Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Panther, Bobcat notes and one more funny quote

A few thoughts on a rainy Wednesday:

1) Just finished some interviews in the Panther locker room. Steve Smith talked for 10 minutes, and he wasn't controversial at all. Smith began the interview by jokingly calling for some Panthers' public-relations people to come over beside him to keep him from "going off" -- that was in reference to several media members saying after Sunday's game that Smith was about to start being very critical when a Panthers PR person basically ended the interview.

But after that jibe, Smith spent a relatively peaceful 10 minutes answering or not answering questions as he saw fit -- he dodged a number of them that weren't directly about him, saying he didn't need to try to do other people's jobs.

2) I wrote my column for today's newspaper about Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, the combustible two-man core for the Charlotte Bobcats. Given that the team's talent isn't as good on paper right now as it was six months ago, there will be more pressure on those two than ever this season. Click the link here to read that.

3) Got a funny e-mail from my friend and colleague Brett McMillan, a veteran radio broadcaster in our area. He was referring to the blog post directly below this one about funny sports quotes and pointed out one of Dom Capers' all-time finest ironic lines that I didn't remember but was glad to hear again. Said Capers once, describing how team-oriented his favorite Panther linebacker was:

"There's no 'I' in Sam Mills."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Convoluted sports quotes (Panthers version)

As a sportswriter for almost 25 years now, I've always enjoyed collecting a good, funny or strange sports quote or two.

John Fox has one in my column today about the Panthers' 0-3 start, where he says: "We are what we are. And that is what I'm trying to change, so we are not that."

There have been others -- I quote another in the column from George Seifert, but I couldn't work in the one from the former NFL player, who, when I asked how he did what he did, said:

"You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to do my job."

Obviously not. Or a brain surgeon or rocket scientist either.

Fox had another one a couple of weeks ago that sounded almost existential. When talking about Matt Moore's concussion, Fox said: "Day-to-day means kind of where we're at today is where we are. And we'll take it day-to-day."

Um, right. If you've ever read Sports Illustrated's "They Said It" near the front of the magazine, it has one of these every week and they are always good. One of my favorites was when Shaquille O'Neal was angry at a writer named Sam Smith and proclaimed: "Sam Smith is an idiot. I-D-O-U-T -- idiot."

As for the intelligence of the athletes and coaches who say such things, I say you've got to give them a break. I can't imagine how many dumb things I'd say if there was a microphone in front of my face all the time.

I'll leave you with one more of my favorites, from Randy Moss. After being involved in a freaky play that resulted in a touchdown for his team and asked about its strangeness, Moss said: "It's just a once-in-a-lifetime thing that happens every so often."

Sounds like the odds of the Panthers winning a game anytime soon, doesn't it?

Monday, September 27, 2010

No, don't trade Steve Smith (trade a RB instead)

It is tempting in the wake of the Panthers' 0-3 start to want to mess with the team in a dramatic way, as my colleague Tom Sorensen proposes today in his column advocating a trade of Steve Smith.

Now I’m all for messing with the Panthers – something needs to be done, for sure. But there are a couple of problems with that scenario:

1) Smith wouldn't bring nearly as much in trade value right now as he would have, say, four years ago. Remember his various injury problems and his age (31) and forget the idea that the Panthers would get multiple high picks for him. I’d guess at best they might get a second-rounder for Smith. I believe he’s worth more to Carolina now as the team’s biggest playmaking threat than he’d be worth elsewhere (although given this offense, I certainly wouldn’t blame Smith if he wanted to go elsewhere. Wouldn’t you if you were him?).

2) If the Panthers trade Smith, they’ll be even worse offensively and simply have to back-fill the position. I don’t much like the idea of David Gettis and Brandon LaFell starting, do you? And Dwayne Jarrett has been a huge bust. So the draft pick or picks that Smith brings – it might end up being spent yet again on wide receiver, since no one knows for sure yet if LaFell, Gettis or Armanti Edwards is going to work out long-term.

To me, it would make more sense to trade from a position of strength. The Panthers have a stable of three running backs that is the envy of the NFL. You’d have to do some contractual work with DeAngelo Williams to trade him, but Jonathan Stewart could be traded right now. He’s young, in his prime and certainly good enough to be the No.1 back at most places in the NFL (although Williams is a shade better). Mike Goodson is an adequate backup back. Trading Stewart would make more sense to me than Williams (assuming DeAngelo would get locked into a long-term deal in Charlotte) or, alternately, trading DeAngelo and keeping Stewart and Goodson. This would help break up the logjam at RB and could give the Panthers help where they need it most.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

5 things I didn't like in Bengals' win over Panthers

There are a lot more than five after Carolina’s third straight 13-point loss – 20-7 to Cincinnati Sunday at home – so list some more in the comments if you wish.

One note: I’m writing my column about rookie QB Jimmy Clausen for Monday’s newspaper and online, but I’ll state right here that despite his horrid first half, I think he should start at New Orleans over Matt Moore.

1) Turnovers. Carolina had four, which was right on their average (now 12 in three games). If you’re counting, that’s a dozen turnovers by the offense and three touchdowns in three games.

2) Rushing yardage. I said before this game I thought Carolina would need 150 yards rushing and to win the turnover war to win the game. Neither happened – Carolina had only 87 yards rushing.

3) The center snap. It shouldn’t be that hard, should it? Among Jimmy Clausen’s worst miscues on a mistake-prone day were two quarterback snaps he fumbled. One was recovered by Carolina; the other lost almost sure points, as Cincinnati recovered at its own 30. Clausen took the blame for both of them.

4) Fourth-quarter points. Carolina had pulled to within 10-7 midway through the third quarter, but was outscored 10-0 in the fourth. In three games this season, Carolina has been outscored 20-2 in the NFL’s money quarter.

