Sunday, October 24, 2010

5 things I liked most in Panthers' win over 49ers

The 5 things I liked the most in Carolina's 23-20 win over San Francisco Sunday:

1. Matt Moore. He came back with a flourish, reminding people of the Matt Moore from 2009 once again and burying rookie Jimmy Clausen back on the bench for awhile. Moore threw for 308 yards, overcame one horrid interception and got Carolina to its first fourth-quarter touchdown of the season.

2. The rookie receivers. David Gettis was undeniably the star, with 125 reception yards and two touchdowns – the first TDs of his career. But don’t forget Brandon LaFell, who easily had his best game (six catches, 91 yards) and caught the 35-yarder that set up John Kasay’s winning field goal.

3. John Kasay. Easy to forget now after that wild fourth quarter, but Carolina wouldn’t have been in position to win unless Kasay had already made field goals from 55 and 47 yards. As steady as ever, Kasay, 40, is 8-of-9 this season. He also hit the game-winner, from 37 yards.

4. Richard Marshall’s interception. David Carr isn’t much of a quarterback – we all know that from 2007 – but it took Marshall to really make him pay. Marshall’s interception of Carr’s underthrown pass when the game was tied at 20 set up Carolina’s final drive.

5. Steve Smith. He volunteered to return punts – and return to his roots – and that helped inspire the Panthers. Smith had one return for 32 yards, caught four balls for 50 and most importantly allowed Gettis and LaFell to routinely work against single coverage.

One last note: This will be my last blog post for a week -- I'm about to be off until Monday, Nov.1st, so Happy Halloween to all of you and thanks for reading "Scott Says" and The Observer. But I wouldn't want to miss making my weekly Panthers prediction.

So.... I'm now 4-2 picking Panthers' games after correctly choosing Carolina to upset San Francisco Sunday.

The Panthers go on the road to face St. Louis (3-4 after a last-second loss to Tampa Bay today) on Oct.31st. I'm picking Carolina to win its second straight game, 20-17, over the Rams.

Panthers win 23-20 after late heroics

Carolina has finally won its first game of the season, defeating San Francisco 23-20 at home with 10 late unanswered points.

The Panthers improve to 1-5 on the season. The 49ers drop to 1-6.

The Panthers turned the game around in a hurry, intercepting David Carr shortly after tying the game at 20-all and now getting a 37-yard field goal from John Kasay to take a 23-20 lead with 0:39 remaining.

Carr's underthrown pass was intercepted by Richard Marshall and Matt Moore (who threw for 308 yards) laid a gorgeous pass into Brandon LaFell for a 35-yard gain that set up Kasay's go-ahead field goal.

It was easily Carolina's highest point total of the season -- they more than doubled their NFL-low scoring average of 10.4 points per game.

Rookie David Gettis had eight catches for 125 yards in this one and two TDs; Brandon LaFell had six catches for 91 yards.

Carr had one last chance, but never really got close -- playing for the 49ers pretty much the way he played in Carolina.

Gettis hangs on this time -- 20-all

Rookie wide receiver David Gettis just atoned for that fourth-down drop, scoring his second TD of the game with 1:53 left on a 23-yard pass from Matt Moore.

Gettis now has eight catches, 125 yards and two TDs for Carolina, and this game is tied at 20-all.

Carolina went 63 yards in eight plays to tie the game after the defense gave the Panthers another chance.

Now the 49ers get a chance from their own 20, with 1:53 to go and all their timeouts. David Carr remains at QB, and the 49ers have rarely trusted him to throw the ball so far after he replaced the injured Alex Smith.

Gettis drops sure TD pass on fourth down; still 20-13, 49ers

Carolina just had a great opportunity to tie this game at 20-all. On fourth-and-9 from the San Francisco 16, John Fox disdained the field goal and went for it all.

Matt Moore stepped up and threw a beautiful ball in tight coverage to rookie wide receiver David Gettis -- who dropped it in the end zone.

That really messed up what has easily been Gettis' best game. Gettis has six catches for 98 yards, has already scored Carolina's lone TD and set up the Panthers in the red zone with a 39-yard catch on the same drive.

Still, that one really hurt.

49ers lead 20-13 after Moore's big mistake

Matt Moore just made his first really big mistake of the game, and the result was a touchdown for San Francisco. The 49ers now lead 20-13 with 12:52 left in the game.

Moore felt pressure from his blindside and tried to dump the ball off to Jonathan Stewart. Instead, he threw it directly into the hands of San Francisco defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who rumbled 31 yards for a TD.

The only person who really could have tackled him was Moore, but McDonald ran right through him, stepped out of Moore's attempted tackle and scored.

Moore remains in the game.

All tied up at 13-13 in 4th quarter

San Francisco just tied the game at 13-all on the first play of the fourth quarter on Joe Nedney's 38-yard field goal.

The 49ers drove to their field goal mostly by handing the ball off to Frank Gore, who has been really hurting the Panthers all day. He's now rushed for 97 yards. The Panthers were stout inside their 20 once again, however, and David Carr threw incomplete on third down under heavy pressure from James Anderson.

Carolina now takes over at its own 10 with 14:53 left in the fourth quarter after Mike Goodson was stuffed on the kickoff return.

Kasay's 55-yard FG makes it 13-10, Panthers

John Kasay just gave Carolina a 13-10 lead early in the third quarter with a 55-yard field goal, inspiring the crowd that is enjoying the Panthers at least being in the game in the second half.

The Panthers' modest drive of 20 yards was just enough to get Kasay in range after Carolina had started in great position due to a good defensive series.

And big news for the 49ers: QB Alex Smith is out for the rest of the game due to a shoulder sprain. If the 49ers are going to come back to win this one, it will be former Panther David Carr who will lead them.

On the drive, Steve Smith suffered leg cramps on an overthrown pass into the end zone. Smith stayed down for awhile, got up with help and hasn't returned. He is questionable for the rest of the game, and Captain Munnerlyn has re-assumed his punt return duties.

UPDATE: Smith has returned to the game, but the Panthers probably wish he hadn't (at least for this one series). After a couple of nice plays from Matt Moore got Carolina to first-and-10 at the San Fran 38, Smith picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty to move Carolina way back. On third-and-23, Smith caught a short pass, fought for extra yardage.... and fumbled.

