to stay with it, that they could make it all back up. And finally, they did, and a lot more after that, and Wesley still considers one of the most fun nights of his life.

Wesley never did say exactly what he wished for -- but it's not hard to guess. He misses his friend. A lot of us do.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

5 bad numbers for UNC hoops

I just witnessed Clemson absolutely take apart North Carolina, 83-64, in an ACC game that ended with a whole bunch of orange, happy people screaming at midcourt in Clemson. Here's my column from that game. And here are 5 numbers the "ABCers" -- the "Anybody But Carolina" brigade -- may enjoy (although they are guaranteed to make Tar Heel fans wince about this best-forgotten game).

19 -- The margin of defeat. It was the worst in Roy Williams' seven-year tenure at UNC, surpassing the 84-66 defeat (18-point margin) from the 2008 Final Four loss to Kansas.

26 -- UNC turnovers in the game, as Clemson's lightning press totally flustered the Tar Heels.

1-5 -- Tar Heels' record outside Chapel Hill this season (they are 11-0 in Chapel Hill).

5 -- Rows into the stands that an errant Marcus Ginyard pass (one of Ginyard's five turnovers) landed.

4-for-22 -- Combined shooting for Ed Davis and Will Graves, who both were 2-for-11 while trying to shoulder the scoring load Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My guesses on future for Fox, Pep, Jake

I wrote my column today on the Panthers' three biggest offseason issues in my mind -- the future for coach John Fox, DE Julius Peppers and QB Jake Delhomme.

The short version: I think Delhomme is back but will start training camp out as the No.2 QB. I think Fox is back, even though privately he has to be unhappy that he only has a year left on his contract, because no other NFL team has an opening he would like.

(Buffalo? C'mon -- this is a much better team than Buffalo, despite the whipping the Bills gave Carolina. Plus, where would you better live? And even if Oakland fires Cable, Fox and Al Davis have a very checkered history and no way he would end up back there.)

As for Peppers, that one is hard to peg. I put it at a 40 percent chance that Peppers is back. The Panthers will have to make the "franchise player" decision sometime between Feb.11 and 25, assuming they don't sign him to a longterm deal before then.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Better late than never -- McGwire finally confesses

Baseball slugger Mark McGwire finally has admitted today that he used steroids.

Some will say it's too little, too late. Five years ago before Congress, McGwire repeatedly said "I'm not here to talk about the past" when asked about whether he used steroids. (He also used human growth hormone, according to the AP).

Now, he's finally talking -- well, at least he has issued a statement and is doing phone interviews, and I'm sure the "for-the-cameras" news conference and the "60 Minutes" and "ESPN" appearances won't be too long in coming. McGwire had to do this to return to baseball -- he will work for his old team, the St. Louis Cardinals, as hitting coach for the 2010 season.

Well, I say this is better late than never. At least McGwire won't carry this "secret" to his grave, as some other stars from the same era seem intent on doing (are you listening, Barry Bonds?).

McGwire said in his statement: "I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."

Maybe McGwire's admission and apology will keep a couple of kids from falling into the same trap (although you could also argue McGwire's delayed admission let thousands of the same sort of opportunities to scare kids straight go by the wayside).

I'm not arguing that McGwire deserves a medal for doing the right thing now -- a thing he should have done long ago. I'm just saying I'm glad he did it. I know his motives probably aren't the purest here, but at least he's talking (a little) about the past.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Huge day for hoops

I feel tonight almost like I have fast-forwarded to March.

That's when it's common for me -- and for any other fan of basketball -- to see multiple games in a day. Not so much in January. But today I did, and was rewarded by seeing Appalachian State's Donald Sims have an absolutely monster day (44 points) against Davidson and then, in the nightcap, watch one of the Charlotte Bobcats' most exciting wins ever.

Gerald Wallace rose over the crowd for an athletic putback at the buzzer as the Bobcats edged Memphis, 89-87, in a game it looked like Charlotte would lose most of the way. It was a frenzied ending and, according to the Bobcats PR staff, the first time a Bobcats player had made a "walk-off" field goal at home that resulted in a victory.

I was at the Bobcats' game for work and wrote about that one in a column. The Davidson-App State game was for pleasure. I took my eight-year-old son, who is constantly in the driveway shooting hoops, to that one. He saw Sims score more points than Stephen Curry ever did in Belk Arena.

For one afternoon, Sims really played like Curry -- making his threes, his free throws, everything. He dominated.

(And what a bargain that game was. The two of us sat in the bleachers for $14 total -- a deal anyone could get if they took advantage of Davidson's "Take a Kid to the Game" promotion).

Then I dropped my son off and went onto the Bobcats game, where Stephen Jackson wasn't shooting well. "I couldn’t hit a house if I was in the kitchen," said Jackson afterward. He went 6-for-20.