5) Steve Smith’s absence from the offense. His first catch didn’t come until the fourth quarter. He’s obviously frustrated. He ended up with three catches for 22 yards. He and Clausen don’t look like they are on the same page – and they better get on it, fast. And c'mon, offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson. A reverse to Smith? The old reliable flanker screen. Putting him in motion more... Something?! Anything?

Cincinnati beats Carolina, 20-7

The Panthers just dropped to 0-3 with a desultory 20-7 loss to Cincinnati on a damp afternoon in Bank of America Stadium.

Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen had a better second half after a horrid first half, but still couldn’t get the Panthers to their first win of the 2010 season. Carolina plays at defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans next Sunday.

In fact, Clausen’s results were remarkably similar to Matt Moore’s. Moore also led a single scoring drive as Carolina lost to Tampa Bay by an identical 20-7 score one week ago at home. All three of Carolina's losses this year have been by 13 points.

Clausen didn’t commit a turnover in the second half after a mistake-riddled first 30 minutes. The Panthers got a costly fumble from Jonathan Stewart in the fourth quarter, however, and Steve Smith was barely a part of the offense at all.

Clausen did ignite a couple of last fireworks with a 44-yard pass to Brandon LaFell just after the two-minute warning. Then came two straight personal fouls on the Bengals, and the Panthers had moved the ball to Cincinnati’s 14. But the Panthers sputtered out from there, as Clausen twice tried to hit LaFell in the end zone, but failed.

CIncy now leads 20-7 midway through 4th quarter

Cincinnati just took what is likely an insurmountable lead, given Carolina's offensive problems. With 8:11 to go in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati leads, 20-7, following a short touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Cedric Benson.

That score was set up by Jonathan Stewart's lost fumble -- the Panthers' fourth turnover of the game. Cincinnati started with the ball on Carolina's 37 because of the turnover.

The Panthers' defense looked poor on the drive, giving up those 37 yards in three plays. They once again had trouble guarding Cincy tight end Jermaine Gresham, who has given them fits for much of the game on short screens and flare-outs.

On the plus side for Carolina, the Panthers finally have a sack by a defensive lineman (Charles Johnson) and a catch by Steve Smith (although it took more than 50 minutes in this game for him to get it).

13-7 Bengals early in 4th

Cincinnati just extended its lead to six points -- 13-7 -- on a 50-yard Mike Nugent field goal with 14:53 left in the fourth quarter.

That means if Carolina is going to make a comeback, Jimmy Clausen will need to get the Panthers into the end zone a second time.

Clausen averted another near-disaster on his last possession, when he fumbled his second snap of the game at his own 12. However, Travelle Wharton recovered it for Clausen, allowing the Panthers to at least punt out of danger.

Because of a decent third quarter, Clausen's QB rating has risen from 0.0 at halftime to 29.8 now. He's 6-of-14 for 73 yards as the fourth quarter begins.

Panthers cut Bengals lead to 10-7

Carolina finally got the home crowd fired up midway through the third quarter, as Jonathan Stewart just scored Carolina's first rushing TD of the season and trimmed Cincinnati's lead to 10-7.

After a horrid first half (0.0 passer rating), rookie QB Jimmy Clausen finally got his feet under him on this drive. With good protection, he had three good mid-to-short range passes (none of them, interestingly, to Steve Smith) and also sustained a roughing-the-passer penalty that gave Carolina 15 more yards.

On first-and-goal from the 1 after a 15-yard DeAngelo Williams run, Carolina tried to get cute and had Clausen throw to Dante Rosario. That was incomplete. Then came the simple handoff to Stewart and the TD, making it 10-7.

Cincinnati may well be regretting that clock mismanagement just before the half, which it ended on Carolina's 5 with no points because the clock ran out.

10-0 Bengals at halftime

The Panthers have not given the fans braving the rain and drizzle at Bank of America Stadium much to cheer about, as Cincinnati leads 10-0 at halftime.

Panther RB Mike Goodson had a horrible series just before halftime. On first down, he dropped a short pass from Clausen. Then he fumbled a handoff and had it bounce off his knee 10 yards down the field. The Bengals recovered -- it was Carolina's third turnover of the first half.

Clausen in the first half: 1-for-5, 14 yards, one interception, one lost fumble.

Still, Carolina is in the game, in part because Cincinnati wasted an opportunity to score more points just before halftime after Goodson's fumble.

Cincinnati quickly got a pass from Palmer to Jordan Shipley to the Panther 5 after Goodson's fumble. A false start penalty moved the ball back to the 10. Palmer then threw one incompletion and a short pass, but couldn't get off another snap from the Cincinnati 5.

So Carolina is down by only 10 at halftime, but those two first-half scoring opportunities where the Panthers turned the ball over may really haunt them.

Cincinnati up 10-0 as Panthers sputter

A Mike Nugent field goal extended Cincinnati's lead to 10-0 as the Bengals continue to dominate in Charlotte.

Jimmy Clausen has completed only one pass for Carolina. The Panthers have dropped four potential interceptions (and caught two others).

Clausen throws a crucial interception

Well, that was a quarter Jimmy Clausen would like to forget.

He just threw an interception inside the Cincinnati 10, which blew up Carolina's second good scoring chance of the game. This one came after Carolina's Charles Godfrey intercepted a Carson Palmer pass and returned it 38 yards to the Cincinnati 20.

Clausen for the first quarter: one lost fumble, one interception, one completion (for 14 yards).

Carolina still trails, 7-0, as the second quarter begins.

The defense is playing relatively well, though, having intercepted Palmer twice (and nearly doing so two other times). The Godfrey interception was caused in part by great pressure from Everette Brown and Charles Johnson around the ends.

Bengals take 7-0 lead on Benson's run

Cincinnati has an early 7-0 lead in soggy Bank of America Stadium.

Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen, in the meantime, has yet to throw his first pass of the game.

The Bengals took their third possession on a 53-yard drive culminated by Cedric Benson's 1-yard run. The drive was helped considerably by two officials' calls that went against Carolina.

First, on a critical pass to Terrell Owens, the Panthers thought they had gotten Owens to fumble the ball after catching it. However, officials ruled his forward progress had been stopped -- which looked iffy on the replays. John Fox threw his challenge flag but to no avail, because you can't challenge forward progress.

Then, on a key third-down play, the Panthers' Jordan Pugh was called for pass interference in the end zone against Cincinnati's Andre Caldwell. That placed the ball at the 1, and Benson scored on the next play on a sweep to the left.

Clausen fumbles away first possession

Panthers rookie Jimmy Clausen did not have a good first possession on his inaugural NFL start.

Presented with a short field after Captain Munnerlyn intercepted a pass on the Bengals' third play, Clausen quickly got Carolina to the 25 thanks to a 26-yard run from DeAngelo Williams.

Then Clausen fumbled a snap, however, and Cincinnati recovered. The field is slick and the ball is wet and it's raining hard right now, but it was still a tough way to get started.

Today's 2 biggest Panther-related stories

It's Sunday morning, and I don't think there's much doubt what the 2 storylines for most fans at Bank of America Stadium today will be:

1) Jimmy Clausen. Our Joe Person had a very interesting story today about Clausen in advance of his first-ever NFL start. I think Clausen will do OK today, but he better get to hand off a lot -- the Panthers still haven't scored a rushing TD this season and must today.

2) The weather. It doesn't look encouraging -- sounds like it's going to rain off and on (or maybe just "on") for this home game. The temperature, on the other hand, feels perfect, if the rain would only hold off. If you want to know why it's going to rain and likely how much, check out this story.

If you want my prediction on the game or a few other game-related notes, check the blog post just before this one.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Bengals-Panthers prediction (and some notes)

A few pregame notes on the Bengals-Panthers contest Sunday, along with my prediction:

-- Jimmy Clausen better provide that spark John Fox wants so badly Sunday. Fox doesn’t have a whole lot of cards to play after this one. I think Clausen will do enough things right to at least start next week at New Orleans, too -- a more difficult assignment than this one.

-- The Panthers can’t really be any worse in the red zone, so I’m guessing they will be better Sunday under rookie quarterback Clausen. In four of six red-zone (inside the 20) chances this season, Carolina has come away with zero points four times.

-- The Panthers’ odds to win the Super Bowl have gone from 55-1 in the preseason to 150-1 today, according to oddsmaker

-- Cincinnati intercepted Baltimore's Joe Flacco four times last week and has to be salivating at getting a chance to rattle a rookie. Any defensive coordinator is going to blitz a rookie QB, so the first two seconds of every dropback is going to be extremely important to Clausen.

-- The 52 points Carolina scored against Cincinnati in 2002 remain the most ever scored by any team vs. the Bengals – and the most the Panthers have ever scored as well. You might remember that Steve Smith scored TDs of 31, 61 and 87 yards in that one (the latter two on punt returns).

-- Terrell Owens has long been a thorn in Carolina’s side. In 15 games over his career against the Panthers -- nearly a full season’s worth – Owens has had 1,110 receiving yards on 75 catches vs. Carolina. That’s more receptions and yards than T.O. has against any other team over his career. The Panthers have to be more worried today, though, about Chad Ochocinco, who is playing as well as any receiver in the NFL.

-- The only way I think the Panthers win this one is if they rush for 150 or more yards on the ground and win the turnover war.

-- The Panthers need this one badly -- and my colleague Ron Green Jr. thinks they will get it. But I think Cincinnati is a slightly stronger team overall. My pick: Bengals, 23-17.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Panthers are No.31 and other notes

Three quick thoughts on a Wednesday:

1) has the Panthers No.31 out of 32 teams (ahead of only Buffalo) in its latest power rankings. Ouch. I'd put them a little higher right now, but not much -- around No.27 (also ahead of Lions, Browns, Raiders and Rams).

2) I wrote my column today on Kyle "Rowdy" Busch, who says he would trade all 80 of his wins in NASCAR's 3 biggest series for one Sprint Cup championship this season. Busch gets married to aspiring model Samantha Sarcinella on Dec.31st, so his offseason will be pretty good either way.

3) Darin Gantt had a nice piece for our newspaper today about the Panthers' problems at the No.2 wide receiver spot. I found this chart particularly interesting about the players Carolina had a shot at but didn't get in the offseason. Out of all these guys, I like Boldin the most -- that would have been quite an acquisition and would have fit in well with what Carolina likes to do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Adventures of Old John Fox

I wrote my column today about the strange -- and welcome -- behavior Coach John Fox has been exhibiting lately.

Fox has pulled the trigger on a QB change only two games into the season, benching Matt Moore in favor of 23-year-old rookie Jimmy Clausen. He also went for it on fourth down four times in Carolina's last game (there have been seasons in Charlotte where Fox has only gone for it on fourth down eight times the entire year).

It's an interesting phenomenon, one predicated, I think, by Fox knowing he's a short-timer here in his ninth season and wanting to leave no stone unturned as he tries to avoid, say, the 4-12 season that Moore looked like he was arrowing toward.

What's weird is how different of a guy Moore has seemed on the field this season. He's so indecisive, so inaccurate.... remember, he was 6-2 as a starter going into this season. But now he's lost his confidence, which is why I applaud what Fox is doing with Clausen (see the next blog post for more on that) as he tries to save the Panthers' season.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Clausen the right choice for starting job

Panthers coach John Fox just startled the media corps in Charlotte by announcing that Jimmy Clausen would start the home game against Cincinnati Sunday.