San Francisco recovered at its own 40, but still is down by 3 late in the third quarter.

David Carr in at QB for 49ers

With the score tied 10-10 early in the third quarter, another plot twist:

Former Carolina Panther David Carr is now in at QB for the 49ers.

Charles Johnson sacked 49ers QB Alex Smith at the 49ers' two and Smith stayed down. He eventually came off the field holding his left arm.

Carr came in, threw one pass on third-and-28 from the 2 that was short to an open receiver, and the 49ers punted.

For those who remember Carr, he is NOT wearing gloves this time -- he wore them at Carolina for awhile, and that became a subject of some derision after Carr's very poor play here. Carr was booed often in this stadium while here -- now we'll see how this goes.

Panthers tie the game 10-10

The Panthers just ran off their most impressive drive of the season, ending it on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore to David Gettis to tie the game 10-10 with 2:28 left in the first half.

Gettis sold a double move beautifully on Nate Clements on the TD, making Clements slip and fall and leaving Gettis wide open in the end zone.

The drive was kept alive -- twice! -- by San Francisco pass interference penalties. Jonathan Stewart played the majority of the drive after DeAngelo's fumble the march before. Steve Smith had a 21-yard catch and a 7-yard catch on the march as he continues to be a major factor.

49ers take 10-3 lead

The 49ers capitalized on DeAngelo Williams' lost fumble with a 24-yard field goal from Joe Nedney.

With 8:44 left in the second quarter, San Francisco leads, 10-3.

The 49ers drove 50 yards in eight plays before the Panthers stopped them inside their own 10 and forced out Nedney (who once upon a time, kicked for Carolina while John Kasay was injured).

Carolina is having difficulty stopping the 49ers' primary offensive weapon, Frank Gore, who already has 51 yards rushing and 32 receiving.

DeAngelo fumble ruins drive

The Panthers looked like they were going to get some more points early in the second quarter, as a 32-yard Steve Smith punt return and a great catch by David Gettis for about another 20-yard gain got Carolina a first-and-10 at the San Francisco 34.

Then DeAngelo Williams made a big mistake, however. He was going to lose 2-4 yards after trying to bounce it outside. But while fighting to make the loss less significant, DeAngelo fumbled the ball away on a strip by the 49ers' Nate Clements and the 49ers recovered at their own 44.

Panthers down 7-3 as first quarter ends

The Panthers' defense stopped San Francisco on the 49ers' second drive around midfield and have the ball inside their own 25 as the first quarter ends.

San Francisco picked up two straight third-down conversions before failing on a third. Steve Smith, in a surprise, then dropped back to return the punt for Carolina, but that didn't work out that well.

Smith had to fair-catch a high punt -- and dropped it. But he wrestled the ball back and so Carolina took over at its own 16 on its third possession.

The score remains San Francisco 7, Carolina 3. The stadium looks to be maybe two-thirds full, although the game is officially a sellout and the weather is beautiful.

Panthers cut lead to 7-3

Carolina's second drive generated some points, as John Kasay's 47-yard field goal just cut the 49ers' lead to 7-3 with 5:40 left in the first quarter.

The Panthers had a couple of third-down conversions in a modest 10-play, 36-yard drive which also included Steve Smith's first catch of the day and another drop by Smith on what would have been a 20-yard gain.

The Panthers heard a shower of boos from the home fans, however, when on third-and-8 from the 49ers' 28, they ran DeAngelo Williams to the right and lost one instead of trying to pass.

After that, however, Kasay knocked his field goal through to cut the 49ers' lead to four.

49ers roll to 7-0 early lead

So much for the Panthers getting off to a fast start Sunday.

Carolina got the ball, punted after one first down and then saw the 49ers roll 72 yards in only four plays to take a 7-0 lead with 10:26 still left in the first quarter.

San Francisco fooled Carolina's defense by throwing out of running sets and running out of throwing formations, combining a 20-yard Frank Gore run with Alex Smith throws to Vernon Davis of 53 yards and 1 yard on the final two plays.

Davis, the 49ers' talented tight end, beat Charles Godfrey on the 53-yarder.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Panthers-49ers prediction

A few pregame notes about the 0-5 Panthers and the 1-5 49ers in advance of their 1 p.m. game Sunday in Charlotte:

-- What a great time of year to see a bad football game. Congrats to Phil Youtsey and his Panther ticket staff for somehow managing to sell this one out and avoiding a local TV blackout – it couldn’t have been easy.

-- These teams have several interesting similarities. They both have great young linebackers (Patrick Willis and Jon Beason) and at least one superb running back (Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart). Their head coaches are on hot seats, their quarterback situation is iffy and they each lost their first five games in a row. The 49ers beat Oakland last Sunday.

-- Watch Gore coming out of the backfield Sunday. The unique thing about him is how often he is utilized as a receiver – he’s very versatile. Gore is also fumble-prone. His three fumbles in 2010 is tied for the league lead among running backs.

-- Remember about 15 years ago when the Panthers and 49ers were developing a significant rivalry before all the divisions got changed? One of my fondest Panther memories was watching the 1996 team win at San Francisco, 30-24, when Eric Davis had a game-clinching interception of Steve Young. “We came unglued,” 49ers coach George Seifert (and future Panthers coach) said after that game, in which San Francisco had more than 100 yards worth of penalties. As a 49ers coach, Seifert won two Super Bowls but only went 1-3 against the Panthers.

-- The Panthers badly need a return or defensive score Sunday, or at least some great field position generated by turnovers. Even with Steve Smith returning, I don’t see Matt Moore taking this offense on any 80-yard drives.

-- As I wrote earlier this week, I’m fine with John Fox flip-flopping back to Moore as the starting quarterback. Jimmy Clausen just didn’t look NFL-ready. Moore forces more balls into coverage, but he also has a stronger arm and at least handles snaps cleanly. Clausen’s time will come here, but you don’t want to turn him into David Carr (who is now the 49ers’ backup).

-- My 2010 Panther prediction record suffered a blow two weeks ago when I inexplicably picked Carolina to upset Chicago. That dropped me to 3-2 for the season.
So take everything I say with a grain of salt. But I think the fact that the Panthers are coming off a bye week and San Francisco doesn’t usually play that well in 1 p.m. East Coast games translates into a 14-10 Carolina victory.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Want to buy Jordan's Mercedes? For $429,998?