But Wallace saved the Bobcats -- first with a spectacular block of a layup, then with his putback that will inevitably be one of the team's biggest highlights of the year.

Hey, if I could have, I would have gone to UNCC's three-point win over St. Bonaventure, too, but that was at the same time as the Bobcats game. Still, it just goes to show you how much good basketball we have in our area this time of year. If you like basketball, these next 3-4 months really are something.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gerald Wallace should be an all-star

I wrote today that Gerald Wallace should be the Charlotte Bobcats' first-ever all-star, as I think Wallace is having his best season ever as the Bobcats edge toward respectability. Wallace has always been a great athlete, but he has polished his game under Larry Brown. He makes fewer eye-popping steals, but that's by design -- Brown doesn't want him to gamble as much. And he rebounds the ball like a madman -- he's fourth in the NBA so far this season.

A couple of other updates: I've written another blog today on Tom Knotts and how I'm sorry to see the (former) Independence football coach go. Also, here's Langston Wertz's news story talking to Knotts about his move to Dutch Fork, a high school in a Columbia, S.C., suburb.

Julius Peppers' agent says Peppers is awaiting an offer from the Carolina Panthers. Here's Charles Chandler's take.

And my prediction of Charlotte upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville didn't come close to working out -- the Volunteers spanked the 49ers, even with four of their top eight players suspended for the game. Oh, well -- longtime followers of this blog know that if you stake money on one of my predictions, that's money you better not mind losing.

I'm sorry to see Knotts go

High school football just got less interesting around here.

This isn’t the first time Tom Knotts has left Independence High – he once had an ill-fated stint as a Duke assistant coach – but this should be the last. Knotts, 53, has gone to coach at Dutch Fork (S.C.) High, apparently for financial and lifestyle reasons that I don’t really care about that much.

What I do care about is that Knotts is gone.

I’m sorry about that. It will make high school football here feel a little hollow for awhile. Knotts lived and coached on the edge here – always on the verge of some controversy – but he also produced dazzling football teams that mimicked his bravado.

Even when Independence wasn’t great – like this season, when Butler surpassed the Patriots and went on to win a state championship – Knotts kept blustering. After Butler beat Independence in the regular season, Knotts said: “I hope we play them once more in the playoffs. Because they won’t beat us again. I’m sure of that.”

It was gamesmanship. Knotts was trying to convince his own players with that one. And that time, it didn’t work. Butler used Knotts’ quote as bulletin-board material and then whipped Independence again, even worse, in the playoffs.

But that was one of the rare times Knotts couldn’t back up his talk. In the 2000s, Independence was nearly unbeatable. The school once went seven years and 109 games without a loss. At the time, it was the longest winning streak in the nation.

I named Knotts as one of my 10 most fascinating Carolinas sports figures of the decade last week, alongside far more well-known coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams. I really meant that. I certainly don’t agree with all of Knotts’ tactics, but they were fascinating to watch. Although some will be happy to see Knotts go, don’t count me among them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Open mouth, insert foot (Bruce Pearl edition)

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is an entertaining guy, but occasionally he doesn't think before he speaks.

Such was the case this week when Pearl was talking about the fact that four of his top eight Volunteer players would be out tonight in a game in Knoxville against the Charlotte 49ers. The players were arrested and have been suspended indefinitely in part because of a gun charge.

"The task at hand is formidable,'' he said. "But we have got weapons. We have still got weapons."

My friend Mike Strange, columnist at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, referred to the "weapons" quote in this column.

Give Pearl credit: he immediately realized his poor choice of words and said he was sorry. "That's terrible," Pearl said of his analogy. "I apologize." Still funny, though.

I predicted a win for Charlotte tonight in my notes column today that leads with some notes about the Carolina Panthers. That may be a stretch considering No.16 Tennessee is still favored by 16 points, according to our newspaper today. The 49ers will have to shoot very well from three-point range to make it happen -- Derrio Green, a revelation of late, probably needs another very big game.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Now that Fox seems settled.... What about Peppers?

John Fox sounds like he's come to terms with coming back in 2010. The Panther coach said on his radio show Monday night: "I see myself being back here a year from now."

So now that's settled -- Fox gets a make-or-break year for approximately $6 million in 2010. As I've written several times before -- including in my column Monday -- I would have handled this just like Jerry Richardson is doing. No extension, but no firing, either.

With few head-coaching jobs changing over -- and why would Fox even want to coach in a place like Buffalo or Cleveland? -- it only makes sense Fox would end up here. So I'm glad he has come to his senses on this -- he seemed angry about the whole issue after the game on Sunday.

Now onto the other biggest issue for the Panthers. With Fox apparently settled, that's got to be Julius Peppers, who would command more than $20 million for 2010 if the Panthers franchise him again.