Fox generally holds his cards very close to the vest on all personnel decisions, particularly at quarterback. He usually doesn't announce the QB starter until late in the week to force the other team to prepare for both QBs. For instance, he didn't announce Matt Moore as last week's starter until Thursday (following Moore's concussion).

Fox is trying something new this week, though. Saying the Panthers needed a "spark" and simply weren't getting it done with the passing game, he told the team and then the media Monday that the rookie QB from Notre Dame would start against the Bengals.

I like the move -- and the way Fox will give the team almost a full week to get used to it. No doubt they are changing horses in midstream here (at least temporarily), but that stream was leading over a cliff anyway. At 0-2, the Panthers have sustained consecutive 13-point losses and look like a team headed toward a 4-12 season in the first two weeks.

Moore, with six turnovers in two games, needs to sit. Fox kept saying this wasn't an "indictment" of Moore, that all of the offense was at fault, but when you lose your job, that's not exactly a hearty well-done, either.

I think Moore has lost confidence -- much like Jake Delhomme did here in 2009 and David Carr once did. Clausen still has his confidence, and he deserves this shot.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

5 things I didn't like in 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay

Five things I didn’t like as Carolina dropped to 0-2 with a nasty performance in its 20-7 home loss to Tampa Bay Sunday (my column about the game and the Panthers playing like they were trying to pass off a fake ID is here):

1. Matt Moore’s second straight bad game. I think you have to start Jimmy Clausen now vs. Cincinnati next week, even though he didn’t do a lot Sunday. Moore has made six turnovers in his first two starts of 2010 (four interceptions, two fumbles lost). He looks nothing like the guy who won – with little pressure on him – consistently last December.

2. Panthers’ pass rush. Carolina didn’t get a single sack, which makes a grand total of one after two games. Josh Freeman had his way with the Carolina defense, shrugging off tackles several times and looking like the best quarterback on the field all afternoon.

3. Fourth-and-goal. I saw nothing wrong with giving the ball to Jonathan Stewart on fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 1 on a must-have play with 3:35 to go. There was a lot wrong with the result – Stewart stopped for a one-yard loss.

4. The No.2 receiver. Again, Carolina had more problems with the “Who can catch the ball besides Steve Smith?” question. Dwayne Jarrett was a non-factor as usual – rookie David Gettis played a lot more after Brandon LaFell was inactive due to injury but caught only two of the five balls thrown at him, for 18 yards. (He also got open on a deep ball Moore badly overthrew). And tight end Dante Rosario had a possible touchdown pass slip off his fingers from Moore.

5. The offensive line. It allowed four sacks for the second straight week and couldn’t extract a big rushing game from the Tampa Bay game for the first time in the past four. Carolina had averaged 241 yards rushing against the Bucs in its past three games. It averaged less than half that (119) Sunday.

Carolina ties game, 7-all, on Steve Smith TD

Carolina's offense just came up with a very big play, with Steve Smith catching a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-4 to tie the game at 7-all with 11:43 to go in the second quarter.

The 88-yard drive took only six plays and reversed Carolina's poor fortunes in its first two possessions.

The Panthers offense actually drew a scattering of boos after another Moore incompletion forced a second punt (fans also thought Tampa Bay might have interfered on the play).

And the first quarter was all Bucs: Tampa Bay outgained Carolina, 93-33, and Matt Moore was only 1-for-5 for 8 yards.

But the Panthers' third possession, which started at the Carolina 12, began more promisingly. Jonathan Stewart broke a 19-yard run, and Moore then hit Dante Rosario over the middle to get past midfield. (The 26-yard catch should have been challenged by Tampa Bay, as the ball appeared to hit the ground, but Carolina rushed to the line and got a play off before the Bucs could challenge).

On third-and-4 from Tampa's 37, Rosario dropped a very catchable five-yard pass. John Fox then decided to go for it on fourth-and-4 -- it would have been a 54-yard field goal, at the edge of John Kasay's range -- and Smith grabbed the ball over the middle, accelerated and scored from 37 yards out. Tampa Bay had at least one safety who was trapped too close to the line of scrimmage on the play, so once Smith caught the pass, the field was wide open for him. It was Smith's second TD of the season.

7-0 Tampa Bay early as Panthers D malfunctions

Tampa Bay has drawn first blood in Sunday's divisonal game, as the Panthers trail 7-0 midway through the first quarter.

It's a hot day -- about 90 degrees on the field -- and the Bucs are the team sizzling early, as they went 54 yards on eight plays on their second drive after an exchange of punts opened the game.

The Bucs beat Carolina with Josh Freeman's legs -- a key 17-yard scramble -- and his arm (a 24-yard pass to Kellen Winslow over Jon Beason for another big third-down conversion). The TD came on what looked to be a blown assignment, as Earnest Graham slipped out of the backfield all alone and scored on a 14-yard pass.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Panthers-Bucs prediction

Some thoughts on Sunday's Panthers-Bucs game and my prediction:

-- The Panther offense will have two primary plays Sunday -- the handoff and the pitchout.

In the past three games these two teams have played, Carolina has rushed for a staggering 241-yards-per-game average. No surprise that the Panthers have won all three of those.

“Double Trouble” wasn’t much trouble for the New York Giants to handle last week, however, in part because the Panthers went away from the run too early. They better not make that mistake Sunday. Although the Buccaneers have improved their defensive front, that’s still how Carolina can beat them.

-- I wrote my column for today's newspaper about Greg Hardy, who had two big-time plays in his NFL debut last Sunday. Somebody -- Hardy, Everette Brown, Tyler Brayton or Charles Johnson -- needs to get to Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman Sunday. Freeman is a tough guy (playing through a broken thumb) and very mobile. Carolina didn't have a sack from its D-line last week.