This car is being advertised on eBay as having been formerly owned by Michael Jordan.

Here's an interesting eBay listing -- a luxury Mercedes-Benz once owned by Michael Jordan is on sale for a "buy it now" price of....


According to the listing, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren only has 962 miles on it and Jordan was its only individual owner.

UPDATE: Jordan told me and colleague Rick Bonnell Friday that he did own this car at one point but then traded it in "a couple of years ago" and can't understand why it keeps popping up all over the Internet like it's still his. Jordan laughed when saying this and added: Depends what they sell it for -- I've got a few more I might like to sell."

The car is a "722 edition" and is currently located somewhere in Houston with some sort of auto company there. So you're not going to be able to drive down South or Independence Boulevard and find it at one of the dealerships there.

It has a top speed of 209 mph, all sorts of gadgets and it looks pretty cool.

So if you have a spare $429,998 under the couch, you might want to check it out.

Panthers and customer service

I wrote my column today about a couple of fans who e-mailed the Panthers with complaints at and received calls back -- in one case, on the very same day -- from Panthers president Danny Morrison.

Now the Panthers aren't perfect in terms of customer service, as Morrison would readily admit. They don't call back everyone who complains -- "we miss some," Morrison says. But I think they try
On a personal note, I know of several people who have had ticket issues that magically got solved once Panthers ticket guru Phil Youtsey -- one of the nicest and most efficient guys in the Panthers' organization -- found out about it.

And on the downside, one of my nephews, when he was about 2 years old, fell asleep on an extremely hot afternoon at the stadium. His mother took his shirt off because it was so hot.

He slept peacefully on his mother's shoulder until -- you may have guessed it -- an overzealous security guard decided to enforce owner Jerry Richardson's "shirts must always be worn inside the stadium" rule. The 2-year-old kid had to put his shirt back on, which of course woke him up, which of course made him mad, which of course ruined the next 30 minutes or so for everyone in that particular group.

When you're dealing with 50,000-70,000 people every home game, you're going to have some incidents like that. It was unfortunate and silly, but I think in general, at least the Panthers are trying (although I'll take back anything good I say about them in this column if they are dumb enough to raise ticket prices again after this lost season).

If you have any complaints or compliments about the Panthers' customer service, please leave them below in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moore as QB? I don't mind it

There has been some outcry about the Panthers playing ping-pong with their quarterbacks -- John Fox announced Monday that Matt Moore would be the starter Sunday against San Francisco again.

Moore started the first two games; rookie Jimmy Clausen has started the past three. Neither has won a single start, and both have been very unimpressive while leading the NFL's worst offense.

I understand the logic of my colleague Tom Sorensen and others -- they believe that Clausen has to learn on the job, that he'll be better-equipped to lead the team in 2011 and so on (assuming Moore's gone then; he may be, given that this is the last year of his current contract).

But Clausen, to me, looks pretty overmatched for this job right now. Moore throws more interceptions, yes, but that's partly because he tries to complete more passes. He tries to do things.

Clausen is the king of throwing it away -- he'll chuck it out of bounds on third-and-10 instead of trying to keep the play alive and get a first down. He also has some serious problems holding onto the football (seven fumbles so far this season).

I'm not saying Clausen doesn't ultimately have a brighter future than Moore; likely he does.

But there are a whole bunch of guys in that locker room who would really like to win a game -- just one, for pete's sake -- and right now I think Moore moves the team a little better and has a little more idea of what it takes to win an NFL game. Even with the two losses this year, remember, he's 6-4 as a starter in the league.

So if Moore falters in the first half and throws three picks? Go back to Clausen, absolutely. They're both going to play some more before the season is through. This decision certainly isn't a final one.

But at the moment, I would agree with Fox: for this game, on this week, Moore gives the Panthers a slightly better chance to win than Clausen does.

Tim Richmond's wild ride

Tim Richmond celebrates in Victory Lane after one of his wins in the Winston Cup series. Richmond was briefly one of the best drivers in NASCAR, winning seven times in the 1986 season alone.

I wrote my column today about Tim Richmond in advance of an excellent ESPN documentary on his life that airs starting tonight at 8. Richmond was one of those guys I wish I had seen race live, but he was before my time. This documentary gives an unvarnished portrayal of Richmond, who was a playboy, an outsider and a natural. He died of AIDS in 1989, at age 34.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Unnamed NFL execs rip Panthers

Interesting story on the Panthers posted today in "Pro Football Weekly,"which is not nearly as high-profile a publication as Sports Illustrated or ESPN but has some good journalists who work hard at their craft.

I know, as I used to be a freelance team correspondent for PFW a number of years ago (they employ one in each NFL city, usually from the hometown newspaper of that team). I haven't done that for a number of years now, but I know several of the folks at PFW, and I can assure you they don't just make things up.

In any event, today's story in PFW absolutely rips the Panthers with such quotes as an unnamed NFL general manager saying: "They are turning the football over way too much. They are getting outcoached. They are getting outplayed. The issue right now is that the little things are not getting done."

And from an unnamed league exec:

"The Panthers have enough talent to be competitive. They have a bad coaching staff. I don't know how good Fox is at evaluating. I think he is a good head coach — he knows how to coach and motivate a team, but there's a lot more to the job than that nowadays.
"If you look at their roster, probably 75 percent of it is (comprised of) draft picks. They have a young roster, and if you are going to play young, you better have a strong coaching staff that is invested. Their coaching staff is working on the last year of their deals. They don't know where they will be after this year. They are more worried about their next jobs than they are about coaching this football team."

There's more negative stuff besides that, but you get the idea.

Now it's easy to rip a winless team, and even more so anonymously. Take all of this with a grain of salt, as if the Panthers were winning, you'd find plenty of "league execs" and "unnamed GMs" praising the team to the high heavens.

Still, it's interesting.

4 Monday NFL thoughts

I have gotten to watch very little good NFL football this season, since I'm generally covering the Carolina Panthers on Sundays (ba-dump-dump).

With Sunday being the Panthers' bye week, however, I did get a good dose of Baltimore-New England and Philadelphia-Atlanta and a bit of Dallas-Minnesota (I know, Cowboys-Vikes is not exactly top-notch football either) and some other pretty cool highlights.