Then again, though, it's looking like this is going to be an "uncapped" year, so renting Peppers for another year for $20 million likely would only hurt Jerry Richardson's wallet, not the team as a whole like it did last year (when giving Peppers a million per game hamstrung the team in other ways because No.90 took up so much of the cap).

So I'm not as sure as my colleague Tom Sorensen that Peppers won't play here again in 2010. Remember, the situation looked far more dire during the last offseason -- with Peppers publicly stating he wanted to go elsewhere -- and it still worked out. That just may happen again.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What DIDN'T happen Monday for #Panthers

The day after their NFL season ends, there are certain things the Panthers do every year. They always report early -- usually by 8 or 9 a.m. They always go to the big meeting room to hear their current head coach tell them to go home, enjoy themselves for a little while and then come back for offseason training sessions ready to work.

Then they leave, the belongings from their lockers generally stuffed into trash bags. They are interviewed on the way to their cars by assorted media people and say things like they are looking forward to healing up and competing again next year (Jake Delhomme and Jordan Gross on Monday said exactly that sort of thing).

It's not a real glamorous day, but it's a useful one.

The oddity this year? The head coach almost always has a "end-of-season" press conference after the players leave. This time, there was none of that -- Panther coach John Fox didn't want one.

What does that tell you? Well, I put a lot of my educated guesses about Fox's current contractual situation in today's column for The Charlotte Observer.

Basically, I think Fox didn't want to dance around questions about his contract situation in public, but I would imagine his agent is having plenty of discussions in private. Fox has one year left on his deal and it sounds like Jerry Richardson is going to take a "wait-and-see" approach on whether he will coach the Panthers after the 2010 season.

So you've got a stalemate, and someone at some point is going to have to break it. In the meantime, I'm not holding my breath awaiting a Fox press conference anytime soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

5 things I liked in Panthers' 23-10 win over New Orleans

Here are the 5 things I liked most in Carolina’s 23-10 season-closing win over New Orleans. The game ended the Panthers’ 2009 season at 8-8 but only began a very interesting offseason.

No.1 issue? Getting John Fox’s situation resolved – the coach has a year left on his deal but was very non-committal Sunday (and sounded annoyed) in his postgame press conference about whether he wanted to return to coach the Panthers in 2010. Here's my column about that.

Now, onto the 5 things I liked most Sunday:

1. Fans. For the coldest-weather home game in Panther history – and one that had absolutely no playoff implications – they still came out and cheered lustily. Impressive. I thought there would be far more no-shows.

2. Jonathan Stewart. He ran for 100-plus – again. He scored from 67 yards out. He ended up outgaining DeAngelo Williams for the season (1,133 to 1,117) and scoring at least four more TDs than every other Panther in 2009 (Stewart had 11).

3. Defense. Helped by the fact there was no Drew Brees to worry about, the Panthers made the ancient Mark Brunell look like he had quarterbacked in the first game Carolina ever played in 1995 (which, in fact, he had). Richard Marshall, Julius Peppers and Jon Beason all had particularly good games, I thought.

4. Matt Moore. Ho-hum. Another win. Another 95-plus passer rating. Another win. Moore is now 6-2 as a starter at Carolina, and he’s got to be the favorite (or at least co-favorite) to win the job again for 2010.

5. Dwayne Jarrett. Finally, a breakout game. Jarrett caught all five passes thrown at him, scored his first-ever NFL touchdown and looked, for once, like the second-round pick he was in 2007.

Peppers' interception seals deal

The Panthers have finished off their season with a three-game win streak, putting them at 8-8 and making everyone wonder what would have happened had they only gotten hotter a little earlier.

Carolina's 23-10 win over New Orleans on a frosty day was sealed when Julius Peppers made perhaps the last big play he will make in a Carolina uniform -- he made a diving interception of a short Mark Brunell pass deep in Panthers' territory. On the play, Peppers dove, tipped the ball to himself and grabbed it.

Matt Moore is now 6-2 as a Panther starter all-time and you have to think he's the favorite or at least co-favorite entering 2010 training camp to be the 2010 starter. Peppers' future is in limbo due to his contract status.

More to come: I'll post the traditional "5 things" blog around 5 or 5:30 once I return from postgame interviews.

Panthers' lead cut to 23-10

New Orleans finally got its first TD of the game with 0:07 left in the third quarter, cutting Carolina's lead to 23-10. The TD came from running back Lynell Hamilton, from 1 yard out.

Panther fans are booing right now, mostly because they are upset about an unnecessary roughness call on DB Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn tackled Robert Meachem around the neck and fired him to the turf a split-second after Meachem dropped a pass around the Panther 5.

Meachem stayed on the ground, flat on his back, for several seconds. No flag. Then, a few more seconds later, the flag came. That 15-yard penalty led to the Saints' TD, and to the booing. Still, the Panthers enter the fourth quarter in good control of the game, with a 13-point lead and with the ball just outside their own 20.

