Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The downside of Stephen Jackson (and other notes)

3 notes on a Tuesday:

1) If I'm Larry Brown, I'm starting to get borderline furious with Stephen Jackson these days. Jackson has six technicals already this season (tied for the NBA lead) and got tossed out for two straight less than five minutes into a very winnable game at Milwaukee Saturday night. This is the downside of Jackson -- he's a combustible mix of confidence and paranoia. Too confident as in "If I didn't make that, I must have been fouled." Too paranoid, as in "Because of my past history, the refs are out to get me."

UPDATE: Jackson just got suspended by the NBA for Charlotte's Wednesday night game against New Orleans, so the fit he threw in Milwaukee ultimately will cost Charlotte two games (and quite possibly contribute to two losses). Jackson also loses about $100,000 due to the suspension, which is 1/82nd of his $8.4 million salary. Doesn't seem right, does it, that 1/82nd of Jackson's salary is more than most people make in a year, period?

2) I thought this was a funny line from Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bud Shaw after Jake Delhomme shakily won his first game as a Brown over the Panthers Sunday: "If Delhomme were your ambulance driver, he would get you to the emergency room. No worries. That wouldn't be the problem. The two collisons and blown tire along the way would."

3) Very glad to see the ACC championship game in Charlotte for the first time this Saturday night, although I'm sorry N.C. State spit the bit last week against Maryland. A Virginia Tech-State matchup would have had more local juice, but nationally I suppose the Va Tech-FSU matchup we now have would likely draw a slightly higher TV rating. And either way, the game's sold out.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

5 things I didn't like in Panthers' 24-23 loss to Browns

Very entertaining Panthers game today, for a change. I was in Cleveland watching it, and I enjoyed the back-and-forth of it and the fact that Carolina rushed for a season-high 151 yards and tied its season high for points -- those were good things. But since it was still a 24-23 loss to Cleveland, it's time for the traditional "5 things I didn't like":

1. Going for two (or not). I know it's easy to second-guess now. But even when it was happening early in the third quarter I thought John Fox was making a mistake by not going for two points when Captain Munnerlyn scored on a 37-yard interception return to cut Cleveland's lead to 21-19.
I know the conventional wisdom is to never go for a two-pointer until the fourth quarter, but why should a 1-10 team care about conventional wisdom? The Panthers struggle so hard to score TDs (they have 11 offensive TDs in 11 games). So when you have a chance to tie the game, you must take it instead of kicking an extra point.
If Carolina had made that two-pointer, all John Kasay's 42-yard miss on the last play of the game would have meant was that it was time for overtime.

2. Kasay's kick. I know Cleveland Browns Stadium is a tough place for a kicker, but Kasay had already knocked two through from almost the same distance on the same side of the field. The veteran almost always comes through in those situations -- this time he didn't, ruining an incredible drive for the Panthers in the final minute.

3. David Gettis. The rookie continues to be a feast-or-famine receiver. After an 88-yard TD last week, he didn't catch a single pass Sunday and was never targeted by Clausen. Now Clausen wasn't looking downfield much, but still...

4. Slow defensive starts. Carolina's defense played well in the second half -- actually outscoring the Browns' offense 7-3 in that half. But the first part of the game was awful, as the Panthers allowed three TDs in Cleveland's first four possessions. And Peyton Hillis (194 total yards, 3 TDs) kept simply running over and through Panthers.

5. Penalties. Carolina had 8 for 68, and three of them early gave the Browns third-down conversions just when it seemed like the Panther D had gotten off the field.

Cleveland edges Carolina 24-23 after Kasay miss

CLEVELAND -- In a game much more entertaining than the usual Panthers' 2010 contest but ultimately ending with the same result, Carolina (1-10) has lost its fifth straight game and guaranteed John Fox's first double-digit loss season with the team.

Cleveland (4-7) edged the Panthers, 24-23, after John Kasay missed a field goal on the final play of the game. Kasay's 41-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright and bounced away, ruining what was about to be a remarkable comeback led by rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Clausen and the Panthers took over at their own 5 with 59 seconds left and no timeouts and seemed to be going nowhere until Mike Goodson broke free on a short pass and scampered 32 yards to the Carolina 48. Clausen then threw a sideline pass to a well-covered Brandon LaFell, who made a spectacular shoestring grab at the Cleveland 25 and rolled out of bounds with five seconds left. The play was reviewed by the replay booth but the ruling on the field stood.

That brought out Kasay, who had gone 3-for-4 on previous field-goal attempts. He missed and the Cleveland crowd went wild.

Jake Delhomme threw two interceptions for the Browns, one returned for a TD, but also had over 200 yards passing and led the Browns on their winning field-goal drive. Peyton Hillis scored all three of the Browns' TDs on runs of 9, 5 and 6 yards.

Browns go ahead 24-23 on Dawson FG

The Browns have come right back with a 41-yard field goal from Phil Dawson to take a 24-23 lead with 2:59 left in the game after Carolina had taken a brief two-point lead on John Kasay's third field goal.

If this score stands, John Fox's decision not to go for a two-point conversion early in the third quarter after the Panthers pulled within 21-19 on a touchdown could come back to haunt him.

Kasay's 3rd FG gives Carolina 23-21 lead

The Panthers have taken a 23-21 lead with 7:01 left in the game on John Kasay's 43-yard field goal. The Panthers went 51 yards in nine plays, with one big third-down conversion on a screen pass to Dante Rosario and a 31-yard run from Jonathan Stewart providing the bulk of the yardage.

Cleveland, once ahead 21-7 in this game, has not scored in the second half as the Panthers have reeled off 16 straight points. If the Browns are to win, Jake Delhomme will have to lead a fourth-quarter comeback against his former team.

Carolina's defense playing better; Panthers still trail 21-20

The Panthers' defense, after playing terribly for the early part of the game, is now keeping Carolina in it while waiting for at least one more score from the offense.

With fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 25 and 11:40 to go in the game, Cleveland (holding a 21-20 lead) called timeout and then decided to go for it. But the Panthers, who have had trouble all day with Cleveland RB Peyton Hillis (all 3 Cleveland TDs), stopped Hillis outright on the play and took over the ball.

Things had settled down somewhat after Jake Delhomme's two quick interceptions on his first two passes to open the third quarter. After Carolina cut Cleveland's lead to 21-20, both teams muddled around for the rest of the quarter without mounting any serious threats or causing any more big turnovers. Carolina's offense has done very little in the second half, with the Panthers' only points coming on Captain Munnerlyn's 37-yard pickoff return for a TD.

Bad Jake has resurfaced; Panthers close to within a point

Cleveland QB Jake Delhomme came close to a couple of turnovers in the first half against Carolina and never committed any. But he has turned into "Bad Jake" in the first three minutes of the second half -- he has been intercepted twice, and the second was returned by Captain Munnerlyn and run back 37 yards for a touchdown.

Carolina could have gone for 2 and tried to tie the game, but instead had John Kasay kick the extra point, so the Panthers trail, 21-20. The crowd at Cleveland Browns Stadium booed Delhomme after the last interception.

Delhomme also was picked off by LB Jon Beason on the first offensive play of the third quarter, but that didn't cost the Browns any points. Beason returned the ball to the 30, but Carolina couldn't get anything going on offense and then Kasay missed a 46-yard FG.

Kasay's 2nd FG cuts Browns lead to 21-13 at halftime

John Kasay just hit his second FG of the second quarter -- a 42-yarder -- and Carolina is now down 21-13 to the Cleveland Browns.

The FG came mostly courtesy of the Panthers' first good defensive series -- a three-and-out -- and then a 32-yard punt return by Captain Munnerlyn in which he broke several tackles going straight up the middle.

The Panthers then got one first down when Steve Smith made one of those kinds of plays he always used to make -- breaking two tackles and going 18 yards. After that, though, Clausen made a bad throw on third-and-5 from the Cleveland 24 that went incomplete and Carolina had to go for the FG with 0:47 left in the first half.

Cleveland then thought about trying to throw its way downfield in the final minute, but Jake Delhomme had the ball batted out of his hand by Charles Johnson on the first play, and Cleveland averted a real mess when it recovered. After that, the Browns were content to go into halftime with a 21-13 lead.

Panthers cut lead to 21-10 on Kasay FG

John Kasay just hit a 43-yard FG for Carolina, slicing Cleveland's lead to 21-10 with 3:19 left in the first half.

The Panthers had a respectable 49-yard drive to get the field goal, including a wounded-duck Clausen pass to Mike Goodson that didn't look pretty but got 17 yards to convert a third down.

The idea of a touchdown got messed up when Clausen was sacked for a 12-yard loss on a safety blitz.

Browns up 21-7 as Hillis scores 3rd TD

Carolina's defense -- shaky for the last several weeks now -- just allowed its third Peyton Hillis TD, this one from six yards out.

The Browns now lead 21-7 with 9:12 left in the second quarter. Cleveland has scored TDs on three of its four possessions and on the fourth only a fumble inside the Panther 5 prevented more points.

Carolina went 81 yards on its first drive -- one of its most impressive marches of the season -- but hasn't been able to do anything since. Rookie QB Jimmy Clausen has been nearly intercepted a couple of times and has been under heavy pressure in most passing situations.

Also, Carolina started Captain Munnerlyn at cornerback rather than their highest-paid corner, Chris Gamble, who has been playing the "third cornerback" position today.

Browns still up 14-7 as Panthers cause turnover

Just when it looked like Cleveland was going to score a TD for the third straight time, Panthers linebacker Jason Williams stripped the ball away from Cleveland's Evan Moore at the Carolina 3 in the second quarter.

That likely saved a TD, as the Browns were moving again. Williams also recovered the fumble and returned it to the 10, where the Panthers went 3-and-out and had to punt.

Browns lead 14-7

Peyton Hillis just scored his second TD of the game for Cleveland, annd the Browns lead 14-7 with 2:55 still to go in a high-scoring first quarter.

Jake Delhomme ran off the field hugging people after his second straight TD drive -- this one seven plays for 64 yards.

The Panthers defense has now committed three third-down penalties to keep the drive alive -- on Sherrod Martin, Chris Gamble and Charles Johnson, respectively. Martin's was on the first Browns TD drive and the other two were on the second. Gamble was called for illegal holding and Johnson for roughing Delhomme -- if either penalty had not been called, Cleveland would have had to punt.

Instead, Cleveland leads by a TD and the Panthers' defense hasn't stopped Jake and his new team yet.

Browns tie game 7-7

We're off to a fast start in Cleveland. The Browns scored on their first possession, too, on a 77-yard, nine-play drive led by QB Jake Delhomme and capped by Peyton Hillis's nine-yard TD run for the score.

Delhomme completed passes on the first three plays on the drive and then got out of a third-and-goal from the 20 jam when Carolina's Sherrod Martin was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit at the goal line on a Browns receiver. That gave Cleveland an automatic first down at the Carolina 9, where Hillis swept left and ran it in.

Panthers take quick 7-0 lead

So much for the stats.

Carolina hadn't scored a first-quarter TD all year. Cleveland's defense hadn't given up a TD on the opposing offense's first possession for 23 games -- the longest streak in the NFL.

But after five minutes Sunday, the Panthers led 7-0 after one of their most impressive drives of the year -- a nine-play, 81-yard march keyed mostly by the running of Mike Goodson.

Goodson finished the march with a 26-yard burst to score standing up. It was his first career TD. Jimmy Clausen also had a big third-down conversion pass to Steve Smith (and was roughed on the play, tacking on 15 more yards) and Jonathan Stewart -- who is the No.2 back today behind Goodson -- had a couple of nice runs, too.

5 notes (and a prediction) before Panthers-Browns game

I'm in Cleveland -- where gametime weather is supposed to be sunny and in the 40s -- while awaiting the Panthers-Browns game. Here are 5 few notes about it and my prediction (which I forgot to post as usual on Friday -- oops!):

1. Here's my column on Browns QB Jake Delhomme -- still feels weird writing that -- in advance of today's game. Delhomme says he will always consider himself a Panther, but you can bet he will try like crazy to beat Carolina today.

2. The last time the Panthers played in Cleveland was in 2002, when they won 13-6 to break an eight-game losing streak in John Fox’s first year. I barely remember that game, but I do remember racing to Akron from Cleveland in a rent-a-car right after it was over so I could cover LeBron James for the first time.

LeBron was playing in high school then and already a phenom. He was so popular many of his games were on pay-per-view in Ohio for $7.95 a pop. All of Ohio loved him and hoped he would one day play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Man, a lot has happened in the intervening eight years.

In that game, incidentally, LeBron had 21 points, 14 rebounds and did a number of on-court pushups for violating his coach’s “no-cursing” rule.

3. Weird stat: the Browns have beaten every team in the NFL except Carolina. The Panthers are 3-0 in this very occasional series.

4. It will be fun to watch Mohamed Massaquoi (formerly of Independence High) play today for Cleveland. Massaquoi and Hakeem Nicks (also of Independence and now of the New York Giants) are the best two high-school receivers I’ve ever covered. Best running back? Nick Maddox of Kannapolis A.L. Brown (who was on Panthers' practice squad awhile but never made it into an NFL game like the other 2).

5. I’m 7-3 picking the outcome of Panthers’ games this season, mostly by picking them to lose. Today’s pick is in the same vein: Cleveland 17, Carolina 9.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving everyone

Just a short note to all "Scott Says" readers today -- thanks so much for reading this blog and The Observer either online or in print. I am very thankful for you -- without readers, after all, none of us in the newspaper business would have a job. There is nothing a writer appreciates more than someone reading his stuff.

You guys are great. Have a fine Thanksgiving and forget about the Panthers' problems for at least 24 hours -- it will make that second piece of pumpkin pie go down a lot easier.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jake likely to start vs Panthers

In just the sort of twist any good scriptwriter would love, it looks like Jake Delhomme will start Sunday at 1 p.m. for Cleveland in the Browns' home game against Carolina.

For the Panthers, meanwhile, Jimmy Clausen was back at practice today and will be the starter barring a setback. Last week's starter Brian St. Pierre still has a very sore shoulder -- he hurt it on the 88-yard TD pass to David Gettis Sunday, he said -- and so Tony Pike will likely be the No.2 QB for Carolina.

Delhomme, the QB for Carolina from 2003-09, has only started one game for his new Cleveland team -- the Sept.12 opener. He got a high ankle sprain in that one and by the time he returned, rookie QB Colt McCoy was playing well. Delhomme admitted he thought at times maybe he had played his last down because McCoy was doing so well.

Delhomme had a conference call with Charlotte-area media Wednesday and said it was "ironic" that his second start for the Browns will quite likely be against Carolina.

Delhomme, who went 58-40 as a starter for Carolina (including 5-3 in the postseason), also said he had remained close to several in the Panthers organization, most notably Jordan Gross, Jeff King and Matt Moore. He said he harbored no animosity toward the Panthers and that he considered the way they released him after last season a classy way to be fired.

McCoy has a high ankle sprain and is out at least for this week and likely for several more. Cleveland coach Eric Mangini said today he was "leaning" toward starting Delhomme due to Jake's familiarity with the Panthers. Seneca Wallace -- who has also had a high ankle sprain this season, making Browns QBs 3-for-3 with the injury -- would be the other option.

If Jake starts, that just made a game between a 1-9 Panther squad and a 3-7 Cleveland team a lot more interesting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Can QB situation get any weirder for Panthers?

The Panthers continue to play musical chairs -- by necessity -- with the most important spot on the field. Today The Observer is reporting that the team will sign Keith Null, a former sixth-round draft pick who started four games in 2009 for the St. Louis Rams, to the practice squad (but he could be promoted if Jimmy Clausen isn't cleared to play due to his concussion).

A few QB notes while we've got a minute (and here's the link to my column on John Fox and his chipper attitude during these strange times):

1) This is the oddest Panther QB season since 2007, when Jake Delhomme's season-ending injury early gave rise to Vinny Testaverde, David Carr and Matt Moore all starting games. But that group had loads of NFL experience (except Moore) compared to this one.

2) Do you know when Brian St. Pierre actually won the job last week? In Wednesday's practice. It was apparent then to a large majority of the people on that practice field that BSP -- even without a training camp with the team -- understood more about cadences, snaps, play variations, etc., then Tony Pike did. Simply put, last Wednesday was an audition, and St. Pierre got the part.

3) Of course, now BSP has a sore arm. Not as serious as Clausen's concussion which kept him out last week, but still problematic.

Let's say both couldn't play due to injury Sunday at Cleveland. Would Fox actually skip over Pike again and play Null? Again, Wednesday's practice would be the key, but I think this time Pike would have the edge (after all, the Panthers weren't impressed enough with Null to sign him immediately after working him out).

4) As for Cleveland, the Browns may actually start Jake Delhomme this week, which I'd love to see simply because of all the possible story angles it would provide. Jake has only started one game for the Browns all season -- against Tampa in a Week 1 loss -- before he got a high-ankle sprain while throwing a key interception. That -- and rookie Colt McCoy's emergence (he's 2-3 as a starter) -- has kept Jake on the bench. But McCoy now has his own ankle injury and is questionable for Sunday. If he can't play, the Browns will choose between Jake and Seneca Wallace. Here's the full story from today's Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

5 things I didn't like in Panthers' 37-13 loss to Ravens

Carolina’s 37-13 loss to Baltimore has a lot of lows to choose from. Here’s my five -- and here's the link to my column on Brian St. Pierre written after the game and in Monday's newspaper:

1) Third-down conversions. This is where Carolina’s offense really let down. The Panthers went 1-for-13 on third downs, often throwing very short, safe and ultimately unsuccessful passes on third-and-long. That's how you get to 1-9.

2) The takeover. Ravens fans really took over the stadium. We’ve seen it before – most notably when Patriots fans controlled about 90 percent of the Panthers' stadium in the fourth quarter of Carolina’s final loss during the 1-15 year of 2001. It wasn’t that bad Sunday, but the chant of “Let’s go, Ravens” was everywhere in the closing minutes in Charlotte.

3) Pass defense. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 301 yards, never came close to getting picked off and had a pass rating of 110.8. The 56-yard TD bomb on Baltimore’s second play was an unfortunate symbol.

4) Pick six. Baltimore scored two touchdowns 11 seconds apart in the fourth quarter on back-to-back interception returns of Brian St. Pierre for TDs, which changed a 23-13 game into the 37-13 final score.

5) Kickoff coverage. Baltimore rookie David Reed’s 84-yard return of the second-half kickoff gave the Ravens a burst of momentum.

Baltimore clobbers Carolina, 37-13

Baltimore just clobbered Carolina, 37-13, to drop the Panthers to 1-9 this season.

The Ravens led the entire way, but Carolina actually got within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter on Brian St. Pierre's 88-yard TD pass to David Gettis. That made it 20-13, Baltimore, and gave the Panthers a bit of life.

But from then on, the Panthers crumbled. First, Baltimore drove for a field goal. Then St. Pierre threw two straight interceptions that were returned for TDs only 11 seconds apart, and that made a 23-13 game into a 37-13 rout. Baltimore, which hadn't scored a defensive TD all season, scored two in a couple of heartbeats.

About all that was left in the stadium at the end were a couple of thousand Ravens fans, chanting "Let's go, Ravens!" and generally making Bank of America Stadium their own. It was only the latest in a series of embarrassing moments for the Panthers.

Baltimore QB Joe Flacco was superb, throwing for 301 yards and continually eluding the Panther rush as the Ravens improved to 7-3.

The Panthers have lost their last 3 games by 31, 15 and 24 points, respectively.

Panther coach John Fox went with St. Pierre the entire way at quarterback, even after the back-to-back interceptions that resulted in TDs.

Fox also insisted on using all his timeouts at the end of the game when down by 24 points. He then ran the ball twice once he got it back. Panther RB Mike Goodson did have a second straight 100-yard rushing game, including a 45-yarder.

Ravens now ahead 37-13 after 2 "pick sixes"

They call it "Pick Six" in football -- when you intercept the ball and run it in for a touchdown, or six points.

Brian St. Pierre just threw two of those -- on back-to-back offensive snaps -- and Baltimore's 23-13 lead suddenly ballooned to 37-13.

St. Pierre's first interception went to Ed Reed, who ran it for awhile, then lateraled it to fellow safety Dawan Landry, who scored.

On the Panthers' next offensive play, BSP threw the ball directly to Ravens' legendary linebacker Ray Lewis, who ran it in from 24 yards.

That made it 37-13 in a fourth quarter that was once 20-13.

Ravens extend lead to 23-13

Baltimore just likely put this game out of reach by getting a 49-yard field goal from Billy Cundiff with 5:55 left in the game. That FG pushed Baltimore to a 23-13 lead.

Down 20-13, Carolina had the ball but couldn't do anything with it earlier in the fourth quarter. Baltimore then took over after a punt, drove about 45 yards and, after a third-down sack, had Cundiff kick his third FG of the game.

Panthers cut lead to 20-13 on spectacular TD

Well that was a bolt out of the blue -- Carolina just scored on an 88-yard touchdown pass from Brian St. Pierre to David Gettis. The score cut Baltimore's lead to 20-13.

Before that, St. Pierre had 51 yards passing and had had a laughably bad and conservative game. That changed with one spectacular play, however, as rookie Gettis beat cornerback Josh Wilson badly, hauled in St. Pierre's strike and made it a one-touchdown game.

The play was tied for the second-longest TD play in Carolina history. The longest: Kerry Collins' 89-yard TD pass to Willie Green in 1995, the Panthers' inaugural season

Panthers cut Baltimore lead to 20-6

After Captain Munnerlyn's 64-yard kickoff return to the Baltimore 25, Carolina had the best chance it will probably get to score a TD.

Mike Goodson's first run went for 12 yards, and the Panthers had first and 10 on the Baltimore 13. After that, though, the normal Carolina offense kicked in -- a four-yard loss on a Goodson run, a false start on Dante Rosario and two incomplete passes.

So John Kasay's 40-yard field goal just cut Baltimore's lead to 20-6. Both teams have had quick field goals in the third quarter, but it looks like for Carolina to score a TD in this game it will probably have to be by the defense or special teams.

Ravens up lead to 20-3 over Panthers

Baltimore rookie David Reed took the second-half kickoff back 84 yards, setting up a Ravens field goal 62 seconds into the half.

Reed went up the right sideline barely touched behind great blocking before Carolina's C.J. Wilson finally tracked him down. Then Carolina's defense allowed only three yards in three plays -- Joe Flacco threw two incompletions, which were as many as he threw the entire first half. Billy Cundiff came in for a 33-yard field goal and it's 20-3, Baltimore.

Speaking of long kickoff returns, Captain Munnerlyn just ran the next one back to the Baltimore 25 -- a 64-yard kickoff return.

17-3, Baltimore, at halftime

Baltimore has a 14-point lead at halftime over Carolina, which is surely insurmountable given how bad the Panthers offense has been.

Other than Mike Goodson (11 carries, 69 yards), the Panthers have done nothing. Their passing game is as bad as it's been all season.

Joe Flacco, on the other hand, is 16-for-18 for 213 yards in the first half. So it's hard to say what's been worse -- the Panthers' passing offense or its passing defense.

Carolina did get one decent chance to score late in the half when it recovered a Baltimore fumble at midfield. Quickly, though, Brian St. Pierre got sacked, then threw a near-interception that Steve Smith corraled for about 7 yards and then threw a sideline pass David Clowney dropped. With 4th-and-12 from its own 49 and 0:09 left in the first half, Carolina decided to punt, drawing a cascade of boos from the home fans.

Ravens take 17-3 lead

Baltimore just went up by two touchdowns on Carolina and now leads 17-3 after Ray Rice scored from one yard out standing up with 1:57 left in the first half.

The Ravens have scored on three of their four first-half drives as Carolina's defense continues to get torched by Joe Flacco, who has been just about perfect. The only time Baltimore didn't score it fumbled at the Carolina 15.

The eight-play, 51-yard drive included a long pass to TE Todd Heap, who fumbled it while going out of bounds. Carolina recovered but James Anderson's tiptoe dance trying to stay inbounds while doing so failed.

This is the second straight week Carolina's defense has really looked bad -- it gave up 31 points last week to Tampa Bay.

Ravens fumble; lead remains 10-3

Just when it looked like Baltimore was sure to score some more points, the Ravens fumbled at Carolina's 15 on their third possession.

Joe Flacco handed the ball to Ray Rice, who looked like he thought it was going to be a fake. The ball bounded on the ground and Tyler Brayton recovered for Carolina.

Carolina immediately went 3-and-out, though, and has punted back to the Ravens. Carolina still trails, 10-3, with 5:24 left in the second quarter.

Panthers cut Raven lead to 10-3

John Kasay's 45-yard field goal just got Carolina on the board and sliced Baltimore's lead to 10-3 with 13:39 left in the second quarter.

The drive was 53 yards -- 45 of which came on one explosive play, when Mike Goodson barreled through the middle, made a couple of sweet cutbacks and was off. Goodson now has carried the ball eight times for 66 yards and is well on his way to a second straight 100-yard game.

The Panthers have yet to attempt a deep -- or difficult -- pass with Brian St. Pierre in their first 3 possessions. Also worth noting: there are an inordinate number of Baltimore fans in the stadium.

Ravens take 10-0 lead over Panthers

Baltimore just took a 10-0 lead over Carolina on a 22-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff with 1:15 left in the first quarter.

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is absolutely eating up the Panthers -- he's 7-for-7 for 120 yards so far. Carolina finally stopped him on that drive on third-and-goal on the five when Baltimore inexplicably called a run play, which was stopped.

Carolina could have stopped the drive earlier, but on a third-and-long play the Panthers' Everette Brown was called for illegal use of hands when rushing the quarterback, so Baltimore's 13-play, 84-yard march continued.

The Panthers' new QB, Brian St. Pierre, is 3-for-5 for 20 yards so far, so he's now thrown as many passes today as he did in his previous 8-year career.

A horrible start for Panthers

Carolina's first 150 seconds couldn't have gone much worse in its game against Baltimore Sunday.

The Panthers went three-and-out on their first series. On third-and-short, they took new quarterback Brian St. Pierre off the field and lined up Mike Goodson in the shotgun. But then Ryan Kalil's snap was too high -- Goodson had to bat it down and fall on it, messing up the play entirely.

Baltimore then got the ball and scored on its second play -- a 56-yard strike from Joe Flacco to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Safety Charles Godfrey got over late, T.J. got behind Chris Gamble and that was that.

Carolina's second possession just ended, too. It was a little better as St. Pierre moved the Panthers to the Baltimore 45 before stalling. Baltimore will start its second possession at its own 12.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Panther prediction and other notes

A couple of notes as we head into the weekend:

-- Sounds like it's going to be a beautiful weekend in Charlotte -- likely one of our last great ones before the cold sets in for good.

With that in mind, I wonder how many people will show up -- and actually stay -- through four quarters of Panthers-Baltimore Ravens football at Bank of America Stadium Sunday?

With Brian "Who?" St. Pierre quarterbacking Carolina, the game at least has an element of mystery. But the Panthers are injury-ravaged and weren't much good before that, and the Ravens are healthy and have been off for 10 days.

I'm 6-3 picking the 1-8 Panthers so far this year week-by-week. This week's pick: Baltimore 24, Carolina 10.

-- I listened to a bit of John Kilgo calling the Davidson basketball game in Puerto Rico Thursday (Davidson lost by 14 to West Virginia). I really like listening to Kilgo -- something about listening to that gravelly voice, mingled with his occasional and outright disgust when something goes wrong, gets me tickled. When Davidson missed its 19th straight 3-pointer in the game, Kilgo said angrily: "That's 19 straight whiffs for Davidson." He sounded like he was ready to go out there and fire a couple of threes himself.

-- If you're going to be in the Birkdale//Huntersville area tonight, I'll be at the Barnes and Noble there from 6-8 p.m. Friday signing copies of some of my sports books (including the one just published called "What It Means to be a Tar Heel" and/or talking about The Observer, story ideas or whatever else is on your mind. Feel free to stop by, and please don't feel compelled to buy anything.

The first 10 people who come by and mention directly to me that they saw this info in the "Scott Says" blog will, however, get a free signed copy of my 2004 Panthers book, "Tales from the Panthers Sideline." Jake Delhomme is on the cover of that one, so you know that was awhile back.

-- I really enjoyed doing my story today on Bob Moore, the 84-year-old high school referee who has reffed for 51 straight seasons in the Charlotte area. Here's the link.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This QB situation is getting ridiculous

I can't decide whether this is more of an indictment of Tony Pike and Armanti Edwards or an endorsement of a player I'd never heard of until last week, but John Fox's decision to start Brian St. Pierre Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens strikes me as a little ridiculous. (Jimmy Clausen is out with a concussion).

All sorts of theories abound on this one. Let's run through several, and I'll assign my own highly sujective "truthiness factor" to each:

1) "We're throwing BSP to the wolves" theory -- This one goes like this... The Ravens are going to probably injure whomever is in the starting lineup, so why not make St. Pierre the sacrificial lamb? Truthiness factor: 10 percent.

2) "John Fox can't stand Tony Pike" theory -- How can a guy who has been in training camp and in all those QB meetings and at least knows the playbook -- even if he is a rookie sixth-round draft pick -- not be ahead of a guy who was changing his son's diaper when he got the call from his agent last week? Truthiness factor: 70 percent.

3) "Panthers are playing for a high draft choice" theory: The best thing for Carolina at this point is to lose, and this guarantees it. Sorry, I don't buy it. John Fox isn't going to be here for this draft choice. doesn't care where it is. Truthiness factor: 0 percent.

4) "Take that, personnel department" theory: It's a well-known fact that Fox and his personnel department haven't seen eye-to-eye for much of this season. He doesn't like rookie quarterbacks. In fact, he says here, he's so tired of starting them when they're not ready that he's going to skip Pike (and Armanti) entirely and start someone who just got here. Take that, personnel department. Truthiness factor: 60 percent.

In reality, this is a combination of a few things, but in Fox's mind it undoubtedly boils down to his catchall slogan: "It gives us the best chance to win."

And who knows? Maybe it does? Pike hasn't exactly lit it up in limited action. Maybe starting BSP gives the Panthers a 10 percent chance of winning Sunday rather than a 7 percent chance. Either way, Panthers are going to lose Sunday.

For St. Pierre isn't Vinny Testaverde, as he would freely admit. And this, to me, seems pretty crazy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Has DeAngelo played his last game as Panther? I hope not

The bracing news that DeAngelo Williams has been placed on injured reserve due to his foot injury -- ending his 2010 season abruptly with a meager 361 yards -- leaves a huge question.

Is DeAngelo done as a Panther?

I hope not. Although Carolina has a plethora of good running backs -- Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton among them -- to me DeAngelo is still the best of the lot. None of those other guys have ever had the amazing sort of 1,500-yard, 18-TD season DeAngelo did in 2008. I think he's the Panthers' best combination of speed and power -- he has 31 career rushing TDs, after all, and a lot of those were inside the tackles. To call him purely an outside speed rusher is to do him an injustice.

But DeAngelo's contract runs out at the end of this season, which means the Panthers are going to have to pay him -- big-time -- to keep him. The average range for a back of DeAngelo's caliber probably approaches the $7-million-per-year range. Stewart is signed through 2012, on the other hand, and Goodson is also on his first contract and a pretty cheap alternative (i.e., Goodson is a poor man's version of DeAngelo).

DeAngelo had a subpar 2010 even before he got hurt -- he never had a single 100-yard rushing game -- but that goes for the entire Panther offense. Perhaps the injury will even be a mixed blessing, for it undoubtedly will cost DeAngelo some money (compared to if he came off another 1,500-yard, play-in-all-16-game season like 2008). Maybe the Panthers can receive a bit of a hometown discount bargain here -- DeAngelo has always seemed happy here and acted like he wants to stay long-term.

So again, I hope he hasn't played his last game here. Stewart was great at the end of 2009, but his 3.0 rushing average this season is a yard under DeAngelo's, and he is never 100 percent health-wise. That's not his fault, but that's the truth.

The Panthers have been saving money all year. So who else are they going to spend it on if not for guys like DeAngelo, a proven commodity who is still only 27 years old? Fix his foot and sign him to another contract.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Bobcats, Panthers and what's coming up

Catching up on a couple of things:

1) I had a live chat today on CharlotteObserver.com talking about all sorts of local sports issues. If you missed it, you can skim the replay here.

2) Went to the Bobcats game last night. Here's the resulting column. The good news: They made a comeback from six points down with 92 seconds left to win their first home game of the season. The bad news: The opponent was Minnesota, a 3-9 team going nowhere. The Bobcats (4-7) are not making anything easy on themselves so far this season.

3) One of the questions asked in the chat: What are the odds Jimmy Clausen starts Sunday, given his concussion?
I put them at 30 percent in the chat, but it's probably a little higher than that. It's funny -- I was part of Clausen's group interview after the game, and he seemed fine then. But the NFL is taking concussions far more seriously than it used to. The Panthers are about to face a defense in the Baltimore Ravens that is as difficult to play as just about anyone for a quarterback.

You don't want to mess with Clausen by putting him back out there too early, of course -- his future here is potentially too valuable. If I had to guess, I would guess Tony Pike starts Sunday, but we'll know a lot more once Clausen's medical testing is complete and we see how much he gets to practice Wednesday and Thursday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

5 things I didn't like in Panthers' 31-16 loss to Bucs

The Panthers have now dropped to 1-8 with their 31-16 loss to Tampa Bay Sunday in Tampa. The Bucs, now 6-3, only won three games a year ago, and they are the model for where Carolina would like to be in 2011. For now, though, it's time for the traditional "5 things I didn't like" after a Carolina loss.

(You may not remember that I also write a "5 things I did like" blog after every Panther win -- that just hasn't come up much this season).

1) Touchdown anemia. The Panthers have now scored only nine TDs in nine games (Sunday's was by Josh Vaughan). No one else in the NFL is close to that bad -- entering Sunday's games, the Dolphins' 12 TDs was second-worst.

2) Defensive letdowns. For once, it was the Panthers' defense that really messed this game up. The Panthers allowed 421 yards, made Josh Freeman (134.2 QB rating) look like a Pro Bowler and gave up a 45-yard touchdown run on third-and-10 late in the fourth quarter to seal the loss.

3) Jason Baker. Carolina's reliable punter for once really had an off game. He had five punts, none longer than 35 yards, and had a net average of only 30.6.

4) Tight-end coverage. The Panthers D seems very susceptible to good tight ends, and that was certainly the case Sunday. Kellen Winslow had six catches for 65 yards and a TD, and second-string TE John Gilmore had three catches for 52 more.

5) Quarterback sneaks. Not that it would have done much other than make the final score more palatable, but two QB sneaks from Jimmy Clausen on the last 2 plays?! Really? Tampa Bay, not surprisingly, knocked Clausen backwards.

Panthers lose 31-16 to Bucs

Carolina dropped to 1-8 this season today with a 31-16 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who improved to 6-3.

The Panthers were within 21-16 as the fourth quarter began, but got outscored in the fourth quarter 10-0 to lose. On their final drive, they got down to the Bucs' 1, then ran two straight QB sneaks with Jimmy Clausen, who couldn't get over the line on either play.

After Clausen's second unsuccessful sneak, Steve Smith got called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.

The killer play was when, on third-and-10 with 2:52 to go in the game and Tampa up 24-16, Cadillac Williams broke a 45-yard run against the Panthers' defense. That put the game out of reach.

Bucs lead 31-16 as Panthers D lets 'em down again

Tampa Bay just clinched this game with a 45-yard TD run by Cadillac Williams, pushing the Bucs to a 31-16 lead with 2:42 left.

Williams made his run on third-and-10 from the Carolina 45. The Panthers were one play away from getting the ball back, down by only 8 points, but instead allowed the huge play. Earlier in the same drive, they allowed the Bucs to convert on a third-and-15.

It was symbolic of a day when the Panthers defense has been the unit that has struggled the most -- unusual for this season.

Bucs extend lead to 24-16

Tampa Bay just lengthened its lead back to 8 points, getting a 32-yard field goal from former UNC kicker Connor Barth to take a 24-16 lead.

The Panthers D at least held Tampa Bay out of the end zone, keeping this a one-possession lead, but the Bucs were able to control the ball on a six-minute drive.

With 10:02 left, then, Jimmy Clausen and the offense is a touchdown and two-point conversion away from tying the game. That's a pretty tall order -- but then again the offense has already scored its third-highest point total of the season.

Panthers cut Tampa lead to 21-16 at end of 3rd Q

Carolina keeps hanging around in this game -- it's going to make people actually pay attention to the 4th quarter of a Panther game (at least for awhile). Crazy, I know.

John Kasay just connected on his third field goal of the game -- this one a 48-yarder -- to cut Tampa Bay's lead to 21-16.

The offense wasn't a bit responsible for that field goal -- it was mostly special teams. Carolina nailed Tampa Bay's kick returner at its own 9 after Kasay's earlier field goal. Then the defense stopped the Bucs and Captain Munnerlyn sped 37 yards with a punt return to set Carolina up inside the Bucs' 35.

The offense gained only 2 yards in 3 plays, bringing on Kasay again.

As the third quarter draws to a close, it is:

Tampa Bay 21, Carolina 16.

Panthers slice Bucs lead to 21-13 in 3rd Q

Carolina's offense continues to play slightly better than expected, while the defense is playing a good bit worse. The Panthers just got the first score of the third quarter -- a 28-yard John Kasay field goal with 4:28 left in the third period to cut Tampa Bay's lead to 21-13.

The 69-yard drive was keyed by a 34-yard pass from Jimmy Clausen to Steve Smith that was thrown in the only place Clausen could have put it to have a completion. Mike Goodson also had a nice run and now has 98 yards rushing today.

The Panthers stalled on third-and-3 from the 11, though, when Clausen threw incomplete toward Dante Rosario.

Now Carolina would need a TD and a two-point conversion to tie the game, and that assumes the Panthers hold Tampa Bay out of the end zone (not a good assumption so far today).

Still, at least the Panthers aren't totally out of the game as of yet and we're deep in the third quarter -- that's a lot better than last week.

Bucs take 21-10 lead into halftime

Now here's a different sort of problem for the Carolina Panthers -- their defense is getting absolutely torched.

For almost the entire season, the defense has been the only thing that has kept the Panthers in the game. Today, however, Carolina keeps allowing one long play after another and now has given up 3 TDs in the first half as Tampa Bay has taken a 21-10 lead.

The latest Bucs drive went 65 yards and ended with a TD pass from Josh Freeman to Kellen Winslow, who was double-covered, interfered with by Charles Godfrey and still made the catch. (That wasn't Tampa's longest march of the half, though -- the Bucs went 87 yards earlier).

The drive was helped along earlier by a 21-yard pass interference penalty on Panther LB Jon Beason, who has done nothing else of note today.

The Bucs' score came with 50 seconds left in the half. Carolina tried to do something offensively after that, but had already used up all its timeouts and so got nowhere.

So at halftime, it's Tampa Bay 21, Carolina 10.

A couple of halftime stats: fourth-string tailback Mike Goodson has rushed for 76 yards on 14 carries and may well end up as Carolina's first 100-yard rusher of the season. He did lose a fumble, however. Jimmy Clausen is 9-of-16 for 82 yards and no TDs or interceptions.

Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman is really dominating the game when he's on the field, though. Carolina has been very hard-pressed to stop him.

Panthers cut Buc lead to 14-10

Just when it looked like this game was getting out of hand, Carolina has come back to score a rare touchdown and slice Tampa Bay's lead to 14-10.

The TD was a 2-yard run by Josh Vaughan, who wasn't even on the roster until this week but is playing this week because 3 of Carolina's top 4 running backs are out for this game.

The TD was set up when a Tampa Bay blocker accidentally touched a short Jason Baker punt, which Dante Rosario recovered at the Tampa Bay 46.

From there came two big plays: an 18-yard Mike Goodson run and a third-and-4 conversion when David Gettis beat one-on-one coverage and grabbed a Jimmy Clausen pass to the Tampa Bay 4.

Goodson has already run for 58 yards today and Clausen has thrown for 72. For the Panthers this year, that qualifies as an offensive explosion.

Wiith 7:57 left in the second quarter, it's:

Tampa Bay 14, Carolina 10

Bucs take 14-3 lead early in 2nd quarter

Tampa Bay just shoved the ball straight down the throat of the Carolina defense, going 87 yards in six plays to take a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.

Given that the Panthers only average 11 points per game, that may well be an insurmountable lead.

The drive was power football, as Tampa Bay simply kept running its main back LeGarrette Blount and daring Carolina to stop him. To be blunt, Carolina didn't come close. Blount ran the final 17 yards for a TD, helicoptering his way into the end zone through an attempted tackle.

Panthers cut Tampa lead to 7-3

John Kasay's 46-yard field goal with 52 seconds left in the first quarter just cut Tampa Bay's lead to 7-3.

The field goal was set up mostly by Carolina's defense. After a Jason Baker punt, Carolina forced Tampa Bay six yards backwards in 3 plays (thanks to an Everette Brown sack, his first of the season). Tampa Bay punted from its 5 only to its own 42.

The Panther offense converted one third down -- on a Jimmy Clausen to Brandon LaFell pass -- but then was undone by two straight false-start penalties.

Kasay came in on fourth-and-12 to kick a 46-yard field goal and at least ensure there would be no shutout.

So, at the end of one quarter:

Tampa Bay 7, Carolina 3.

Panthers' 2nd drive ends in punt

Carolina's 2nd drive turned out a little better than its first -- at least there was no turnover this time.

In fact, Carolina got to the Tampa Bay 37 after a couple of nice rookie-to-rookie third-down conversion plays from Jimmy Clausen to Brandon LaFell and David Gettis, respectively.

But the drive stalled then when, on third-and-4, Clausen held the ball too long, nobody got open and Tampa Bay sacked the QB for an 8-yard loss. No chance at a field goal then -- or of going for it on fourth-and-4, which might have happened had Clausen thrown the ball away -- so Jason Baker punted to Tampa Bay's 11.

Bucs up 7-0 after 5 minutes

The game couldn't have started much worse for Carolina. After a Mike Goodson fumble, Tampa Bay immediately drove the ball 47 yards in four plays for a 7-0 lead.

The TD came on an 8-yard TD pass from Josh Freeman to Arrelious Benn, who dove for the sideline pylon as he was going out of bounds and just touched it.

The Bucs' big play on the drive was a 29-yard pass to tight end John Gilmore, who was wide open on what looked like a busted coverage by the Panthers defense.

With 10:37 still left in the first quarter, it's Tampa Bay 7, Carolina 0.

Goodson fumbles ball away on first series

Carolina's first drive ended with a thud Sunday, as Mike Goodson (in his first NFL start) fumbled the ball away to Tampa Bay on the Carolina 47.

Goodson actually began promisingly, carrying the ball three times for 15 yards on the Panthers' first three plays. Then came a 7-yard pass to Steve Smith. But on 2nd-and-3, Goodson took a clean hit from the Bucs' Gerald McCoy and the ball quickly popped out. So much for a quick start from the Panthers.

A beautiful day in Tampa

I'm here at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, awaiting the start of the Bucs-Panthers game that will apparently have at least 20,000 empty seats. It's a gorgeous day, though -- about 70 degrees and sunny. Feels like Charlotte has for much of this past week.

In the meantime, here's my Sunday column on Panther fans, TV ratings and why Sundays around Charlotte don't feel the same anymore.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Tampa Bay-Panthers prediction

It was the first Tampa Bay game this season, on Sept.19, that really gave Panther fans the shudders.

The season opener – a 31-18 loss to the New York Giants – could be justified in some ways because Matt Moore threw three end-zone interceptions and it was on the road against a good team.

But getting whipped 20-7 by Tampa Bay in Charlotte – that was very different. A 13-point home loss to a Bucs team that had gone 3-13 the year before?! That made everyone understand that the Panthers were the worst team in their division and one of the worst in the league.

So, a few notes about Sunday:

-- The Panther receivers have to man up. Tampa Bay safety Ronde Barber chided them after the first game by saying: “They don’t have a lot in the way of threats over there at wide receiver.” Proving Barber wrong today will be the only way this offense could possibly get going, unless Mike Goodson somehow goes wild.

-- In the first Tampa game, the Panthers’ defense was good on just about everything but third-and-long. It got Tampa Bay in third-and-9 or more on six occasions – and allowed the Bucs to convert five of those. That’s got to change. Quarterback Josh Freeman must be gang-tackled – that guy is enormous.

-- I wish the Panthers would use Armanti Edwards in the Mountaineer formation for at least a few plays. That’s conceivable, given that Edwards will be the No.3 emergency quarterback and thus could play in the fourth quarter for a couple of plays and still allow the Panthers to substitute Jimmy Clausen or Tony Pike back in at that point. But given Carolina’s reticence to use the formation, I’d say it’s unlikely.

-- I’m 5-3 picking the outcome of Panthers’ games this season, which isn’t very good but is better than Carolina’s 1-7 record. The pick for Sunday: Tampa Bay 23, Carolina 10.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Clausen, Goodson, Moore and the Panthers

I spent some time in the Panthers' locker room Wednesday and came away with this column on new Carolina starting RB Mike Goodson, who will be forced into the lineup Sunday at Tampa Bay due to the glut of injuries at that position.

I like Goodson -- he's fun to be around. Always seems happy. And he's confident, which is a rare thing in Carolina's locker room these days. Now whether he does much Sunday -- that's very iffy. But I'm glad he's getting a chance.

A few other mid-week thoughts about the Panthers:

-- It was striking when listening to Matt Moore and Thomas Davis talk about their season-ending injuries and 2011. Davis sounds very confident that he will end up here in 2011 and beyond, signed to a long-term deal and perhaps a Panther for life. he and GM Marty Hurney have talked about it.

-- Moore, on the other hand, has had no such conversations with Carolina. And it seems far less likely to me that he will end up back here (like Davis, he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2011 -- pending, of course, all the stuff with the lockout).

-- Jimmy Clausen seems a little beaten down to me by his lack of success in the first half of the season. The guy who proclaimed on Draft Day in April that the Panthers had just made the best pick of the draft -- I don't know where that guy went, but he's not inhabiting Clausen's body anymore. This guy really needs something good to happen, but starting on the road against surprising Tampa Bay this week and against a fearsome Baltimore defense next week doesn't seem the ticket.

-- Armanti Edwards as the emergency QB? That may sound good to Appalachian State fans who want Armanti to play, but in reality it doesn't mean much other than Armanti is going to run the scout team in practice. As the third-string QB, Edwards will only play if both fellow rookies Clausen and Tony Pike get hurt. Which, given this offense and all its problems, certainly could happen, but more than likely won't. I'd rather see Edwards active so he could run a few plays from the Mountaineer formation at least, but that doesn't sound likely this week. That's too bad.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top draft choices not getting it done

As we get word this week that OT Jeff Otah joins the growing number of Panthers on injured reserve and out for the season, it made me wonder how much (or little) the top of the ballyhooed Panther draft classes for the past few years have been contributing to this 1-7 team.

Not surprisingly, they're not getting it done -- much like the team in general. For a club that prides itself on "homegrown" players, this is a major problem.

Let's take a look simply at the Panthers' first- and second-round picks from 2005-2010 and how they're doing this season. The numbers are pretty stark (and also show how injuries can pummel a team in the short term):

1st -- Thomas Davis, LB. Looked like a Pro Bowler when he played in 2009, but hasn't played all season due to knee injury and is out for the year.

2nd -- Eric Shelton, RB. Was a total miss from the beginning and has long been gone.

1st -- DeAngelo Williams, RB. Has been outstanding for much of past two seasons, but subpar in 2010 (and has missed last two games with foot injury). Only 1 TD and 361 rushing yards in first half of this season.

2nd -- Richard Marshall, CB. Has developed into a fairly solid starter at cornerback, but certainly nothing special.

1st -- Jon Beason, LB. One of Panthers' best picks in club history; the heart and soul of the defense. Still, no interceptions or sacks in 2010.

2nd -- Dwayne Jarrett, WR. Total waste of a pick. Ended up with more DUI arrests than TDs in his career.

2nd -- Ryan Kalil, C. A solid starter for the O-line and definitely a core player.

1st -- Jonathan Stewart, RB. Terrible first half of 2010 (3.0 average, 208 yards, 1 TD). Sustained concussion in last game.

1st -- Jeff Otah, OL. Durability concerns his entire career, especially now that a supposedly minor knee injury has kept him out of the whole 2010 season.

2nd -- Everette Brown, DE. Panthers traded a future first-round pick for Brown, a pass-rushing specialist who hasn't had a sack in all of 2010.

2nd -- Sherrod Martin, S. Has become a decent starter in defensive backfield.

2nd -- Jimmy Clausen, QB. Has played a lot early and been singularly unimpressive, going 0-3 as a starter and getting benched twice already by coach John Fox. Jury still out.

So that's your core group, and that's a huge reason why Carolina has been so awful. Of the best picks from those six years, many have been hurt or hamstrung by injury problems this season -- and this team didn't have a lot of depth to begin with.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Panther news keeps getting worse: how to handle it now

It's only November, but there's quite an avalanche storming downhill at Bank of America Stadium these days.

Coach John Fox announced Monday that QB Matt Moore (shoulder) and MLB Dan Connor (hip) would be out the final 8 games of the season, and that LB Thomas Davis (knee) would not return, either, which aborted the attempted comeback Davis wanted to make.

Whew. It's like the Panthers have sustained two 31-point losses in two days -- this is at least as bad as the Saints' 34-3 shellacking of Carolina Sunday (which led to John Fox's extraordinary news conference, which led to this column I wrote).

Given all that news, here are 2 suggestions for the Panthers to make the rest of the season more palatable:

-- At QB, the Panthers say they are going to bring in a veteran as a backup. In the meantime, starting Jimmy Clausen is the most realistic option, but I'd activate Armanti Edwards and have him play some at QB this week at Tampa, too. Why not? He's not doing anything at WR, where Fox obviously doesn't trust him enough to play him -- let the guy try his college position in a limited package.

-- Panthers owner Jerry Richardson should take a page out of Dallas owner Jerry Jones' playbook (the two are good friends, although they deal with the public far differently). Jones publicly apologized for the Cowboys' performance this season not long ago, saying in part: "I'm very, very, very sorry to our fans. You should have better than this."

Richardson should do the same, as well explaining his mysterious vision for this team. It would go a long way toward removing some of the PSL discontent surrounding the franchise, and giving the Panthers something they have very little of right now: hope for the future.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

5 things I didn't like in Panthers' 34-3 loss to Saints

Well that was ugly.

To all those who decided not to spend 3 hours and 15 minutes watching Carolina's 34-3 loss to New Orleans, I salute your independence.

For those who don't mind watching a horror show, however, I guess this was more entertaining than Saw 3-D. Maybe. Without further ado, my 5 things for Sunday that I didn't like the most:

1) Quarterback play. Carolina had 9 passing yards at halftime. Three QBs played; zero QBs played well. Same old story, but I now think John Fox has completely lost confidence in Jimmy Clausen (and still may have to start him next week, depending no Matt Moore's shoulder injury).

2) Injuries. What a boatload of them. Jonathan Stewart got an apparent concussion, Moore had a shoulder injury that could be serious, Tyrell Sutton messed up a pretty good day when he messed up his ankle, Dan Conner reinjured his hip -- and that wasn't even the whole list.

3) Three-man rushes. Carolina ran a good many of them when Drew Brees was facing third-and-long, figuring that dropping eight men deep would work out just fine. Nope. I can't stand the three-man rush -- so often it allows the QB to just sit there and wait... and wait... and wait... until someone comes open.

4) Carolina's personnel department. John Fox called them out after the game in his postgame news conference -- more on that in my column, which you can read now here and in Monday's newspaper -- but it is true that the Panthers had much, much less talent on the field Sunday compared to New Orleans.

5) Steve Smith. I know he's getting a lot of attention, but he only caught one pass for nine yards Sunday, and that just can't happen.

New Orleans whips Carolina 34-3

New Orleans dismantled Carolina, 34-3, Sunday in Charlotte -- totally dominating the game after an early Carolina field goal gave the Panthers a short-lived 3-0 lead.

It was another embarrassing afternoon for the Panthers, who dropped to 1-7 with what was statistically their worst loss of the season. New Orleans improved to 6-3 and gave Carolina quite a beating compared to the 16-14 win the Saints eked out over Carolina a month ago in the Superdome.

What must Panthers owner Jerry Richardson think of what he has wrought?

Steve Smith never officially touched the ball for the Panthers in the first 59 minutes -- the one pass he caught when it mattered was negated by his own pass-interference penalty. He did catch a short ball in the final minute of play.

Carolina ended up playing three quarterbacks -- Matt Moore was hurt and Jimmy Clausen ineffective, so rookie Tony Pike finished up.

Pike had three series. His second series was somewhat more successful than his first -- Carolina moved the ball to around the New Orleans 20 -- but- then he took a sack on fourth-and-3 from the New Orleans 19 and the Saints took over again.

He got the ball back one last time with a minute to go at about midfield and got Carolina down to the New Orleans 13 with a 22-yard pass to David Gettis before running out of time at the New Orleans 9.

The Panthers, already the most impotent offense in the league, saw their average drop to 11 points per game (they now have 88 points in eight games, or about what a halfway-decent NBA team scores on one good night).

New Orleans now up 34-3

The Saints just keep rolling -- they've now scored 34 points in a row and lead, 34-3, with 8:12 still to go in the game. The latest: a 1-yard TD run by Ladell Betts after Richard Marshall committed a pass-interference penalty in the end zone.

It's the most points the Saints have scored this year, and it emphatically ends John Fox's streak of never losing twice in the same season to New Orleans.

The Panthers have been pretty terrible in every respect in the second half, but as usual the offense is leading the way in nastiness.

Quarterback Tony Pike is now coming out for his second series, with Jimmy Clausen in a baseball cap on the sideline -- not hurt, but John Fox obviously wants to see what Pike can do.

Pike now in at QB for Carolina

The Panthers are playing their third quarterback of the game -- rookie Tony Pike just took over at QB early in the fourth quarter.

The early results weren't impressive -- Pike's first series ended on a three-and-out. His one long pass was a wounded duck, falling about 10 yards short of where it needed to be (and would have been nullified by an offensive holding penalty anyway).

New Orleans still leads 27-3, the stadium is clearing out and there's still 13:32 to go.

Saints lead 27-3 after Clausen's interception

It felt like it was coming, and it finally did: Jimmy Clausen flirted with disaster for awhile and then threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter.

New Orleans now leads, 27-3, with 0:41 left in the third.

Clausen started the drive inside his five yet again, got a first down on a pop-fly throw to Brandon LaFell out of the end zone, and then threw a slant pass to Dante Rosario directly to New Orleans' Jabari Greer, who jogged in for the TD.

Injuries mounting for Panthers

New Orleans has already won this game -- it's 20-3 in the third quarter -- and the Panthers would likely just get off the field with no more injuries.

The toll today has been fairly staggering. QB Matt Moore (shoulder), RB Jonathan Stewart (head), DE Greg Hardy (head), RB Tyrell Sutton (ankle) and LB Dan Conner (re-injury of hip) have all left the game, not to return.

Jimmy Clausen remains in the game for the Panthers at QB, with Mike Goodson the only healthy remaining RB.

Panthers' fake punt spurs team to.... nothing

Carolina actually ran a nice play that gained some yardage in the third quarter -- on a fake punt.

On fourth-and-4 from their own 40, Carolina lined up as if to punt but quick-snapped the ball to reserve linebacker Jordan Senn, who barely stretched for the necessary yardage.

This brought a huge cheer from the remaining fans (and there are a surprising number of them left).

Alas for the Panthers, they then got a 27-yard pass to Steve Smith (Jimmy Clausen's first really good throw of the game) negated due to a seriously wrong offensive pass interference call on Smith. That put Carolina in first-and-20, and you know they aren't making that.

So, eventually, they punted for real.

20-3 Saints early in third quarter

The Saints continue to add points to this drubbing -- a second field goal has now put New Orleans ahead, 20-3, midway through the third quarter. New Orleans has now scored 20 unanswered points.

Meanwhile, the injury news just keeps getting worse for Carolina. Of the Panthers' 4 RBs, they only have one left who is healthy (Mike Goodson). Tyrell Sutton left on the first series of the third quarter with an ankle injury.

The Panthers had 9 first-half passing yards, incidentally.

Saints lead 17-3 at halftime

New Orleans has taken a 17-3 lead into halftime, and the Panthers are being showered with a number of boos as they leave the field.

The Panthers have done absolutely nothing with Jimmy Clausen at QB -- they didn't do much with Matt Moore, either. Steve Smith has yet to touch the ball in the first half. John Kasay uncharacteristically missed a 40-yard FG which would have made the halftime score sound a little better.

For the offense, in other words, it's been business as usual.

New Orleans got a late field goal on the final play of the first half after Carolina ran the ball on third-and-long rather than trying to score itself on its last possession of the half. Drew Brees has had a big first half after an early interception -- two touchdown passes and 183 passing yards.

For the Panthers, meanwhile, Matt Moore had 13 passing yards before leaving with a shoulder injury. Jimmy Clausen has 11.

Saints take 14-3 lead in 2nd Q

New Orleans just extended its lead to 14-3 on a 19-yard TD pass from Drew Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham, who beat Richard Marshall badly on the play.

The Saints took advantage in the series of Carolina a couple of different times rushing only three men and dropping eight on obvious passing downs. Giving Brees that much time is dangerous, and he made the Panthers pay repeatedly during the series.

Jimmy Clausen remains at QB for Carolina after Matt Moore's injury.

Clausen takes over at QB

Panthers QB Matt Moore has left this game with a shoulder injury -- sustained on a New Orleans sack -- and rookie QB Jimmy Clausen has taken over midway through the second quarter.

On Clausen's second play, he nearly got tackled for a safety. He took over after a 61-yard punt at Carolina's 3 and then on his second play rolled right with no one there (it looked like a mixup). Just as he was about to go down 5 yards deep in the end zone, Clausen flipped the ball underhanded in desperation toward Steve Smith.

The pass was well short, but counted as a pass and got Carolina out of immediate trouble.

The Panthers ended up with one first down on the series -- on a questionable pass interference penalty against New Orleans -- before punting.

The score remains 7-3, as Carolina's defense continues to keep the team (as usual) in the game while the offense sputters.

Panthers waste chance, still trail 7-3

Carolina just had a good scoring opportunity but blew it as New Orleans leads 7-3 early in the second quarter.

Tyrell Sutton, on his first carry of the season, bulled through a couple of tackles and went for more than 30 yards to set Carolina up at the New Orleans 23.

From there, though, Carolina ran Mike Goodson twice for a total of one yard and then Matt Moore -- with five receivers and an empty backfield on third-and-9 -- made a poor overthrow while trying to hit Dante Rosario deep.

That brought in John Kasay for what seemed to be an automatic 40-yard field goal -- Kasay misses so rarely -- but he hooked it wide right. The kick, in fact, was almost exactly the same length and missed in the same way as the FSU kick at the end of the North Carolina game Saturday.

So it remains 7-3, New Orleans, as Carolina's scoring problems continue.

Saints take 7-3 lead in 1st Q

New Orleans just capitalized on a Panther fumble with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Jeremy Shockey, giving the Saints a 7-3 lead with 2:28 left in the first quarter.

Shockey was hurt on the play, when Carolina played zone coverage and safety Charles Godfrey played too deep, allowing Shockey to get in front of him just over the goal line. It was Shockey's 500th career reception. Carolina only rushed three on the play.

Meanwhile, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart left the game after taking a huge hit from Saints safety Darren Sharper at his own 27. Stewart also fumbled on the play -- New Orleans successfully determined that with a challenge -- and the Saints recovered.

If Stewart doesn't return -- he has a head injury and is deemed "questionable" -- Mike Goodson will be the Panthers' top running back the rest of the game and will be spelled by Tyrell Sutton. DeAngelo Williams is already out with a foot injury.

Panthers take early 3-0 lead

Quite a lot of action in the early minutes as the Panthers and Saints begin in Charlotte:

It's sunny and 50 degrees -- lots of coats in the stands today, and not a bad day to be seated on the sunny side of the stadium.

New Orleans' first offensive play, from a running back named Julius Jones, went for 54 yards. Talk about an opener.

On New Orleans' fourth offensive play, however, Panthers CB Richard Marshall intercepted a tipped ball after WR Robert Meachem deflected it. Marshall flew 67 yards with the pickoff, giving Carolina a huge break. (Drew Brees had fumbled the snap to begin the play and then made a poor throw, compounding his mistake).

The Panthers quickly got inside New Orleans' 10 after Marshall's return, getting a 14-yard run from Jonathan Stewart to the Saints' 8.

On first down, Stewart ran for 2. On second down, Moore threw a fade route to rookie David Gettis, who had it deflect off his hands in tight coverage. On third down, out of the shotgun, Moore threw short to Brandon LaFell, who only got to the 3.

That brought in John Kasay's, whose chip-shot field goal gave Carolina a 3-0 lead with 10:20 left in the quarter. Carolina still hasn't scored a first-quarter TD all season.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Panthers-Saints notes and prediction

A few pregame notes on Carolina's 1 p.m. home game against New Orleans Sunday:

-- Matt Moore is 5-2 as a starter at home but had all kinds of problems last week in Carolina’s 20-10 loss at St. Louis. Best-case scenario for Moore: a quick, early touchdown. Most likely scenario: Carolina has three points at halftime.

-- Carolina has won seven of its last 10 against New Orleans and only lost by two points to the Saints earlier this season. For whatever reason, the Panthers rarely get blown out by New Orleans.

-- Why do I think Steve Smith is going to do something hugely newsworthy Sunday?

-- Drew Brees loves to pick the Panthers apart with one seven-yard pass after another, and then at the end of the afternoon he always has 300 yards. Will Chris Gamble or Richard Marshall ever jump on one of those routes? Brees is averaging nearly 332 yards per game in his career vs. Carolina.

-- Lance Moore has become quite a thorn in the side of Carolina recently, and I expect he will be again today.

-- My pick of Carolina to pull a second straight upset last Sunday against St. Louis worked out badly, so I’m now 4-3 picking the Panthers’ games this season. Not too good. On Sunday, I’m figuring on the Saints overpowering Carolina, 22-10.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Zenyatta -- the best racehorse ever?

Oh, Zenyatta.

Horse racing always longs for a superhorse – one that can transcend the dying sport and make it relevant again. Make it big. Make it so that the movies about the sport don’t have to feature horses from 35 years ago (Secretariat) or 70 years ago (Seabiscuit).

In Zenyatta, horse racing may well have its star of the decade. But she probably needs to win one last time, on Saturday at Louisville’s storied Churchill Downs, to get her perfect ending.

Zenyatta isn’t the best racehorse ever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That would be Secretariat in my opinion – and I worked in Kentucky for three years, covered the Kentucky Derby a couple of times and know my way around a paddock a little.

But you could also make an argument for Man o’War, Citation, Affirmed or several others who beat better competition, won in different ways and in the mud and so on.

But Zenyatta – named for The Police’s third album, called Zenyatta Mondatta and featuring "Don't Stand So Close to Me," one of the best Police songs of all time – is special. Gentle to fans. A crowd-pleasing, pre-race dancer. A horse that loves the attention she gets. It will be heartbreaking to many who follow horse racing if she loses Saturday in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against a field of males.

Why is Zenyatta being featured in “60 Minutes” and “Sports Illustrated” and talked up by Oprah Winfrey as one of America’s most influential females? Three reasons:

1) She’s undefeated. That 19-0 record is remarkable, especially given that Zenyatta always, always comes from behind to win. You’d think just once something would have gone wrong (Secretariat lost five times in his racing career). But Zenyatta is an amazing closer, and of course that makes for more dramatic finishes than wire-to-wire wins.

2) She’s a girl. Duh. But it always makes a better story for a woman to beat a man in straight-up competition. Zenyatta has done it before; on Saturday, she tries to do the Billie Jean King thing again.

3) This is likely her swan song. Zenyatta has already “un-retired” once, after the 2009 season. But now, at age six, she’s probably near the end of her racing career. She will be in the breeding shed before long. So does she have one last great race in her? We find out Saturday at around 6:45 p.m.

I hope she does. Zenyatta isn’t the greatest racehorse of all time, but if she wins Saturday, I certainly believe she’s the best female racehorse of all time. Better than Ruffian. Better than Rachel Alexandra. And she will provide one last great headline to a great sport that sure could use one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No Moss... No Moss

My colleague Tom Sorensen suggests that the Carolina Panthers pick up the newly available Randy Moss off waivers, since Minnesota just decided (again) Moss wasn't worth the trouble after trading to get him (again) several weeks ago.

I totally disagree. I think Moss would be little help to this Carolina team. I think he would disrupt the development of Carolina's young wide receivers, would run after the ball only when he wanted to and would end up imploding here.

I'm certainly all for spending some of tight-fisted Jerry Richardson's money, but this isn't the way I'd do it. These Panthers are too far gone. Moss wouldn't save them. A signing like that would give Tom and I something to write about, yes, but that's about all. Moss is mostly washed up, and he's a bad influence in a locker room, and that's not something the Panthers should be going after right now.

If you want to chat about this or anything else, incidentally, and you happen to read this blog post soon, I'm going to be chatting live with readers online at CharlotteObserver.com from noon to 1 p.m. today (Tuesday).

Monday, November 1, 2010

5 things I didn't like in 20-10 loss to Rams

I'm back from a week off and see that the Panthers have managed to look awful once more in my absence. Far be it from me to waste a "5 things" opportunity, even if I only watched this game on TV, so here goes:

The 5 things I liked least in Carolina's 20-10 loss to St. Louis:

1) David Gettis. After a breakout performance the week before (125 receiving yards, two TDs), Gettis didn't catch a single pass, ran a reverse for minus-11 yards and seemed to get literally knocked off his game by the Rams' physical corners.

2) Jonathan Stewart. Yeah, I know, the offensive line isn't giving him much of anything. But geez -- I'm thinking No.28 is hurt more than he lets on. He doesn't seem near as powerful or explosive as last season, and it's to the point now where if he gets more than three yards on any carry I'm stunned.

3) Matt Moore. Ohmigosh. Can No.3 not stand even the faintest hint of prosperity? It's almost like Jimmy Clausen needs to play the first series of every game so Moore doesn't have the "I'm the guy" pressure build up.

4) Turnovers. How is it that a rookie QB can have zero turnovers against a relatively good defense like Carolina's and the Panthers can have 4 turnovers against the Rams?

5) NFC South standings. Do you realize the other 3 teams in the division all have 5 wins, and here Carolina is sitting at 1-6? For that matter, do you also realize that every other NFL team has at least gotten into double figures in terms of total touchdowns this season, but Carolina is stuck on eight TDs after seven games?