So, 4 quick NFL thoughts:

1) What a relief to see that NFL teams actually score regularly! With the Panthers averaging an NFL-low 10.4 points per game, it's cool to see a game where the losing team at least scores 20. Three NFL games Sunday, in fact, ended by a 23-20 score.

2) The Panthers are now one of only two winless teams in the NFL (joining Buffalo). The 49ers won Sunday, 17-9 over Oakland, which means the combined records of San Francisco and Carolina will be 1-10 entering Sunday's 1 p.m. game in Charlotte.

3) The hit that Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson got a concussion on in the Atlanta game was one of the most brutal I've ever seen.

4) Did you notice every NFC team now has at least 2 losses? Check the NFL standings here. If the Panthers had just won one or two games this season, they'd be in the thick of things, because it looks like no one is going to run away with the No.1 NFC playoff seed this season.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A fan's open (and angry) letter to Peppers

Hi guys:

I rarely do this, but today I'm posting a football fan's e-mail in full. Thought it was interesting. This is from Neal Mitchell of Greenville, S.C. He sent it to me the day after Carolina's loss to Chicago, but I'm just now getting around to posting it.

I know some of you will say, "Geez, let it go with Peppers already -- he came, he went, he won, it's over!" However, I thought Neal's reaction was worth seeing, and it's being posted late because of my tardiness, not his. Let me know what you think.

Neal writes....

Dear Julius:

I’ve been a fan of yours since your freshman year at UNC. You were/are an exceptional athlete and very exciting to watch. I enjoyed the years that you were with the Panthers and don’t think I would have it any other way. However, now, I have lost respect for you.

You want to know why the fans, including me, booed you unmercifully at Sunday’s game?You lied to us.

For 8 years, the fans stood and screamed at the top of our lungs when your name was called during pre-game announcements and you repaid us with qb sacks, forced fumbles and athletic interceptions that are certainly hall of fame worthy when all is said and done. Then you went and said the Panthers disrespected you? How exactly was that? By not offering you 101 mil over 7 years? Was 10 million not enough for you to have the adoration of thousands of Panther fans?

Don’t lie to us, we aren’t stupid. You didn’t want to play in Carolina anymore. If you had just manned up and admitted that you didn’t want to play here any longer, I would have said fine and continued to root for you wherever you went. But you didn’t... You expect this type of behavior from Randy Moss and Albert Haynesworth, but not from our Peppers.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I respect and admire the sacrifices that you and all athletes make all for sake of entertaining the masses. I think that the top athletes deserve to get compensated in big numbers for these sacrifices. But don’t you think that the fans should be repaid with a little honesty and some type of respect? Put yourselves in our shoes for a minute. Most of us fans literally scrape together the money to buy season tickets to the Panthers, to the tune of $830 for one set of section 201 tickets. That may not be a lot of money to you, but it is to us.

When you turned down the offer to be the highest paid DL, that screamed to us you didn’t want to play here anymore. Why would a guy loved by so many turn down so much? Why have I spent so much of my money to see someone I’ve respected, disrespect my team? Why did I spend countless games screaming until I was horse for this guy? Athletes only thank the fans when they win the Super Bowl. Well, guess what? If it wasn’t for fans, you guys wouldn’t be getting those fat contracts.

Jordan Gross said Sunday, “You get booed by everybody that cheered you for eight years…you’re not going to take it.”

Well Julius, you deserved it for treating your fans the way you did. Tell the truth and you’ll gain one fan back.

Neal Mitchell
Greenville, SC

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Waltrip, Yarborough miss the cut

Interesting scene this afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Lots of racing dignitaries were in the house for the announcement of Hall of Fame Class No.2, which I thought should include David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip.

The first three made it. The last two didn't -- they were replaced by Ned Jarrett (the longtime driver/broadcaster/all-around-nice-guy) and Bud Moore (an extremely respected crew chief/owner/war hero).

Nothing against Jarrett and Moore -- who should have gotten in but I believe in Class No.3 -- but I thought Yarborough and Waltrip got the short end of the stick on this one. Both had over 80 victories in NASCAR's top series, rank in the top 5 in victories all-time... and didn't make it.

Yarborough was in South Carolina, scheduled for oral surgery, he told The Observer's Ron Green Jr. earlier in the week. So it was a painful day for him in a couple of respects.

But Waltrip? He was front and center, maybe 30 feet from NASCAR CEO Brian France as the names were announced. After he lost, he had to interview all the winners on TV.

My column will be on Waltrip online and in Thursday's paper -- he was very disappointed, obviously, but thinks he didn't make it because at age 63 he's "too young" and is "going to be around awhile."

When the five names were read and he wasn't among them, I was watching them. His face drained of color.

5 more questions with Bruton Smith

Here are five questions and answers that didn’t quite make the final cut in my “Bruton Smith: 20 questions” piece today, but still are worth a look. I did this interview with Smith on Monday:

Q: If you had a totally free day, what would you do?
A: It’d be a generally people thing. I’d incorporate that into a trip maybe to New York or Vegas. Or California, I have a home in Beverly Hills, Calif. It depends on where I am. I’m more of a spur-of-a-moment type person.

Q: It appears you’re in good health. What do you attribute that to?
A: Good genes. A little working out. And I’ve never, ever smoked. I’ve always led a pretty clean life.

Q: What do you spend your money on personally?
A: I spend more money on clothes than anything else. I’ve always been a clotheshorse. I used to wear a tie every day but I’ve kind of weaned myself from that now.

Q: You don’t like the NASCAR points system, right?
A: Let’s put a strong emphasis on winning. That’s what we’re all about, whatever sports you’re in. Don’t talk to me about points, talk to me about winning.
The Chase for the championship is probably a good idea but if I’m sitting there and I bought a ticket and I’m at that race today, I want to see someone fighting like the dickens to win that race. That’s why I came.
That’s it in a nutshell. I like taking maybe half of that money off the points system and put it on that day’s purse – make winning more valuable. Follow the money -- that’s what the people in the stands will understand.

Q: Your middle name is Bruton and your first name starts with an “O” – sometimes you’re referred to as O. Bruton Smith. What does the “O” stand for? Orville? Ollie?
A: It’s just O, like “Oh!” (Raises his eyebrows and pretends to be surprised). If it ever did stand for anything, I’ve forgotten it, because I never did want to use it.