Through three quarters, Jonathan Stewart has rushed for 125 yards and will end up as Carolina's leading rusher in 2009, slightly surpassing DeAngelo Williams. Both of them ended up with more than 1,100 yards, the first time an NFL team has had two backs with more than 1,100. It looks like Stewart is going to sit out the rest of the game -- if so, he will end with 1133 yards and DeAngelo with 1117.

Make it 23-3 Panthers on Kasay's third field goal

The Panthers have added yet another field goal -- John Kasay's third of the game -- to extend their lead to 23-3 with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

This field goal came courtesy of Panther cornerback Richard Marshall, who recovered a fumble by New Orleans wide receiver Robert Meachem at the Carolina 28.

Again, the Panthers were unable to move the ball, but that was close enough to let Kasay tack on another field goal.

Panthers lead 20-3 in third quarter

Carolina just keeps piling it on the New Orleans Saints. Another John Kasay field goal, this one from just under 40 yards, has given the Panthers a 20-3 lead with 8:06 left in the third quarter.

That field goal was set up by excellent special-teams play. First, Quinton Teal downed a Jason Baker punt inside the New Orleans five. Then, after the Panther defense held the Saints to a three-and-out again (and Mark Brunell is really looking horrible), Captain Munnerlyn returned a punt 31 yards.

Carolina couldn't move it from there on three running plays, but Kasay's field goal meant Carolina now has a three-possession lead over the Saints (not that they'll need it the way Brunell is throwing the ball).

Panthers lead 17-3 at halftime

Dwayne Jarrett -- whose name has been generally followed by the words "draft bust" for most of the past three seasons -- just scored his first-ever NFL touchdown. The 30-yard strike from Matt Moore pushed Carolina's lead to 14-3 with just seconds remaining in the half.

But Carolina wasn't done, because New Orleans fumbled the ensuing kickoff with 0:05 on the clock and the Panthers' Dante Wesley recovered. Kicker John Kasay knocked in a 41-yard field goal, and suddenly Carolina had extended a 7-3 lead to 17-3 at halftime in a matter of seconds.

Jarrett's TD came right after the Panthers converted a fourth-and-4 from the New Orleans 35, and Jarrett did that, too. He made a catch in traffic, got hammered and held on for a 5-yard gain that moved the chains.

All in all, it was the best drive of Jarrett's career, which isn't saying much, but give him his due for this one.

New Orleans, meanwhile, can do nothing offensively despite good field position for most of the first half. Quarterback Mark Brunell looks ancient and hasn't been helped by several drops, but the Panther defense is also stuffing the run. Unless things change, the Saints are about to enter the playoffs with 3 straight losses and the Panthers are about to enter the offseason with 3 straight wins.

Panthers' lead sliced to 7-3 in 2nd quarter

New Orleans just got on the board with a 35-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley -- Carolina now leads 7-3 with 11:13 left in the second quarter.

Carolina has done nothing offensively since its first drive, when Jonathan Stewart stormed to a 67-yard rushing TD on the Panthers' second play from scrimmage. Matt Moore is having trouble connecting on his passes without Steve Smith (broken forearm) in the lineup.

But the Panthers' defense is playing relatively well also, given that New Orleans keeps taking over around midfield. On the Saints' scoring drive, cornerback Richard Marshall made an excellent play on third-and-2 to stop the Saints, beating a block to make a great tackle.

The field seems to be slippery -- there have been several stumbles on both sides.

Panthers escape apparent New Orleans TD

New Orleans almost just scored a defensive touchdown on a strange play -- and a bad one by Panther quarterback Matt Moore.

On a third-and-10 play from the Carolina 9, Moore rolled right, running fast. Then he slipped and landed on his backside with the ball still held up in his right hand. Defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove dove on Moore, hitting his body and the ball almost simultaneously.

Moore fumbled, Hargrove crawled into the end zone and onto the ball and the referee signaled "Touchdown."

But the Panthers' John Fox challenged. And the referee overturned the play, saying Moore had been touched by Hargrove and was thus down just before Moore lost the fumble.

Instead, Carolina got to punt the ball away, still leading 7-0.

Panthers lead 7-0 on Stewart's 67-yard TD

Carolina wasted no time continuing their three-week hot streak -- Jonathan Stewart just sprinted 67 yards for a TD on the Panthers' second play from scrimmage.

That made it Panthers 7, New Orleans 0, with only 52 seconds gone in the game. And it warmed up a crowd which is fighting the coldest temperatures ever at a Panther home game -- 30 degrees at kickoff, with a biting wind.

With DeAngelo Williams inactive again today, Stewart will certainly go over 100 yards you would think and -- dare we say it? -- might even challenge that 206-yard rushing mark he set last week.