-- Aqib Talib, the Bucs’ best cornerback, returns Sunday after a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. That will help a Tampa Bay defense that has sometimes struggled in the past to cover Steve Smith. Look for Talib to shadow Smith for much of the game, and for that
matchup to determine much of how Carolina’s passing game goes.

-- The bottom line is that Carolina should win this one. The Panthers don’t have an obvious talent edge against 80-90 percent of the teams they play, but they do Sunday. If you’re not going to beat a Tampa Bay team at home that was 3-13 last season, then what game are you going to win?

-- I’m 1-0 predicting the Panthers so far this year. This week’s pick: Carolina 23, Tampa Bay 13.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'll be stunned if Moore doesn't start

Matt Moore practicing on Wednesday for the Panthers was a very good sign for the quarterback. I'd now be stunned if he doesn't start Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Moore had the second concussion of his football career Sunday against the New York Giants -- he said Wednesday afternoon that his first one came in high school. As coach John Fox had hypothesized Monday, Moore had the concussion on his next-to-last snap, when his head banged into the artificial turf on a sack.

Shortly afterward, Moore came out to direct the next series -- he described this as an "in-the-moment-thing." It's now clear, of course, that Moore shouldn't have been out there at all for that series -- he already had had the concussion -- but at the time it apparently wasn't evident.

So Moore dropped back, Jordan Gross missed a block and Moore got blindsided (fumbling for the second straight play). It was at this point that he felt nauseous and came out of the game. (Jimmy Clausen came in, ran for his life on a couple of plays and threw two incompletions).

In any event, Moore seemed more or less himself Wednesday, although a little more serious and a little less jokey than usual during his interview session. That may not be a bad thing. Moore certainly deserves to start again Sunday -- I wrote a column to that effect in Monday's newspaper -- but he isn't going to have unlimited chances to get this right. Concussions are serious. The Panthers' offensive problems are serious. Something positive better happen Sunday.

Tampa Bay at home -- now that's a game the Panthers better win. Carolina's talent level is better than the Bucs, and you can't say that anymore about too many NFL teams.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dampier's salary dump: what a mess

Here's a small sneak preview of the column I'm writing about Erick Dampier and his brief time with the Charlotte Bobcats for Wednesday's newspaper:

And with the No.2 pick of the 2004 NBA draft, the Charlotte Bobcats select….

That’s how it seems, anyway, after the Bobcats waived center Erick Dampier Tuesday and got rid of his unguaranteed, $13.07-million salary for next season.

This release sounds OK in principle on first glance. The Bobcats were able to get below the luxury tax and Dampier is too old to help them much on the court. The Bobcats certainly aren’t good enough to be paying a luxury tax.

But chase this one down the rabbit hole far enough and you won’t like what you see. Essentially, the Bobcats have made two trades in the past two summers that got rid of center Emeka Okafor and ended up with hardly anything but payroll relief.

Okafor was once the NBA Rookie of the Year in Charlotte. Even though Okafor will always be a somewhat robotic player, he was still an asset.

The Bobcats basically traded Okafor to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler last summer in large part because Chandler’s contract had fewer years left on it. Then they traded Chandler away to Dallas in July and picked up a couple of spare parts and Dampier’s non-guaranteed salary.

At the time of that trade, Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins called Dampier’s non-guaranteed contract extremely valuable because of the relief it could afford another team. Higgins sounded like he was holding a winning poker hand.

Turned out he wasn’t, and today Higgins and Bobcats owner Michael Jordan need to be called out on that. Fans don’t care that Jordan is saving a few million by not paying a luxury tax. They aren’t cheering today: “Yes! We waived a guy with a huge salary!”

They want to see a better product on the floor, and right now there’s little way to imagine that the Bobcats are a better team in 2010-11 than they were in 2009-10.

I guess this is the move that Jordan warned us about – the one that gets the Bobcats out of a salary mess and better equipped to do the next good deal down the road.
It’s just amazing to me that in only six years the Bobcats got into that big of a mess in the first place.

It's Moore's job -- for now

I wrote a column in today's newspaper counseling patience for those who are ready to throw Matt Moore out onto the scrap heap after his three-interception performance in Sunday's 31-18 loss to the N.Y. Giants.

As it happens, Moore may have to give way to Jimmy Clausen for Sunday's game anyway, since he suffered a concussion late in the game and will have to pass a series of tests to get cleared to be back on the field.

But even if, say, Moore has to sit and Clausen plays well against Tampa Bay and the Panthers win (and if they can't beat the Bucs at home, they are in serious trouble), Moore should still start in Week 3 vs. Cincinnati. It's his job for now -- he wasn't impressive in preseason, no, but neither was Clausen (neither led a TD drive). And he was definitely the best QB in practice and the one the Panther players have the most confidence in at the moment.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Get ready for QB quandary week

After John Fox's news conference Monday afternoon, the Panthers quarterback situation remains muddled although Matt Moore's head sounds like it is clearer.

Fox said repeatedly Moore would be "day-to-day" for Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay. He also said Moore may have sustained his concussion on the series before the one where he came out of the game, although Fox wasn't sure. The coach also said Moore "way better" today than he did Sunday.

With 3:50 to go, Moore was plastered on a sack up the middle and banged his head backwards on the turf. He fumbled and New York recovered.

The Giants gave the ball back four plays later, however, when Greg Hardy caused a fumble.

Moore came back into the game, got sacked again immediately by Usi Umenyiora and fumbled again. This time he came out. He went to the hospital, was evaluated and flew home on the team plane.

What does all this mean? Fox will likely stick with the "day-to-day" designation all week -- he's not about to declare Moore out or in for this game until he has to. As you know, Fox is like that.

Meanwhile, the Panthers will get rookie QB Jimmy Clausen ready in case Moore can't go. Fox said he thought Clausen knew the plays well enough that the playbook wouldn't need to be simplified for him.