The 2011 NASCAR hall of fame class should be....

The second NASCAR Hall of Fame class will be announced today. I'm not on the voting panel, but here are the five men I hope will get in:

The second NASCAR Hall of Fame class will be announced Wednesday afternoon. I'm not on the voting panel, but here are the five men I hope will get in:

David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Lee Petty.

I've written much of this before, but to review: My second class would be a lot heavier on drivers and lighter on businessmen than that first class was.

The hall of fame's first class - Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. - had many wonderful qualities but also one big issue. I wouldn't have put two Frances in it - 40 percent of the first class didn't need to go to NASCAR's founding family. Both businessmen deserved a spot, certainly, but Bill France Jr. could have waited a year or two.

Given that's how the voting turned out, though, I'm going with five men who did their best work as drivers for Class No. 2, because that's what this sport is really about. Going fast.

Why these five?

David Pearson won 105 races at NASCAR's top level, second only to Richard Petty's 200. The "Silver Fox" should have entered with that first class. Richard Petty believes this, and a whole lot of other folks do, too. He's a given this year.

Bobby Allison is tied for third on the all-time Sprint Cup win list (with Waltrip) with 84 victories. Should be a shoo-in.

Darrell Waltrip can go all "boogity-boogity" on you at times, but the guy was an incredible driver long before he became the sport's most well-known color analyst. With 84 victories and three season titles, he deserves a spot.

Cale Yarborough never gave an inch on the track. A former all-state high school fullback in South Carolina, he drove every lap like it was fourth-and-goal while winning 83 races and three season championships.

Lee Petty was perhaps best known for shepherding son Richard's career, but he won 54 races and three season championships himself, as well as the first-ever Daytona 500 in 1959. And talk about a competitor: Lee Petty lodged an official protest at the first race Richard won. The protest was successful and Lee Petty ended up as the race's winner instead of his son.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday noon online chat (and other notes)

Welcome to a mid-summer Tuesday in October -- the high today is supposed to be 86?! Weird. A few notes before it gets too hot:

1) I'm going to be on an online chat today (Tuesday) from NOON-1 P.M. at Come by and see what your online brethren want to talk about. Best question today wins a signed copy of my book "Tales from the Carolina Panthers Sideline," which was written back in happier times for the Panthers. (UPDATE: Here's the replay link for the chat)

2) Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen to start for the 0-5 Panthers against San Francisco in their next game on Oct.24th? I can't work up much enthusiasm for this "debate" -- it's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

3) I'm switching gears this week to write mostly about NASCAR, given that Charlotte Motor Speedway has a huge race weekend coming up (coinciding with a Panthers' bye). Watch in Wednesday's newspaper and online for a revealing Q and A with Bruton Smith, the controversial, entertaining CMS owner.

4) If you happen to have the radio on around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, I'll be on WBT-1110 AM then with Keith Larson, talking mostly about the Panthers.

5) It's a shame for North Carolina that Robert Quinn, Greg Little and Marvin Austin will never play football for the Tar Heels again, but when you read about what they did, it's a very justified punishment. I still expect Quinn to be a Top-5 or at least Top-10 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, as long as he doesn't blow out a knee at the scouting combine or something.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

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

Well, so much for my prediction of a Panthers' upset in this game. That'll teach me to pick this 2010 team to win anything this season -- Chicago dominated the Panthers, 23-6, despite getting some of the worst play by the Bears' starting QB that you'll ever see.

There are dozens of bad things to choose from today, but let's narrow the field to the traditional "5 things I didn't like":

1. Jimmy Clausen. The rookie took one step forward against New Orleans a week ago and at least two back on Sunday. He was so bad that he had thrown an interception and fumbled twice against the Bears before he completed one pass. He was so bad that he got yanked out of the game late in the fourth quarter after misfiring (or mis-communicating with his receivers) on three straight passes. He was so bad... OK, fill in your punchline there. He was just plain bad.

2. Panthers' run defense. The Panthers' pass defense was excellent (intercepting Todd Collins four times). The run defense? Matt Forte had a 68-yard TD run that basically put the game out of reach in the first quarter (Jon Beason and Charles Godfrey both took bad angles or got caught up in the wash on the play). Forte had a career-high 166 rushing yards.

3. Brandon LaFell. He did get open for one deep ball (that Clausen threw way short), but he also committed a crucial penalty, had a couple of drops and caught only one of the eight passes thrown to him. A nasty day for the rookie wideout.

4. Offensive play-calling. As John Fox pointed out after the game, throwing a quick screen to Julius Peppers' side is not a good idea. Peppers got cut-blocked, jumped up, blocked Clausen's first pass and intercepted it. Clausen seemed shot for the rest of the afternoon. So why even tempt fate by throwing that pass -- or calling it? -- in the first place?

5. Special team errors. The Bears had a 50-yard punt return and a 62-yard kickoff return as a Panthers' unit that had made a lot of progress from 2009 went backwards.

I'll leave the final word here to one of the more well-known Panther fans -- former Davidson basketball star Stephen Curry. Panther fans everywhere are getting frustrated. This tweet came from Curry's Twitter account during the game: "Dang...shoulda waited to check the score before I shot out my panthers. Just not our year I guess...RIP John Fox"

Panthers get creamed by Bears -- more thoughts

A few more notes I found interesting from the Panthers' 23-6 loss to Chicago (sorry I couldn't post during the game, gang -- I won't bore you with the stories of my varied computer problems):

-- I thought this problem got solved years ago, but apparently some guys just don’t learn. TV play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen on Fox Sports repeatedly called Steve Smith “Steven” Sunday. First problem: the long version of his name is Stevonne. Second: Everyone calls the wide receiver “Steve.”
After Rosen said “Steven” again, analyst Tim Ryan asked him why. “It’s respectful,” Rosen said.
No, it’s just wrong.

-- Mascot football at halftime is always a big hit with fans, but even more so Sunday. To see somebody you knew actually use the end zone for something other than warmups -- that was special for the home fans.

-- Panther tight end Jeff King made me think of horse stalls when he said of the team’s play: “It’s kind of the same smell week after week.”

-- The 2010 Panthers are now stuck on the number five -- five losses, five total touchdowns and five field goals. This is the worst offense in the NFL, and it’s not close.

-- I sort of crashed a pre-game Panthers tailgate party Sunday -- hosted by a guy named Gus and his friends, most of whom were from around the Lake Wylie area. Gus was kind enough to ask me a couple of questions during my online chat at last Tuesday, from noon to 1 p.m.

He invited me to the tailgate at that time but didn’t really expect me to come, he said today. But I found him and his group. It was fun -- a lot more fun than watching the game itself. I’ll have another online chat this Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m.

-- Seven interceptions in one game? And no lost fumbles? That’s downright weird. Chicago quarterback Todd Collins’ 6.2 passer rating was one of the worst quarterbacking performances ever displayed in this stadium -- and his team still won by 17 (although Collins did get yanked -- if he had even been halfway decent, the Bears would have won by 30).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Predicting a Panthers win over Bears

A few notes about Sunday's Chicago-Carolina game, and why I think the Panthers will win it:

-- I’ve had more than 100 responses on my blog and via my personal e-mail address to a question I asked online earlier this week in this blog: Will you cheer or boo Julius Peppers Sunday?
It’s a totally unscientific sample, but it is interesting.

-- It’s hard seeing your ex with another guy at the same party, but that’s what will happen to the Panthers Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Based on my responses, my guess is about 40 percent of the people in the stadium will boo Peppers, about 30 percent will cheer (with some wearing old Peppers No.90 jerseys as signs of support) and another 30 percent will not do much of anything because they have mixed feelings about how everything went down.

-- The Panthers caught a break this week when it was announced Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler couldn’t play in this game because of a concussion. Cutler has a big-time arm he can beat you with, while his 38-year-old backup Todd Collins is more of a game manager.

-- With the Bears giving up an astounding 10 sacks last week, it will be interesting to see how often Carolina blitzes Collins today and tries to create some turnovers. Jimmy Clausen is really going to need some short fields to work with if he’s going to create much on offense.

-- The Jordan Gross vs. Peppers battle will be a great one to take binoculars for and focus on, but remember that Peppers won’t match up against Gross on every down. Peppers said this week he has the freedom to pick what side he wants to rush seconds after breaking the huddle – a freedom he rarely had in Carolina and one of the things he likes most in Chicago.

-- I’d like to see Armanti Edwards both active on Sunday (looks like that will happen) and running from the “Mountaineer” at least a couple of times (who knows whether that will). Hey, with this offense, the Panthers need a few gimmicks.

-- Will this be the week rookie wide receiver Brandon LaFell finally breaks out for Carolina? We keep waiting.

-- I’m 3-1 picking the outcome of Panthers’ games so far this season, and I’m about to go out on a limb.

I think Carolina’s talent level really isn’t that much different from Chicago’s despite the two teams' records. I think that the Panthers, as bad as they have sometimes been this season, will get something going today, especially with their running game. I think the Panthers' defense can make the Bears struggle just enough. I think Carolina has the desperation factor in its favor.

My prediction: Carolina 17, Chicago 16.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Will you cheer or boo Peppers Sunday?

I'm curious as to what sort of reaction Julius Peppers will get in Bank of America Stadium Sunday when his Chicago Bears play the Panthers.

So is Peppers. When asked what sort of reception he expected from the fans who cheered for him for eight seasons in a Panther uniform, Peppers said Wednesday on a conference call: "I have absolutely no idea about that. I know I have a large fan base down there and I also know I have people who don’t necessarily care for me too much either. So which crowd shows up, I don’t know."

Peppers had a lot more to say on that 19-minute conference call, including a couple of digs at the Panthers for the way they handled his situation when the two sides were parting earlier this year.

Peppers is right about having a fan base here -- you only had to look at the hundreds of No.90 jerseys in the stadium for each home game to know that. But he became a controversial figure the past few years in Carolina, when he and the Panthers could not agree to terms for a new contract and Peppers admittedly wanted out.

If you saw the Washington at Philadelphia game last Sunday, you probably saw former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb get a warm standing ovation before the game from a Philly crowd that is often one of the most vicious in the game.

"I was a little overwhelmed by the standing ovation, the reception that I got,” McNabb said later. "You spend 11 years here and you know it’s coming. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect them to cheer me the whole game; that just wouldn’t be right. I was just happy about the way they gave me the standing ovation early, and then I buckled up the chin strap and the boos started coming."

For Peppers, I doubt the reception will be that kind. He is one of the Bears' captains, and as such he may well be on the field for the coin toss before the game. I would expect him to get a mixed bag of boos and cheers.

So my question to you would be this: If you're going to be at the stadium Sunday, will you cheer or boo Peppers? Even if you don't have tickets, what would be your reaction to No.90 in a Bears uniform if you were going to go?

Jarrett, Peppers and Panthers

As controversial wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett recedes into the Panthers' rear-view mirror -- my column on his second DWI charge and resulting cut from the Panthers Tuesday can be found here -- the Chicago Bears are looming in front of them.

The Bears (3-1) are coming off a 14-point loss to the same New York Giants team that beat Carolina by 13 in Week 1. Their biggest concern is their offensive line, which allowed a whopping 10 sacks against the Giants and had its first two quarterbacks knocked out of the game.

Today should be interesting, as new Bear Julius Peppers does a conference call with the local Charlotte media. Peppers has routinely declined interviews from Charlotte-based media since leaving for Chicago after the 2009 season.

I'll post some thoughts on Peppers' comments later this afternoon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If it's true, fire Jarrett

UPDATE: Observer reporters have now confirmed that the Panthers have cut Dwayne Jarrett. I'll update my blog more later on this and am also writing about this subject in my column for Wednesday's newspaper and online, but for now I'll just say: It's about time.

(Here's my earlier blog post from this morning, before the Panthers had cut Jarrett)

Panther wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett was arrested on a DWI charge early Tuesday morning -- read the details here.

This is Jarrett's second DWI charge in three years -- he pleaded guilty to an earlier one in 2008 -- and it gives the 0-4 Panthers yet another black eye from one of the worst draft picks they've ever made.

I understand due process, and I'm not convicting Jarrett of anything here because I don't know the details. I'm sure the Panthers are hearing Jarrett's side of things right now if they haven't already.

But I will say this: If this is true, Jarrett needs to be fired. Immediately. Cut the ties and move on.