The real indication on who will start will come in Wednesday and Thursday's practices when we see who is getting all the time with the first team.

My guess? Fox and the Panthers medical staff will do everything they can to avoid starting Clausen in Week 2 -- they think it's too early. But Moore will have to pass some doctors' tests to get back on the field, so it's probably one the Panthers will either announce Friday afternoon (once all the game-planning in Tampa Bay has been done) or not until Sunday just before kickoff.

4 Monday morning NFL thoughts

1) That was a catch Detroit's Calvin Johnson made, and it would have won the game for Detroit over Chicago. If the refs were handcuffed by a bad rule, then so be it, but that was a catch.

2) Guess who leads the NFC South in points scored? It's your very own Carolina Panthers, who have 18. Everyone else had 17 or less -- even New Orleans -- but the Saints and Tampa Bay are 1-0, while Atlanta and Carolina are 0-1. The Panthers also have allowed the most points in the division so far (31).

3) Did you see the end of the Dallas-Washington game Sunday night? Incredible finish, but that was the right call on the offensive holding. 'Skins win, 13-7.

4) John Fox's press conference is at 12:30 p.m. today, so expect some more news on Panther QB Matt Moore's concussion at that point if not sooner. Given the seriousness that the NFL treats concussions with these days, Carolina will at least have to prepare rookie QB Jimmy Clausen as if he's going to play Sunday, whether he does or not.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

5 things I didn't like in loss to Giants

The Carolina Panthers' 31-18 loss to the New York Giants Sunday wasn't surprising -- the Giants were favored to win -- but the way that they lost the game was. From my viewpoint -- which for Week 1 was in front of a TV, just like most Panther fans -- here are the 5 things I liked the least:

1) Matt Moore's performance. Three end-zone interceptions?! That's really bad, and exactly the sorts of mistakes that Moore avoided in his great December (when there was far less pressure on him) in the preseason. Moore also fumbled, held the ball too long on several occasions and (to be fair) threw some arrows, including for Carolina's lone TD to Steve Smith. He also got very little help from his offensive line -- Jordan Gross got beaten badly on the fourth-quarter sack that likely led to a Moore concussion and puts into serious question his availability for next Sunday.

2) 17-2. That was the margin the Panthers were outscored by the Giants in the second half. The two points came on a punt block once the game was decided. Carolina led 16-14 at halftime, then disintegrated. Lay the blame for that one largely on Coach John Fox and his staff, who were definitely "out-adjusted" during the break.

3) The running game. Where was it in the second half? Jonathan Stewart ran for a franchise-record 206 yards against the Giants only nine months ago. He looked like a different back -- and the offensive line was certainly no great shakes -- in this one.

4) The defensive secondary. I'm not listing these in order of importance, or else this might be No.1. Charlotte's Hakeem Nicks looked like he was running through high school secondaries in our area like he used to -- he kept getting waaaaay open. Richard Marshall in particular had a tough day, but everyone got blow-torched a few times.

5) Pass rush. This goes hand-in-hand with No.4. Where was the fantastic rush that led to so many preseason sacks? I hardly heard any defensive lineman's name called all afternoon.

Honorable mention: J.J. Jansen's horrid snap that got halfway to Jason Baker; the three Panther passes (rather than a single run) on first-and-goal from the Giants 4; Daryl Johnston's strange sportcoat (what color was that thing -- salmon?)

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Sunday prediction -- and Peppers

My column today was on Julius Peppers and the Bear hug he's been given in Chicago so far, where he's had a dominant preseason. Here's that column.

Now, onto the Panthers. You may have caught the dueling columns Tom Sorensen and I wrote in Thursday's Observer, where I picked Carolina to go 7-9 in 2010 and Tom went with a more optimistic 9-7. As I told Tom in the column, they'll be fitting him for a Catman-style cape soon, he has become so incredibly optimistic about the Panthers the past couple of years.

As for Sunday's game at the New York Giants, here are a few thoughts:

-- You’ve got to think the New York Giants are still smarting from that 41-9 whipping Carolina laid upon them last December behind Jonathan Stewart’s 206 yards rushing. Did you remember that Stewart also had a 53-yard run called back during that game due to a holding penalty on Jeff King?

-- The Panthers’ touchdown drought will end Sunday, but I’m very interested to see if Matt Moore can recapture the mojo he had last December when he threw three TD passes against New York. It’s a little different now – the pressure is far greater. What the Panthers will really ask Moore to do most, of course, is hand off to DeAngelo Williams and Stewart. But can he convert on third-and-7?

-- I don’t see this game as being a blowout, and in fact I think the Panthers’ new crop of defensive ends will harass Eli Manning a good bit. John Fox always seems to have a good game plan against his former employer, too. Ultimately, though, I think the Giants will prevail. My prediction: New York Giants 19, Carolina 17.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Panther corners among top 5 NFL tandems?

A couple of notes as the NFL season looms:

1)'s Steve Wyche has listed Carolina Panther starting cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall No.5 out of the 32 CB tandems in the NFL. That's a bit unusual in that neither Gamble nor Marshall have ever made the Pro Bowl or been much of a big name in the NFL, but the two have definitely become a solid pairing. Here's the link if you're curious about Nos.1-4.

2)Julius Peppers has had quite a preseason in Chicago, where teammates and coaches are raving about his ability (no surprise there) and he's also been elected a defensive co-captain along with LB Brian Urlacher (given Peppers' reticence, that's a surprise).

3) Watch for expanded NFL coverage in Thursday's sports section and online, as we preview the Panthers and the league in-depth and Tom Sorensen and I make our annual predictions about the Panthers season. Incidentally, we got a question during my online chat Tuesday about who would win in a streetfight between myself, Sorensen and Bobcats writer extraordinaire Rick Bonnell. I voted for Bonnell. The quickie online poll, however had Sorensen first, Bonnell second and me dead last.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Join me for an online chat at 12 noon Tuesday

Welcome back from Labor Day -- hope yall had a good one.

I'm doing an online chat today from 12 noon to 1 p.m. on -- just go there sometime in that hour and you'll be able to click onto the chat. We'll be talking sports, of course -- Panthers, Bobcats, college football and so on.

In the meantime, I wrote a column about the often controversial Bruton Smith for today's newspaper and online and went to Atlanta this weekend to write several columns on the Tar Heels' heart-stopping loss to LSU and their NCAA problems.

In Thursday's newspaper and online, columnist Tom Sorensen and I have our annual "dueling columns" to predict the Panthers 2010 season.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Almost amazing: UNC loses to LSU, 30-24

North Carolina nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages Saturday night, falling six yards short of victory in its 30-24 loss to LSU at the Georgia Dome at the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff.

While the pregame talk was dominated by talk of the 13 players UNC held out of the game due to the ongoing NCAA and school investigations into the program, the postgame talk is now dominated by the "woulda-coulda" variety more familiar to sports fans who just witnessed a heart-stopping football game.

Down 30-10 with 11 minutes to play, UNC saw on-and-off quarterback T.J. Yates suddenly turn into Joe Montana. Yates ended up throwing for three touchdowns, zero interceptions and 412 yards in the game, with 221 of them going to Jheranie Boyd.

Boyd's 97-yard touchdown catch sparked the comeback, and then UNC scored again on a 14-yard pass with 2:32 to go to cut the margin to 30-24.

The Tar Heels then converted an onside kick, but seemed to have lost when LSU held them on downs on that series. But then UNC's defense caused a fumble, allowing Yates one last chance to march the Tar Heels down the field.

He got them to the 10, then tried to throw three straight times to senior tight end Zack Pianalto.

Pianalto caught the first for a four-yard gain. Then he got his hands on the last two in the end zone -- and dropped them both. In both cases, the coverage was tight, and on the final play, some UNC folks were screaming for interference, but Pianalto's postgame explanation was simple and stark.

"I dropped the first one," he said, "and then I dropped the next one."

Had Pianalto scored, a successful extra point would have given UNC a 31-30 win. Instead, the Tar Heels had a superb second half (outscoring LSU 14-0) and still fell short, although for awhile, anyway, they gave their fans a lot to think about besides an NCAA investigation.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

30-10 LSU over UNC at halftime

What was briefly a close game has now turned into another embarrassment for the UNC football team, which trails LSU 30-10 at halftime in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta.

LSU had a 23-point second quarter -- all of it coming after UNC took a 10-7 lead. The Tigers had three plays that covered at least half the field -- a 50-yard TD run, a 51-yard TD pass and an 87-yard TD punt return. Throw in a safety when a UNC center snap went through the end zone, and there's your 23 points.

The Tar Heels really have no chance of coming all the way back -- their offense is too erratic to score regularly, and their defense (minus six starters who are ineligible for various reasons) isn't about to stop LSU for the entire second half, either.

I will say this for the game, though -- it's entertaining. That second quarter -- which also featured a 75-yard UNC pass from T.J. Yates to Jheranie Boyd -- had more big plays than the entire Panthers preseason.

23-10 LSU over UNC midway through 2nd quarter

In a first half that is honestly more entertaining than I expected, LSU just took a 14-10 lead over UNC on a 50-yard run on a reverse from Russell Shepard (it was Shepard's second TD of the game).

UNC had taken a brief lead, 10-7, following a shocking 75-yard pass play from T.J. Yates to Jheranie Boyd that took UNC to a first-and-goal at the LSU 5. It would have been 14-7 but UNC fullback Devon Ramsay -- who made a great play to score UNC's only TD -- dropped a sure TD pass.

Then LSU quickly came back. The crowd is in full throat and the game, for now, is very competitive.

UPDATE: UNC, which has had problems much of the night getting the ball snapped correctly, just had center Jonathan Cooper snap it right past T.J. Yates and through the end zone. That gave LSU a safety and a 16-10 lead.

UPDATE 2: LSU's Patrick Patterson, who has given Tar Heels trouble all night on returns, just ran a punt all the way back for a TD. That made it 23-10 LSU with 4:01 left in 2nd quarter.

7-7 as UNC ties it with 82-yard drive

The Tar Heels just had an impressive 82-yard drive keyed by quarterback T.J. Yates. The touchdown: a 9-yard screen pass to fullback Devon Ramsay, who broke two tackles on his way to the end zone.

That might have been the single happiest moment for the Tar Heel faithful in the past three months, who have suffered through one bad headline after another during the NCAA investigation.

LSU's cornerbacks were playing way off UNC's wide receivers during the drive, allowing Yates to complete a number of quick passes for 8-10 yards at a pop. LSU also hurt itself badly with penalties -- roughing the kicker to keep the drive alive once and hitting Yates late and out of bounds another time.

Early in the second quarter: LSU 7, UNC 7.

Shaky start for UNC against LSU

I'm in Atlanta tonight, watching the Tar Heels (minus seven defensive starters embroiled in the school's NCAA scandal) play LSU.

My column on what the widening NCAA probe means to UNC can be seen here. It has been interesting the reaction that column has gotten -- about evenly split between UNC alums who are disgusted by the whole thing and are glad I was critical of the Tar Heels and other e-mails from "true blue" Tar Heels who say I'm tarring and feathering people without due process.

Interesting. In the meantime, UNC fumbled the ball away 20 seconds into this game, but escaped when the patchwork defense held.

Then it took only two plays for UNC to fumble again, and once again LSU recovered, this time at the UNC 30. While the Tar Heel defense took the brunt of the suspensions, it's the offense that has looked very shaky early.