Here's the most damning statistic about Jarrett's four-year career with Carolina:

1 -- Number of touchdowns.
2 -- Number of times arrested for DWI.

A second-round pick in 2007 who was supposed to be the next Muhsin Muhammad, the 24-year-old Jarrett has been a total flop on the field. He hasn't even been able to crack the starting lineup this season, with Muhammad retired. Jarrett is a nice enough guy, but he just doesn't care enough about his job.

Even given the fact that Steve Smith may be out for several weeks with a high ankle sprain, the Panthers are better off just going with the trio of wide-receiving rookies against Chicago Sunday rather than putting Jarrett on the field again. Whatever it costs monetarily, it's going to cost the Panthers far more in goodwill if they keep an association with this guy (if the charge is true).

Not only is Jarrett a bad player, if this charge is true, he is exercising extraordinarily bad judgment.


(Two other brief notes -- here's my column today on the Panthers, written prior to the Jarrett news. And I will be online from noon to 1 p.m. today answering your questions at about Jarrett, the Panthers, the Bobcats, NASCAR or whatever else is on your mind).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

5 things I didn't like (and 3 I did) in Panthers' loss to Saints

The Panthers just finished off a 16-14 road loss to New Orleans -- easily their best game of the season, but still a defeat that dropped them to 0-4.

Given the closeness of this one and the number of nice things the Panthers did in defeat, I'm modifying my normal "5 things I didn't like" blog today to make it "5 things I didn't like and 3 I did." (Also, I wrote my column about this game on Jimmy Clausen's up-and-down afternoon and also a story about DeAngelo Williams living and dying by the cutback run.)

5 things I didn't like:

1) The Panthers managed their final few offensive plays very badly, turning a second-and-8 from the New Orleans 36 with 1:35 left (and needing only a field goal) to a fourth-and-16 on New Orleans' 44 with 0:08 left. Needless to say, that (and targeting the unreliable Dwayne Jarrett on the final heave) didn't work.

2) Jimmy Clausen and DeAngelo Williams both took four-yard losses during that series (DeAngelo trying to make a cutback run, Clausen taking a sack) that took John Kasay out of field-goal range.

3) The Panthers seemed intent on using all of their timeouts before they ever needed to because they couldn't get their plays in (in the first half, there was an issue with the device in Clausen's helmet, and Matt Moore had to hand-signal the plays in to him).

4) Third-down conversions. The Saints were 8-of-14; Carolina was 4-of-12. This helped the Saints take a 27-10 advantage in first downs -- they seemed to have the ball the entire game.

5) Chris Gamble's 46-yard pass interference penalty. Gamble, by now, should know that if you don't ever turn around and run up a guy's back, you're going to get flagged.

3 things I did like:

1) Carolina's bend-don't-break defense actually worked, holding the powerful Saints offense to 16 points, in part due to two big fumble recoveries by James Anderson.

2) Carolina doubled its offensive output from the past two weeks, scoring 14 points instead of its normal 7 thanks to huge plays from the "Double Trouble" tandem of Jonathan Stewart (a 55-yard touchdown catch) and DeAngelo Williams (a 39-yard cutback run).

3) No turnovers from Clausen. The rookie made his mistakes, but he didn't turn it over once today, which helped keep Carolina in the game. And his fourth-down scramble and conversion on that last, ultimately unsuccessful drive was a big-time play.

14-13 Carolina as 4th Q begins; Steve Smith hurts ankle

Steve Smith is out of the game with an ankle injury, but Carolina leads 14-13 as the fourth quarter begins and has the ball at its own 46.

So far in the game, Carolina has 8 first downs and New Orleans has 20, but the Panthers have had two big-time plays -- one touchdown each from its "Double Trouble" running back tandem -- and the Saints have misfied on many occasions inside the red zone.

Smith is questionable to return in this game. In the meantime, rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis are playing wide receiver, along with Dwayne Jarrett.

Carolina leads 14-13 after another Saints field goal

Carolina is still clinging to a 14-13 lead over New Orleans midway through the third quarter.

The field goal was set up by the Panthers' first turnover of the game. On a punt return, Captain Munnerlyn had a full head of steam and ran directly into New Orleans long snapper Jason Kyle (the former Panther).

Munnerlyn fumbled, nearly recovered it but then lost it. When he came out of the pile, he wobbled a couple of steps and fell back down. Somehow, he's still playing.

New Orleans took over at the Carolina 29 but the Panthers' defense held and forced John Carney's second field goal of the game -- a 32-yarder with 4:58 to go in the third quarter. Carolina still leads by a point.

Panthers take 14-10 lead

Carolina just stunned the Superdome crowd again on a 39-yard DeAngelo Williams touchdown run, which gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead with 9:42 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers were two-TD underdogs entering this game. Could an upset be brewing?

This is the first time since Week 1 Carolina has led in the second half, and the first time since the 2009 season in which the Panthers have scored two touchdowns in the same game.

The drive had one very key play just before Williams' TD run. On a third-and-4 from outside field goal range, Clausen threw wide to Dwayne Jarrett. The ball was deflected and Jarrett had no shot at it, but Jeff King came sliding in and caught it for a seven-yard reception.

Instead of punting -- which Carolina likely would have done at that point -- they had a fresh set of downs. Then came Williams with his biggest run of the season, a reverse-field gem helped by Steve Smith's excellent block (Smith had been called for holding on a similar play earlier in the drive, but this time did his job perfectly).

10-7 Saints at halftime

New Orleans takes a 10-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, but that's something of a moral victory for the Panthers, who were in trouble for most of the first 30 minutes and still remain in the game, trailing only by 3.

Carolina linebacker James Anderson had a huge first half -- he had two fumble recoveries and then ended the half with a sack of Drew Brees close to midfield, ensuring the Saints wouldn't add to their lead.

Carolina's lone score came on a 55-yard TD pass from Jimmy Clausen to Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers did not make a turnover in the first half, as Clausen's snap-exchange problems so far have not reared up again.

Saints take 10-7 lead late in 2nd quarter

New Orleans just got a field goal from John Carney to take a 10-7 lead with 1:17 left in the second quarter.

It was the Saints' fourth drive, and for the fourth time it looked like the Saints would likely score a TD. But this time Carolina's defense stiffened inside the 20, causing a rare Drew Brees incompletion on third-and-4 from the 14, and John Carney hit a 32-yard field goal.

Anderson recovers 2nd Saints fumble

It looks like the Saints may not punt much -- if at all -- today, but Carolina has found a way to keep this game even so far at 7-7 midway through the second quarter.

Each time New Orleans has had the ball the Saints have driven from 50-90 yards and seemed to be going in for TDs, but on two of those marches James Anderson has now recovered fumbles.

The second time came when New Orleans running back Chris Ivory looked like he was breaking free for a possible TD but got upended by Richard Marshall at Carolina's 21. Ivory fumbled, Anderson won a scrum to recover and even though New Orleans holds a huge advantage in yardage, Carolina has won the turnover battle 2-0 so far and it's still 7-7.

Stewart scores on 55-yard pass from Clausen -- 7-7

The Panthers just calmed down the Superdome crowd with quite a play -- a 55-yard strike from Jimmy Clausen to Jonathan Stewart.That tied the game at 7-all with 12:15 left in the second quarter. The drive went five plays in 72 yards.

On the play, the Panthers lined up with five receivers and an empty backfield. Stewart was wide right. New Orleans rushed three.

Clausen, with time, scrambled and got close to the line of scrimmage. The Saints defense totally busted a coverage and lost Stewart, who sneaked at least 15 yards behind the nearest defender. Clausen threw a strike and Stewart caught it, turned, stumbled, nearly fell and then recovered to score from 55 yards standing up.

That TD matched the total points the Panthers have had in the past two games (7 each in losses to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati).

Saints score, lead 7-0 in early 2nd quarter

New Orleans' second drive didn't get short-circuited at the Panther 1 like its first one did -- this time the Saints scored on a third-and-goal pass from the 4 from Drew Brees to Lance Moore.

Moore, who fumbled away the ball at the Carolina 1 on the first drive, took it in this time and gave New Orleans a 7-0 lead.

The Saints had nine first downs in the first quarter compared to Carolina's one.

Panthers force a key fumble

Just as New Orleans seemed poised to complete a 91-yard touchdown drive on its first possession, Sherrod Martin struck.

Who knew Panthers safety Martin could hit like that? As New Orleans ground to the end of its drive, apparently on a TD pass to Lance Moore, Martin popped Moore with significant force at Carolina's 1.

Linebacker James Anderson dropped onto the fumble in the end zone and Carolina had dodged a bullet. It's still 0-0 after each team has had one possession apiece.

P:anthers' 1st drive: 2 timeouts, zero points

Carolina's first offensive drive at the Superdome was a comedy of errors, as Carolina had to use two timeouts in the first 2:15 because it couldn't get set up right.

A sack of Jimmy Clausen put Carolina in third-and-long, whereupon (after the second timeout) Clausen skipped a short pass to an already-frustrated looking Steve Smith off the artificial turf.

Drew Brees and the Saints now have the ball for the first time, starting at their own 9 after an excellent Jason Baker punt.

A beautiful day in New Orleans

I'm here in New Orleans with a few pregame notes as we await kickoff of the Panthers and Saints at 1 p.m. Eastern (which is noon in New Orleans and doubles as the time a lot of folks get up around here after a Saturday night):

1) It's gorgeous in New Orleans today. Sunny and breezy. Too bad the Superdome doesn't have a retractable roof.

2) The Saints' running backs are terribly banged up -- reminds me a little of the year that the Panthers got all the way down to fifth- or sixth-string tailback Nick Goings on the depth chart. It's going to be a steady diet of Drew Brees today for the Saints -- Brees has hit Carolina for 330-plus passing yards the last two times he's played them. But Carolina is fortunate to be catching the Saints on a week when Reggie Bush is out.

3) Speaking of Brees, I took a walk through downtown New Orleans this morning on a pilgrimage to Cafe du Monde. ("The coffee is strong at the Cafe du Monde// The doughnuts are too hot to touch// But just like a fool// When those sweet goodies cool// -- who knows who I'm quoting here?).
Anyway, I counted the first 40 Saints jerseys I saw on folks, and it was quite a testament to Brees' incredible popularity.
Results: Brees 38. Bobby Hebert 1. Pierre Thomas 1.

4) If you haven't read Joe Person's Q and A with Panthers GM Marty Hurney in today's paper and online, it's definitely worth seeing. And here's my pregame column on Brandon LaFell, the former LSU star who counts today's game as a home game for him.

5) I'll be blogging during and after the game today on, so stay connected.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Panthers-Saints notes and my prediction

Thoughts on the Saints-Panthers game Sunday (and a prediction):

-- A riddle to start: Try to figure out the next number in this sequence: 12, 3, 15, 3, 18, 7, 7. (Answer below)

-- Say what you want about John Fox, but the guy knows how to beat New Orleans. Fox is 11-5 in his head-coaching career against the Saints, and the Panthers have won seven of the past nine in the series. Fox’s “run-first” formula has seemed to work more regularly against New Orleans than against any other team.

-- DeAngelo Williams has absolutely creamed the Saints the last two times he has played them, rushing for 327 yards (163.5 per game). I think Williams will end up with the Panthers’ first 100-yard rushing effort of the season Sunday.

-- Drew Brees has thrown for 330 or more yards each of the past two times he has faced Carolina (he sat out the game at the end of last season). “I’m excited about this,” said Charles Godfrey, the Panther safety who leads the NFL with three interceptions. “We’re really going to get tested.” I wonder if Godfrey will still be that excited after the game.

-- Steve Smith has scored eight touchdowns in his past nine games against the Saints. The Saints take enough gambles defensively that No.89 should at least have some chances to make big plays Sunday. (And so should Brandon LaFell, who will be the subject of my Sunday column).

-- OK, back to the riddle at the top of this post. We won’t know the answer to that problem until 4 p.m. Sunday, after this game is over. Those relatively paltry numbers represent the number of points the Panthers have scored in their past seven games (including the 2010 preseason).

-- OK, a prediction. I'm 2-1 picking Panthers' games so far this season, missing on the Tampa Bay loss. Despite the Panthers’ recent success against the Saints, I don’t much like Jimmy Clausen’s chances on the road against Brees and a Saints team angry about losing last week. My prediction: New Orleans 27, Carolina 16.