That second fumble led to a 6-yard LSU TD pass -- it's 7-0, LSU, with 8:57 still left in the first quarter.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A sad day to be a Tar Heel

This was the season that was supposed to change North Carolina football.

And that it has certainly done.

Instead of head coach Butch Davis and his team making all Tar Heels proud with a season worthy of an ACC championship and a BCS bowl berth, however, we’re seeing the polar opposite.

Without playing a game yet, the 2010 version of the Tar Heel football program has become an embarrassment to the University of North Carolina and what it stands for.

This NCAA investigation and all the accompanying collateral damage is the sort of thing that gets coaches fired. Davis may well not survive this mess.

The university is furiously trying to repair the damage as the probe into agent-related and academic issues continues. It announced Friday that it will withhold as many as 15 players from the Saturday-night season opener against LSU for violating school and/or NCAA rules.

Most of those players are on defense – including defensive end Robert Quinn, who may be the best player in the ACC -- but the list also includes the Tar Heels’ top three rushers from 2009.

What’s left? A hodgepodge of first- and second-teamers who should be as angry at their ineligible teammates as all Tar Heel fans must be. The UNC players who did nothing wrong are now being painted with the same scandalous brush. And they are the ones who will have to shoulder the criticism when things go wrong on the field, too, as they inevitably will.

It feels so sordid for a university that has long prided itself on NCAA cleanliness. The stain on North Carolina’s football program won’t be scrubbed clean all season (the only good news any Tar Heel fan really can take from any of this is that apparently the scandal won’t bleed into the men’s basketball program).

As for the fact that the Tar Heels have one of their highest-profile openers ever with this nationally-televised game Saturday at 8 against LSU?

The timing couldn’t be worse. The Tar Heels set this game up long ago. But it turns out they really needed to play Presbyterian for their opener this season, as Wake Forest did Thursday, and beat them by 40 at home without many people watching.

Instead, the ABC telecast will necessarily focus a good bit of time on the Tar Heels’ suspensions and their aftermath. North Carolina will likely take it on the chin both on the PR front and the scoreboard front.

Today is a sad day to be a Tar Heel. Tomorrow probably will be, too.

And that’s not the way the eve of a big-time opening day should feel.

Fans want to count down the hours before kickoff, not count up the number of players suspended hours before the game.

But the actions of the Tar Heel players – helped along by who knows how many adults who should have known better – have robbed fans of that privilege.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

3 things I didn't like, 2 I did

A few thoughts on the humdrum 19-3 beating Pittsburgh just laid upon the Carolina Panthers in both teams' final preseason game. I watched this one on TV -- Tom Sorensen and I split the road games as The Observer's two sports columnists, and thankfully this one was all his.

The bad:

1. So the Panthers' offense goes 0-for-the-preseason on offensive drives that led to touchdowns. I gave up counting after the number reached 50, but it was bad. I know, I know -- no No.28 and no No.89 in all the fake games, and in this one the Panthers played with their third- and fourth-string quarterbacks only. But still. The Panthers' offense this preseason was absolutely pathetic, which is why the team finished 1-3 in exhibition games despite generally great play from the defense.

2. Could the Panthers maybe -- just maybe -- complete a pass deep downfield to a wide receiver more than about once every 10 days? Is that asking too much?

3. The third bad thing is that there is such a thing as a fourth NFL exhibition at all. It's ridiculous. As I've been writing for years, I'm all for the 18-2 split instead of the current 16-4, where a team plays 18 regular-season games and only two preseason ones (the NFL commish wants to make the 18-2 split happen by 2012 season). Because this last game -- it's painful to sit through, especially for people who have actually paid to do so. Pay the players a little more and have them play 18 games; it's the right thing to do.

The good:

1. Although it wasn't particularly effective, it was nice to see Armanti Edwards in the Panthers' version of the "Wildcat" formation (the "Mountaineer"). He made a couple of sweet, albeit short, throws out of it, and he also had a pretty good punt return and a nice pickup on a fourth-down reception. Armanti has to have restored a little confidence with that one.

2. John Fox deciding to basically have his starters take the night off. I'm totally with him there. Fox doesn't care about preseason game No.4 except as a way to maybe determine roster spots 50-53 and doesn't want anybody to get hurt. I don't agree with a number of things Fox does, but he's completely right about that one.

And now let us all say hallelujah, for the preseason is over and we do not have to watch any more fake games for a very long time.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Moore, Jake last on list of starting QBs's John Clayton -- one of the most knowledgeable writers about the NFL that I've ever known -- has just published a list ranking the NFL starting quarterbacks 1-33 for 2010.

It's 33 QBs instead of 32 because Clayton ranks both Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich for Pittsburgh, given that Big Ben will be sitting out at least the first month of the season due to his suspension.

Who's No.33, dead last?? Jake Delhomme.

Who's No.32, next-to-dead-last?? Matt Moore.

That doesn't say much for the decision the Panthers had to make in the offseason, does it? Delhomme, now in Cleveland, has had a far better preseason than Moore, for what it's worth, although Moore wrote in this blog entry published today that the preseason doesn't matter and that Carolina will be far better during the season.

It would be fairly easy to dismiss this sort of criticism if it came from a no-name writer on a no-name website, but Clayton and ESPN make a very strong combination. What do you think about this list? (Of the other division QBs besides Brees, Clayton ranks Atlanta's Matt Ryan No.13 and Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman 29th).

Clayton's top 10, incidentally, for those who don't want to click over and read the entire story:

1. Peyton Manning, Indy
2. Tom Brady, New England
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
5. Brett Favre, Minnesota
6. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
7. Philip Rivers, San Diego
8. Tony Romo, Dallas
9. Donovan McNabb, Washington
10. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati