Friday, December 30, 2011

Can Panthers upset Saints?

If I'm New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, I don't do a lot of scoreboard watching Sunday. The Saints may ultimately be playing a meaningless game in terms of playoff seeding, but it's going to be very hard to tell with San Francisco and St. Louis playing at the same time.

The Saints need a win over Carolina (pretty likely) and a St. Louis upset of San Francisco (very unlikely) to get the No.2 playoff seed and a playoff bye. If I'm Payton, I don't even let anyone tell me the 49ers score until halftime. And I don't pull Drew Brees and company until the fourth quarter and maybe not at all, depending on what the 49ers are up to.

If the 49ers are up by 20 or more going into the fourth, though, I'd get Brees out of there no matter the score. He's too valuable to risk in that scenario, even if New England's Tom Brady does catch him for the single-season yardage record.

-- The Panthers have a chance Sunday if they run the ball well. Remember, they got a 69-yard DeAngelo Williams touchdown in the teams' first meeting (won 30-27 by New Orleans). The Superdome is a very difficult place to convert third downs consistently because of the noise level, but running the ball effectively is how coach John Fox often beat the Saints in Louisiana. The New Orleans defense, however, allowed only 35 yards rushing to Atlanta last week.

-- The Panthers' defense had quite a time trying to defend Jimmy Graham last time, as the tight end had eight catches for 129 yards. Graham does that against just about everyone, which is why the Saints decided Jeremy Shockey was expendable. You can bet Shockey will be involved in some sort of extra-curricular activity Sunday playing his former team.

-- The Panthers have a chance, but New Orleans has one of the best homefield advantages in the NFL and the hottest quarterback, too -- and I think Brees will play most of the game.
My prediction: New Orleans 34, Carolina 24.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

D-Wade, Cam, LeBron and the Superman pose

If there was any doubt how big Cam Newton's Superman pose has gotten, it was erased Wednesday night during the Miami Heat's visit.

Dwyane Wade won the game over a gritty Charlotte Bobcats team, 96-95, with a six-foot bank shot with 2.9 seconds left. Then he did Newton's "Superman" gesture right at Newton, who was seated courtside (Cam has now come to both Bobcats' games this season and sat front and center).

LeBron James did the ripping-the-shirt-off Superman thing, too, standing slightly behind and to the right of Wade, after Wade's game-winner. Newton laughed when he saw it, Wade said, adding that he wasn't making fun of Newton with the gesture.

"That was a show of respect to him," Wade said. "Not showing nobody up."

It was a tough ending for the Bobcats, but they still have had a great first three days of the season. A Bobcats team that was supposed to be awful edged a good Milwaukee squad by a point in the season opener and then had a very good chance to beat the Heat two days later.

But Wade -- even though he said he wasn't jumping well off his sore foot -- still won it at the end. He had noticed Newton sitting courtside earlier in the game.

"First of all, the guy is huge," Wade said of Newton. "... I've seen him play a lot. He's entertaining. He had one of the best rookie years of any player to ever play the game."

Perhaps imitation really is flattery. I suppose it is a tribute to Newton that an athlete of Wade's stature was doing Newton's move after a game-winning shot. But this one still hurt Charlotte.

The Bobcats had a great chance for a signature win Wednesday night. But ultimately, they couldn't quite find their own superhero when it mattered most.

Cam got robbed and other Pro Bowl notes

Cam Newton will almost certainly end up in Hawaii, playing in the Pro Bowl for the NFC, but the rookie quarterback wasn't selected outright to the team.

That, my friends, was a bad decision. Cam got robbed. I have no argument whatsoever with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees going in ahead of Cam -- Rodgers should be the NFL MVP this year and Brees just broke Dan Marino's single-season yardage record.

But Newton should have been the third choice over the New York Giants' Eli Manning, winning his spot cleanly rather than having to wait for either Rodgers or Brees to make the Super Bowl (no Super Bowl players play in the Pro Bowl now, since the game is the week before the Super Bowl) or someone to pull out with an injury. (Newton is the first alternate at QB, and first alternates nearly always end up playing at that position).

Let's look at the numbers. Manning has more passing yards (4587 to 3893) and his team has more wins (8 to 6). His quarterback rating is slightly higher (90.3 to 85.0). Interceptions are equal (16 each).

But Newton was responsible for far more TDs, and that's the category that truly separates these two. Manning had 26 passing TDs to Cam's 20, but Cam had 14 rushing TDs to Manning's one. That makes the overall TD total 34 for Cam and 27 for Eli. Manning also had the benefit of playing in a weaker division (I'm not sure anyone in the NFC East really deserves a playoff berth).

In fact, the way I would have ordered the NFC quarterbacks would be like this:

1: Rodgers
2: Brees
3: Newton
4: Matthew Stafford (36 passing TDs and a playoff berth)
5. Manning

As for Panther center Ryan Kalil making it again, I don't judge offensive linemen very well but those who do for a living say he's great at what he does and I believe them. Steve Smith was an absolute shoo-in and should have been voted in as a starter in front of Larry Fitzgerald (I have no quarrel with Calvin Johnson as the other starter).

OT Jordan Gross and RB DeAngelo Williams may both end up in Hawaii, too -- they were selected as alternates. One player who should have been picked at least as an alternate but wasn't -- Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble, who has had an underrated, really good season.

Monday, December 26, 2011

7 quick opinions about Bobcats' opening-night win

Seven quick thoughts about the Bobcats' 96-95 home win over Milwaukee to open the season:

1) Kemba Walker can get his shot off against anybody, but what's even more impressive is his toughness and his quick hands. He scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in only 20 minutes -- his play and his burgeoning friendship with Panther QB Cam Newton (who was seated courtside) are the subject of my column for Tuesday's newspaper.

2) Stephen Jackson was obviously pressing while playing for the Bucks against his former team. He has rarely played a worse game -- six fouls, a technical and only six points in 17 minutes. And three of those points came on a didn't-mean-to-bank-it three. I know you'll be stunned that Jackson criticized the officials after the game, although he also said there's "no bad blood" between he and the Bobcats.

3) D.J. Augustin was very impressive in the game's final minute, scoring five "had-to-have-em" points after the Bobcats had lost all of the eight-point lead they held with 3:02 to go. Augustin and Walker combined for Charlotte's final seven points.

4) Who knew Byron Mullens, the seven-foot backup Bobcats center, could shoot that well? Wait, who knew Byron Mullens was even on the team? He tied his career high with 10 points.

5) How did the shorter Bobcats out-rebound Milwaukee by 13? By outhustling them. Boris Diaw did some really good work (11 rebounds, nine assists, nine points).

6) Corey Maggette had only 12 points (and six turnovers) and yet the Bobcats nearly got to 100. That won't happen that often -- Maggette needs to score more than that and get to the line more often (only one free throw attempt Monday, which he missed). Still, he's obviously a positive leader on the floor anytime he's out there.

7) Does it amaze you that some tickets are still available for the Miami Heat's only appearance this season in Charlotte on Wednesday night? It does me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Picking the Panthers to win again

Two rarities about Saturday's game -- it's being played on Christmas Eve and the Panthers are favored.

Because of the schedule, it will be interesting to see how many Panther fans actually show up for this one (or stay for the whole thing). Lots of people are traveling or involved with Christmas events. Any scalper who manages to make a lot of money Saturday is one fine scalper. If you've never seen a Panther game before and want to go see Cam Newton play without spending a fortune, this is the day. Just show up and make a deal.

One guarantee, though -- it will be more crowded at Bank of America Stadium than it was in Tampa three weeks ago. I was there for Carolina's 19-point win that day, and Raymond James Stadium looked about half full for most of the game and was far less than that in the fourth quarter.

-- If ever there was a chance for Newton to commit a turnover and still win a game, this is it. Even with Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman returning -- Josh Johnson played three weeks ago -- the Bucs aren't very good.

One of the most startling statistics about this year's Panthers is that the team is 5-0 when Newton doesn't make a single turnover and 0-9 when he commits one or more. That's too much pressure on Newton -- it's not realistic for a quarterback to have one turnover-free game after another, as much as the ball is in his hands. The unraveling Buccaneers, though, have lost eight games in a row and are a team that can be had even with some errors.

-- Hard to imagine that the Bucs on defense will do anything but stack up the middle of the line in all short-yardage situations Saturday. Newton ran for three touchdowns in the first meeting -- a 38-19 Carolina win -- and they were all from one yard away.

-- The Panthers won so convincingly the first time in part because they were the best in the red zone that they have been all year. Five times Carolina's offense got inside the Tampa Bay 20, and all five times the Panthers scored touchdowns. Carolina's run defense was also surprisingly good against the Bucs and will need to be again Saturday. Freeman has a better arm than Johnson, too, so he will likely attack deep against Carolina's injury-depleted secondary.

-- I misfired on Carolina's upset win over Houston Sunday, incorrectly picking the Texans to win. I'll try to get back on track with this prediction: Carolina 32, Tampa Bay 23.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shockey rips Texans' anthem etiquette; then Ryans rips Shockey

Here’s a hot-button topic to debate:

Jeremy Shockey had another good game for Carolina with a touchdown and a key 26-yard catch late in the 28-13 road win over Houston, but he was more interested in talking postgame about what he perceived as a lack of national anthem etiquette on the Texans’ part. And then my friend John McClain of the Houston Chronicle got a reaction Sunday night from Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans about Shockey’s original comments in which Ryans fires back at Shockey.

First, Shockey’s comments: “Myself, I was pretty upset they weren’t showing respect to America during the national anthem,” Shockey said, unprompted, about the Texans when he began talking to reporters in the locker room after the game. “There were about 10 players who didn’t put their arms across their chests….. This is America. They should at least give respect to America…. Maybe they just forgot to do it or something. I don’t see how you can forget something like that.”

Shockey’s comments came fairly late in the open locker room period. He repeated them almost verbatim twice. The second time they were prompted. I asked him about the issue again to make sure I had heard him correctly.

McClain got a reaction for the Houston Chronicle from Ryans about Shockey’s comments. Said Ryans: “If he’s so patriotic, why was he looking at our bench instead of the flag? Where did he come up with the number 10? Was he counting? Why was he paying attention to us during the national anthem? Of course our players are patriotic. We respect the flag and America and our soldiers that are fighting for our freedom.”

I’ve had many readers already send me the official code for national anthem etiquette, which indeed does include holding your hand over your heart (if you’re a civilian).

I have seen hundreds of athletes, fans and media members not follow this code, though, including Panthers on the current team, fans in Bank of America Stadium and myself. I stand silently at attention, look at the flag and sometimes sing along, but usually I have my hands behind my back. Perhaps I should reconsider this posture – a number of readers certainly think that I should.

Those with a long Panther memories may recall that Panther running backs Fred Lane and Tshimanga Biakabutuka were correctly criticized in 1998 when they sat down and talked with each other during one national anthem at home. A number of fans noticed. The players apologized and always stood after that.

Shockey, incidentally, twice mispronounced Ryans' name in that same interview. He was asked about the play in which he scored a touchdown and said it was a "simple play" in which he had beaten Ryans. Ryans later made a huge hit on Shockey, jarring a pass loose.

Panthers finally win a big one

Carolina got its biggest win of the season Sunday at Houston, avoiding the second-half blahs just enough to win, 28-13, on the road against a team that has already clinched a playoff berth. (Here's my column about the victory and what it means).

One more link, too: Here is a "Scott Says" I wrote for the newspaper about Jeremy Shockey ripping the Houston Texans for their national anthem etiquette.

The Panthers were up 21-0 at halftime. Houston creamed Carolina in the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-13. But the game's key drive came after that, when Carolina went 80 yards in seven plays to take a 28-13 lead with 9:54.

After James Anderson stopped Houston's next march by intercepting rookie T.J. Yates in the end zone, Carolina ran out the game's final 7:25 with "downhill football," as left tackle Jordan Gross called it. They went from their own 3 to the Houston 28 to end the game convincingly.

This is the sort of game that should give any Panther fan hope for 2012. Yes, the Texans are down to their third-string QB, who had two bad picks Sunday. But the Texans still had the NFL's No.1-rated defense, and Carolina shredded it for four TDs. Newton didn't have a turnover -- the Panthers are now 5-0 when he doesn't and 0-9 when he does -- and even a trick-play handoff through the legs to Richie Brockel worked for a seven-yard TD.

If Carolina had lost yet another big lead -- after blowing a 16-point margin to Atlanta and a 17-point lead at Detroit -- this could have been awful for the team's confidence. Instead, the Panthers got what is easily their biggest win since 2009.

A near-perfect half for Panthers

Carolina just played a holiday gift of a half for its fans here in Houston -- the Panthers lead, 21-0, at Reliant Stadium over the playoff-bound Houston Texans.

It has been a startling half, with the Panthers scoring three times (on a 26-yard pass to Steve Smith, a shorter pass to Jeremy Shockey and a hidden-ball trick run by H-back Richie Brockel) and Houston getting shut out.

While the Panthers' offense has been huge, the defensive shutout has to be the biggest surprise so far. Carolina forced a turnover on the second play from scrimmage -- a fumble James Anderson recovered -- and got an interception from Jordan Senn to snuff a Houston drive. They have forced Texans rookie T.J. Yates to look very much like a rookie thus far.

While Newton's two passing TDs were good stuff, the takeaway from this game has already occurred -- Brockel's 7-yard run on the trick play. The Panther linemen all stood up on the play to block what was happening, as Newton took a shotgun snap and slipped the ball between Brockel's legs before faking as if he were running an option to the right.

Then Brockel went left and, behind good blocking, scored untouched. It was perfectly executed and undoubtedly lifted offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's stock.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Super Bowl memories and a Texans-Panthers prediction

It has been almost eight years since the Panthers visited Houston, where the Carolina Panthers played and lost a remarkable Super Bowl against New England on Feb.1, 2004. It's ironic that on Sunday the architect of the Panthers' final three fourth-quarter touchdowns -- quarterback Jake Delhomme -- will be on the field as a backup quarterback for the Houston Texans. Only wide receiver Steve Smith and offensive tackle Jordan Gross remain from that Panthers' Super Bowl squad as active Carolina players.
I was there in Houston, watching one of the best games in any sport I've ever seen in person. A few notes that I still find interesting:

-- John Kasay's much-discussed kickoff out of bounds once the game was tied at 29-all with 1:08 left likely netted the Patriots only 13 yards. Their average drive start after kickoffs had been the 27 on the game's previous kickoffs; Kasay's errant kickoff instead meant they began on the 40.

I have always maintained Kasay's kickoff made little difference. Tom Brady had such control over the Panthers' defense at that point I think he could have gotten New England to a winning field goal even starting on his own 2.

-- Team owner Jerry Richardson gave each Panther employee two free airplane tickets, four hotel nights and two free Super Bowl tickets for the game.

-- Julius Peppers became the first athlete to ever play in both a Final Four and a Super Bowl in the game. He was generally ineffective against the Patriots, though. The Panthers' defensive line sported Peppers and an in-his-prime Kris Jenkins yet couldn't get a single sack.

-- At one point in the first half, Delhomme was 1-for-9 for one yard and had been sacked three times. He ended up with 323 yards, three TD passes and a quarterback rating of 113.6 (higher than Brady's 100.5).

-- Many remember the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of Janet Jackson, but how many remember a streaker wearing only a jockstrap held up the second-half kickoff?

-- On a far different note, I totally agree with Smith's assertion this week that Tim Tebow is not as good a quarterback as Cam Newton. Tebow's recent streak in Denver has been remarkable, but he has so much more help on defense and special teams than Newton does.

-- As for Sunday's game in Houston, Newton and the Panthers have quite a challenge facing the NFL's top-ranked Texan defense. The Panthers can stay in this one for awhile -- they almost always do -- but Houston has quite a team and rookie quarterback T.J. Yates (formerly of North Carolina) has already shown he's cool under pressure. I've gotten the Panthers' outcome correctly the past five weeks in a row in this space.
My prediction: Houston 30, Carolina 20.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A wiser, more realistic Jordan

The contrast was striking.

A little more than a year ago, just before the 2010-11 NBA season began, Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was full of bravado. In a town-hall type meeting with 700 of the team’s best customers, he said: “At minimum, we should make the playoffs. And I think we should go deep in the playoffs.”

But on Wednesday, when Jordan met with Observer reporters and editors just before the 2011-12 Bobcats season, he came across more as a wiser and more world-weary NBA owner who has taken a couple of lumps over the past year.

There was the NBA lockout. There was the fact the Bobcats didn’t make the playoffs at all last season, ending with a 34-48 record. There was the reality that Jordan, despite his undeniable magnetism, has not been able to stem the red ink flowing from the Bobcats and has yet to attract the superstar player the team so badly needs.

A year later, Jordan remains optimistic – he wouldn’t rule out the playoffs for this bunch and compared rookie Bismack Biyombo to a young Hakeem Olajuwon -- – but also sounded more realistic. He told us he wanted to win “today” but tempered that quickly by saying “there are certain things you have to take into consideration, like (salary) cap space.”

Since Jordan made the “deep in the playoffs” remark in October 2010, the team has changed coaches (Larry Brown to Paul Silas) and traded away its two best players (Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson).

The Bobcats are going young this season, with two top-10 draft picks joining Gerald Henderson and D.J. Augustin. They will absorb losses by the dozen this season, and although Jordan won’t say it, I will: If these Bobcats make the playoffs, it will be an utter miracle.

Still, it’s apparent Jordan has a plan. He wouldn’t say it like this, but ultimately to get better, the Bobcats are first going to have to get worse.

Their ceiling with Jackson and Wallace at the forefront was never high enough to win a single playoff game. So Jordan is trying to do something different, and I commend him for that. He still believes he can fly.

But he also now understands how difficult – although not impossible -- it is to build a pair of wings big enough to lift an entire franchise.

No-o-o-lindo Mare and the confidence question

So the Panthers have signed another kicker to compete with Olindo Mare following Mare's second huge fourth-quarter miss under 40 yards of the season -- last Sunday in a loss to Atlanta.

Good for them. Sticking stubbornly with Mare just because they paid him so much money to replace John Kasay would be silly at this point. The question is how much confidence Mare has lost and whether it can be regained, and we won't know the answer to that one until when (and if) he puts some of these misses far in his rear-view mirror.

Kunalic is not a household name in his own household -- he didn't even kick field goals in college, but was a kickoff specialist at Nebraska. So he's not all that different from Mare -- who remains on the roster -- except that he's younger and would be cheaper to employ.

Like Mare, Kunalic has a strong leg that can reach the end zone for touchbacks but is far from a sure thing with a game on the line.

At least the Panthers are doing something to try and answer the "No-o-o-lindo" question. Releasing Kasay has long been the 2011 team's most questionable offseason move. Kasay has made 98 percent of his field goals from under 40 yards over the past four years -- they are like extra points to him -- and he is now flourishing in New Orleans.

No, Kasay couldn't reach the end zone on kickoffs any longer. But the Panthers had another option there if they were dead set on not having two kickers on the roster as they did for the latter part of John Fox's tenure. They could have kept Kasay, released punter Jason Baker instead and gotten a punter who could also kick off like some other NFL teams do.

You can see why the Panthers would try to get a two-for-one roster spot special in Mare, who was paid a $4 million signing bonus as part of a $12-million, four-year deal. But he hasn't been performing in the clutch.

I think the early-season blocks may have affected him (Mare has had two field goals and an extra point blocked) and he's now trying to get the ball off too quickly, which makes him yank kicks sometimes. That's just a layman's opinion.

But whatever the reason for Mare's miscues, at least the Panthers are trying to tinker with this critical position now -- again -- after they tried over the summer to fix a position that was never really broken.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Panthers by the numbers after 13 games

Some significant numbers for the 4-9 Panthers:

1: In the past four seasons, the number of field goals from 40 yards or less that John Kasay has missed (out of 54).

7: In the past four seasons, the number of field goals from 40 yards or less that Olindo Mare has missed (out of 71), including two critical fourth-quarter misses in Panther home games this season.

12-40: The combined record of the four teams the Panthers have beaten this season.

16 -- Cam Newton's interceptions in 2011. Only Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman (18) and San Diego's Philip Rivers (17) have more.

26 -- Total number of sacks for Panthers' defense this season. Charles Johnson has nine sacks, which is at least six more than the rest of his defensive teammates.

28 -- Newton's total TDs in 2011 (15 passing, 13 rushing).

139.1 -- The Panthers' average rushing yards per game, which is No.5 in the NFL.

274.9 -- Total yards allowed per game by Houston, the Panthers' next opponent. That ranks No.1 in the NFL (Carolina ranks No.5 in yardage gained, with 399 per game).

1217: Steve Smith's reception yardage this season, good for second in the NFL to Wes Welker. Smith's career high is 1563. He would need to average 116 receiving yards per game over the Panthers' last three contests to surpass it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thoughts on Charlotte's 1-0 loss to UNC in soccer championship

It was quite a scene today in Alabama, where Charlotte lost 1-0 to North Carolina in the national championship for men's soccer.

Like a whole lot of other people from Charlotte, I made the 400-mile trek down to Hoover, Ala. (just outside of Birmingham) to watch the 49ers try to win their first-ever national championship in a team sport. And although they fell short, they certainly won the crowd battle and played a really good game despite the loss.

"We were first in almost every category but the one that wins the game," said Charlotte coach Jeremy Gunn, whose team outshot the Tar Heels 19-10 and earned six corner kicks compared to North Carolina’s two. "That’s the cruel part of soccer."

One thing I really liked: When the game concluded, the Charlotte soccer players walked en masse toward their fans.

Rather than sulking in their misery, the Charlotte players strode toward their fans and applauded them. The fans, in turn, gave the players a standing ovation for a dream season that included five straight victories in the NCAA tournament but fell one win short of a championship.

Thanks to six busloads of Charlotte students and untold numbers of others making the six-hour drive from Charlotte, the 49ers probably had 7,000 fans among the 8,777 in attendance.

"It was phenomenal," Charlotte defender Isaac Cowles said. "I couldn’t even hear a Carolina fan. All I heard was Charlotte."

Many of those 49er students will take final exams Monday. I talked to one who had two final exams scheduled Monday, had attended the Charlotte-Davidson basketball game Saturday night and still made the 400-mile trip to Alabama Sunday. There were many others just like her. It was cool to see all of the support and to watch both teams play a taut, entertaining game.

My column on the game will be in Monday's newspaper and online, and Observer soccer expert David Scott will also have a couple of stories about it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Can Panthers beat a 'real' quarterback?

Now the Panthers get to see if they can beat a big-time quarterback.

If you're keeping count, the 4-8 Panthers' four wins this season have come against starting quarterbacks named Curtis Painter, Josh Johnson, Blaine Gabbert and John Beck. That's not exactly a murderers' row -- you could argue, in fact, that only Gabbert has any sort of future among the four. The rest are basically backups who were temporarily thrust into a starting role.

But the Panthers have come close to beating a couple of big-time quarterbacks this season, and they'll get another chance Sunday when they face Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

Ryan is smart enough to avoid major errors -- especially when he's simply handing off to Michael Turner. In the teams' first game this season, Ryan only threw 22 times, Turner ran 27 times and the Falcons won by a couple of touchdowns.

Ryan isn't having a great year by his standards, but he was plenty good enough to lead the Falcons to 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points against Carolina on Oct. 16. How Carolina fares on third down against Ryan -- and how they tackle the bowling ball that is Turner -- will likely determine this game's outcome.

-- Don't forget that you can contribute to the Marine's "Toys for Tots" drive by bringing a new, unwrapped toy to the Panthers' game Sunday. Marine representatives will be at each gate to collect the toys. Fans can also visit through Dec.24th to sponsor a child.

-- If it seems like the Panthers rarely beat the Falcons these days, it's true. Atlanta holds a 21-12 edge in the series and current Falcons coach Mike Smith is 5-2 against Carolina, including three wins in a row.

-- I've picked the Panthers' outcome correctly the past four weeks in a row in this space. This week I think Carolina's two-game win streak comes to an end. My prediction: Atlanta 27, Carolina 20.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cam damage from interview? Slight, avoidable

Cam Newton has made very few false steps in his rookie season, but he took one in a videotaped interview with ESPN The Magazine that has caused a lot of comment in the Carolinas.

Newton said during the interview of the Panthers’ organization: “The house that I’m in is somewhat of a tarnished house where losing is accepted.”

And he also said some teammates don’t take losses seriously enough. Newton is known for taking losses particularly hard – the Panthers are 4-8 at the moment. He has sometimes isolated himself from teammates – and everyone else – for a relatively long time after games and once snapped at tight end Greg Olsen when Olsen was trying to console him following a defeat.

I thought most of what Newton said in his interview was just fine. And a “want-to-win-so-bad-it-hurts” demeanor, let’s remember, is part of what got Michael Jordan to where he ended up.

But occasionally what Newton said struck me as odd. Newton’s analogy in the interview where he said he was a “lion” that someone was trying to make a “house pet” was just downright confusing. And then he sounded for a second like he would consider leaving the Panthers – where he is in the first year of a four-year, $22-million contract -- before backtracking.

“But I’m trying to change that [losing attitude],” Newton said at one point, continuing his lion analogy, “if I’m going to have to turn that house into a safari [where a lion could thrive, presumably] or I’m just going to have to get out of that house. Now I’m not saying – hear me out, what I’m saying now – I’m not saying I’m trying to leave this place, I’m just trying to get everybody on my level.”

As a player, that’d be a great thing. If everyone was on Newton’s level, the Panthers would be headed to the playoffs.

In other ways, though, it’s not such a great thing. Newton is 22 years old and sometimes he sounds a lot like it. This interview was one of those times.

As for Panther fans suddenly panicked that Newton will leave, don’t be. He’s not going anywhere at least through the 2014 season, when his original rookie contract runs out. And he’s so good the Panthers will break the bank to keep him after that – or, alternately, use their franchise tag to make sure he stays in Charlotte for many more years to come.

Bottom line: this interview wasn’t Newton’s best work. But while the damage was avoidable, it was also slight -- and will be forgotten before long.

(UPDATE: I had to disable the ability to post comments to this blog on Friday, Dec.9th -- sorry. As is too often the case on any Cam Newton-related blog, after awhile too many of the comments deteriorated into a bunch of cursing and name-calling. I left up the comments that weren't out-and-out obscene. If you feel strongly that you want to express your opinion on this post to me, please feel free to email me at

Cam Newton jersey mania

Cam Newton's NFL replica jersey can be difficult to find in stores these days.

A word to the wise if you are planning to give somebody a Cam Newton jersey for Christmas.... don't wait any longer to find it.

I had heard a number of stories from Panther fans about No.1 Newton jerseys being out of stock completely at local stores, or only available in certain sizes or colors (I'm talking about the basic jersey, in either blue, black or white, which usually retails for $85).

So I made a few calls, visits and checks to websites Wednesday and confirmed it. Some stores are out of Newton jerseys entirely and don't know when they will get more.

"We get them in," one local sales clerk told me, "and they basically sell out instantly."

The Panthers' store inside Bank of America Stadium has some jerseys for their star rookie quarterback, but only in certain sizes and colors (704-358-7158 if you want to check with them). The website lists only a few adult-sized jerseys for $85, and they are mostly in 4X and 5X. They do list a number of youth Newton jerseys ($60) as available. -- the league's official supplier of jerseys -- has a very limited supply of Cam jerseys and is completely out of many popular sizes. Several other national websites I checked out told a similar story.

But the Dick's Sporting Goods store in Northlake Mall -- at least as of Wednesday night -- had a surprisingly good selection when I stopped by.

I'm sure other stores around the Carolinas have some in stock -- especially the youth sizes, they seem to be a bit easier to find -- but it's very hit or miss.

Your best bet seems to be the old-fashioned way -- calling your local sporting-goods store directly before you drive out there. While websites often list the Newton jerseys as "sold out," some stores do have a few left in stock.

As I mentioned in this blog in October, Newton's jersey had already risen to No.16 in overall sales among all NFL players. After this Christmas season, I can't imagine it won't be in the Top 10 or Top 5 the next time those rankings are released.

And no, I wasn't looking for a Newton jersey for myself. The last NFL replica jersey I owned was when I was 10 years old and wore my Roger Staubach jersey every Sunday, and I'm going to keep it that way.

If you've got a story to tell about searching for a Newton jersey this Christmas -- or any other Panther-related item -- add a comment below. And please keep it clean.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Panthers by the numbers after 12 games

Some significant numbers for the 4-8 Panthers, winners of two straight heading into Sunday's home game against Atlanta:

0 -- Steve Smith's number of 100-yard receiving games out of the past four. He had five 100-yard days in Carolina's first nine games. Still, he is tied for second in the NFL in receiving yardage (1,092).

1.5 -- Take away Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Johnson's scrambles and that's what the Bucs' running backs averaged per carry Sunday (22 carries, 33 yards). It will be tough to do that to Atlanta's Michael Turner.

3 -- Times in a row Atlanta has beaten the Panthers, including a 31-17 win on Oct.16.

4 -- Years since an NFL quarterback had run for three TDs in a single game until Cam Newton did Sunday in the Panthers' 38-19 win over Tampa Bay. Daunte Culpepper had most recently done it in 2007.

13 -- Cam Newton's TDs this season (all rushing), which ranks him third among all NFL players in that category. The only players who have scored more: Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy (15 TDs -- 12 running, three receiving) and New England tight end Rob Gronkowski (14 -- 13 receiving, one rushing).

18 -- Touchdown drives that the Panthers have had of 80 or more yards this season. The team hasn't had many short-field TD drives at all -- it is averaging 70.2 yards per TD march.

44.6 -- Cam Newton's quarterback rating the first time he played the Falcons, when he threw for 237 yards but had zero TD passes and three interceptions in the Panthers' loss.

72 -- The Panthers' number of offensive plays that have gained 20 yards or more this season, which is first in the NFL in that "big play" category. Oakland (67) is second. The Panthers were tied for last in 2010 in the same category with 44.

139 -- Rushing yards Atlanta's Michael Turner put up against Carolina in the first game this season at the Georgia Dome. He had 62 rushing yards in the first half and 77 more in the second as the Falcons gradually wore down the Panthers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Panthers' bests and worsts from 38-19 Carolina win over Tampa Bay

Thoughts on the Panthers’ 38-19 win over Tampa Bay Sunday, in which Carolina played its most complete game of the season while improving to 4-8. (UPDATE: And here's my column from Tampa on Cam Newton and his dazzling performance).

Best start: The Panthers scored on their first two drives, taking a 14-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old. Tampa Bay never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

Best run defense: Surprisingly, the Panthers played superbly against the Bucs’ LeGarrette Blount, who was held to 19 yards in 11 carries after averaging 105 yards in his previous two games.

Best rushing quarterback in the red zone: Cam Newton may be the best the NFL has ever had at this. He scored three touchdowns from one yard out Sunday, setting a new NFL record for quarterbacks with 13 for the season (Steve Grogan had 12 for New England in 1976).

Best break: The Buccaneers are a far different team with Josh Freeman at quarterback compared to Josh Johnson. With Freeman out due to a shoulder injury, the Panthers dared Johnson to beat them. He couldn’t.

Best undrafted free agent: Thomas Keiser, the rookie defensive end from Stanford, had a sack and an interception for Carolina as he continues to show up at opportune times.

Best trend: After losing 12 road games in a row, the Panthers have now won two straight.

Best throwback uniforms: While others may differ, I’m a big fan of the Bucs’ Creamsicle orange jerseys that they broke out for a throwback day Sunday.

Worst crowd: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa looked about half full for most of the game and was far less than that in the fourth quarter, when the Panthers led by as many as 26 and the fans were anxious to get out and salvage the rest of a glorious afternoon.

Best single play: Lots of choices, but I’d pick the pass from Legedu Naanee to Newton for 27 yards just for the dazzling creativity of it.

Best breakout performance: Naanee threw that pass, caught a touchdown pass, picked up a key first down on third-and-14 and threw a number of good blocks.

Best red-zone efficiency: The Panthers got inside the Buccaneers’ 20 five times and scored touchdowns every single time.

Worst Newton throw: Newton was close to flawless – the Panthers are now 4-0 when he doesn’t commit a turnover. But he was bemoaning after the game a long pass to Steve Smith that he underthrew and that ended up incomplete. Newton thought Smith might have scored had he thrown the ball better.

Best overall performance: The Panthers played their most complete game of the season, setting season highs in points (38) and victory margin (19).

A pass to Newton?! Really?

(UPDATE: Besides the pass described below, Cam Newton had one of the best games of his short career today. Newton had three touchdown runs -- all of a yard apiece -- and also threw a 19-yard TD pass to Legedu Naanee as Carolina crushed Tampa Bay, 38-19, for its second straight win).

It wasn’t a touchdown, but the Panthers ran one of their most notable plays of the season Sunday in the first quarter – one that will be sure to make the season-ending highlight film. It was a testament to creativity – one of those plays that looks like it was drawn up haphazardly in the backyard but actually had a lot of thought put into it.

On first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 29, the Panthers put three receivers wide on the right. Then running back DeAngelo Williams motioned out of the backfield to put four receivers on the right. The defense made a corresponding shift.

Quarterback Cam Newton took the snap and immediately threw what looked like a screen to Legedu Naanee. But it was actually a lateral. The other three receivers blocked as Naanee, who was briefly a college quarterback, lofted the ball back to Newton.

Newton hauled in the first reception of his NFL career and took off behind a wall of blockers. He looked like he would score but didn’t, gaining 27 yards to the Tampa Bay 2. Carolina scored shortly after that to take a 14-0 lead.

Overall, it was a gorgeous play on a gorgeous afternoon – and the kind that bolsters offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s resume.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Carolina Panthers to win at Tampa Bay

The Creamsicles are back!

Tampa Bay will wear its throwback Creamsicle orange uniforms Sunday when the Panthers play the Bucs in Tampa, harking back to those glorious days when the Bucs once lost 26 games in a row and head coach John McKay, when asked about his team's execution, quipped that he was in favor of it.

It's actually part of a whole throwback theme. The loudspeakers will be blaring music from the 1970s and the Bucs will induct former tight end Jimmie Giles from their early days into their Ring of Honor.

I've always liked Tampa Bay’s Creamsicle uniforms myself – they are among the weirdest uniforms in sports history, joining the uniforms of the 1970s-era Pittsburgh Pirates (remember the caps?) and the 1980s-era Houston Astros. And being dressed like an ice-cream popsicle fits these Bucs, because Tampa Bay has again become one of the NFL season’s biggest disappointments.

After starting 4-2, Tampa Bay has lost five straight games. Head coach Raheem Morris was asked by reporters about his job security this week – that’s never a good sign. Only Indianapolis (11 games) and San Diego (six) are currently limping through longer losing streaks.

-- The Bucs will start a Josh at quarterback Sunday, but it's unclear which one. Josh Freeman has started the past 36 games in a row for Tampa Bay, but he suffered a throwing shoulder injury on the last play of the game last week. If Freeman can’t go – and he's been very limited in practice this week – the Bucs will go with backup Josh Johnson. Like Freeman, Johnson can run, but he’s not as physical and his arm isn’t quite as good.

-- The Bucs are very banged up on the defensive line, which makes it even more imperative that the Panthers use a run/pass ratio similar to the one last week in the win over Indianapolis (35 runs, 27 passes).

-- I've picked the Panthers' outcome correctly the past three weeks in a row, including getting the spread right against Indianapolis last week (I picked Carolina to win by eight points).

I think that the Buccaneers (4-7) are in a freefall and have had a spate of recent injuries. Carolina (3-8) will win this game as long as it runs the ball well and its defense doesn't blow it. I think the Panthers will prevail, 28-24.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jake Delhomme returns to the NFL -- to Houston, a much better team than Panthers this year

Former Panther quarterback Jake Delhomme has returned to the NFL -- finally -- signing a late-season contract with the Houston Texans Tuesday.

I can't think about Delhomme and Houston without remembering the Super Bowl following the 2003 season. Delhomme played one of the most stunning fourth quarters any Super Bowl quarterback ever has at Reliant Staduim in Houston -- and lost. He led the Panthers to touchdown drives on their final three possessions, threw for more than 200 yards in the fourth quarter alone and was still outdueled by Tom Brady and New England, which won 32-29 on a last-second field goal. Delhomme would have undoubtedly been the Super Bowl MVP had Carolina won that one.

So time marches on. Delhomme, 36, now will serve the injury-depleted Texans -- at least for now -- as a backup for T.J. Yates, the rookie and former North Carolina quarterback suddenly thrust into the lineup after season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. He can help serve as Yates' mentor and sounding board, certainly, and Jake is only about five hours from his Louisiana home and the horses he loves and has been helping with around there. (He and his family are into the horse business pretty heavy).

I think it's a fine move by the Texans (8-3), who are in a fairly desperate situation but would be the AFC's No.1 playoff seed if the season were over. Houston's defense and running game are so good that the QB can be a game manager -- although Schaub certainly was better than that -- and still win some.

I believe before it's all said and done Delhomme will get some meaningful snaps in Houston, and it will be interesting to see then whether his arm is shot or whether he can still summon up some magic. I'm glad he's back in the league, however, at least for awhile. Delhomme's one of the best guys to ever grace an NFL locker room, and if he wants to do it again, more power to him.

Panthers by the numbers after 11 games

Some significant and weird Carolina Panther numbers entering Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Tampa Bay:

minus-4: What you get when you subtract Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman's interceptions (16) from his touchdown passes (12). If you want one reason why the Buccaneers went 10-6 in 2010 and are 4-7 this year entering their game against Carolina Sunday, Freeman last year was plus-19 in the same category (25 TD passes, six interceptions).

3-0: Carolina's record when Cam Newton doesn't commit a single turnover (the Panthers are 0-8 when he does, which really isn't all Newton's fault. A good team should be able to survive a miscue or two by its starter).

5.1: The Panthers' average on rushing yards per attempt, which places them second in the NFL behind Philadelphia (5.6).

10 -- Out of 11, number of games in which the Panthers (3-8) have held a lead this season. The only exception: their 30-3 loss to Tennessee.

14 -- Just a guess, but this is the number of rushing TDs I think Newton will end up with this season to set an NFL record. Steve Grogan holds the current mark with 12, in 1976 for New England. Newton has five games left to try and get at least three more.

30 -- Combined interceptions for the starting quarterbacks in Sunday's game. Besides Freeman's 16 (No.2 in the NFL behind only San Diego's Philip Rivers), Newton is tied for third-most in that category.

34 -- NFL receivers who have surpassed the 10,000-yard mark in their careers. Steve Smith can become No.35 Sunday if he catches at least 56 yards worth of passes.

70 -- The number of consecutive games in which both Smith and Wesley Walls caught at least one pass for the Panthers. Smith goes for No.71 Sunday.

8269 -- Carolina's total rushing yardage since the beginning of the 2008 season (when Jonathan Stewart joined DeAngelo Williams in the backfield). That ranks No.1 in the NFL in that span, with the New York Jets just 31 yards behind.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bests and Worsts from Carolina Panthers' 27-19 win over Indianapolis Colts

Going to extremes after the Panthers (3-8) edged the Colts (0-11) by a 27-19 score in Indianapolis:

Best Panther road trip in the past year: This one. The Panthers (3-8) don’t have much to choose from besides Indianapolis – they had lost 12 road games in a row until Sunday.

Worst tackle: Panther safety Sherrod Martin whiffed badly on Reggie Wayne’s 56-yard touchdown catch that got the Colts back into the game.

Best tiptoe: Martin then made the play of the game in the final minute, catching a deflected ball when Indianapolis had second-and-goal at the 3 and keeping his tiptoes just inside the back of the end zone to clinch the game for Carolina.

Worst near-calamity: The Panthers looked for a few moments like they were going to lose Greg Olsen in a pre-game collision when the tight end tried to chase down a long pass that Cam Newton had actually intended to throw to Seyi Ajirotutu. Olsen and Ajirotutu ran into each other and both stayed down for several minutes.

Best low-profile Cam game: Newton had a very efficient day, completing 20 of 27 passes for 208 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. He also scored on a 14-yard rushing TD and never turned the ball over.

Best trend: The Panthers rushed the ball 35 times for 201 yards, which allowed them to control the time of possession (they held the ball more than 12 minutes more than the Colts).

Worst close-out: While the Panthers never trailed in this game, they kept letting Indianapolis back into it. The Panthers had two shots at closing the Colts out late in the fourth quarter but didn’t get a first down on either possession, which necessitated Martin and Chris Gamble making interceptions in the last five minutes to seal the win.

Best sack (Carolina): Charles Godfrey came on a safety blitz, faked out running back Joseph Addai and hit Curtis Painter from the blind side, causing a fumble.

Best sack (Indianapolis): Dwight Freeney might have been the first defensive end not to get fooled by Newton’s spin move all year, playing it perfectly and taking Newton down for a 20-yard loss.

Worst locker room teasing: It’s going to be coming to Panther kickoff returner Kealoha Pilares, who went 76 yards in the fourth quarter but was knocked out of bounds by the Colts’ kicker. In Pilares’ defense, he had hurt his quad on an earlier return.

Best lock: The Indianapolis Star is going to write a whole lot about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck – the Colts’ likely pick at No.1 in the 2012 draft – between now and April. The Star had one of its writers ask Newton several questions about Luck, whom Newton called an “underrated athlete.”

Halftime thoughts on a 10-10 tie between Panthers and Colts

UPDATE: The Panthers have gotten two rushing touchdowns from DeAngelo Williams in the second half to take a 24-13 lead over Indianapolis with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Nothing is coming easy for the Carolina Panthers this season, and even a game with 0-10 Indianapolis isn't a guaranteed win.

The Panthers scored the game's first 10 points, but then Indy responded with 10 of its own and blocked Olindo Mare's 45-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to keep the game tied.

It's pretty loud in here at Lucas Oil Stadium -- especially given the fact the Colts haven't won all year. The Panthers' offense has had some trouble getting untracked in its last few possessions against the defense allowing the most points in the league (30.0), and Carolina's defense has been good against the pass but again not very good vs. the run (as usual).

The Colts' Peyton Manning is on the sideline -- he hasn't played all year. Marvin Harrison is being inducted into the Colts' Ring of Honor, but he's not playing either.

I keep thinking that if the Panthers can just make Curtis Painter beat them, he won't. He's not very good at all. But the Colts are smartly trying to keep the ball on the ground as much as they can, and they're getting enough pass-rush push to bother Cam Newton (who has taken a 20-yard sack and a 12-yard sack already).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Panthers to win in Indy

It doesn't quite seem fair, does it?

The Indianapolis Colts -- one of the NFL's best teams for the past decade -- have fallen apart this season just in time to acquire their next franchise quarterback.

Peyton Manning hasn't played all season because of injury problems and his absence has shown just how vulnerable the Colts are without him. Now 0-10 Indianapolis is two games clear of the rest of the field in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, assuming the Stanford redshirt junior comes out for the 2012 draft.

Most teams stumble through a succession of mediocre quarterbacks when they have to replace a star. Green Bay is an exception with Aaron Rodgers succeeding Brett Favre, but Miami's dry run after Dan Marino and Denver's after John Elway are more of the rule.

But not the Colts. As bad as they are this season, they won't be for long, because either Luck or Southern Cal's fast-rising Matt Barkley is destined to replace Manning at some point.

-- It has been eight years since the Panthers have played the Colts in Indianapolis. I remember covering that 2003 game vividly in large part because it was so darn loud -- I didn't know until then what a passionate fan base the Colts really had. The Panthers won in overtime, 23-20, on a long John Kasay field goal. My ears rang coming out of the stadium like they do after a really loud concert -- although it was totally silent after Kasay's kick. Somehow I don't think it will be quite that loud Sunday.

-- If there was ever an offense for the Panthers' defense to get well against, it's this one. Indianapolis has scored 10 points or fewer in its past four games. The Panthers average giving up 28.6 points per game -- second-worst in the NFL to the Colts' 30 (that number being somewhat skewed by the 62 points the Colts gave up to New Orleans).

-- Should be a nice battle Sunday between Panther left tackle Jordan Gross and Indianapolis right defensive end Dwight Freeney. Freeney, the Colts' all-time leading sacker, needs 1.5 sacks to get to 100 for his career.

-- I've gotten back on track picking the Panthers' outcomes, predicting them correctly the past two weeks. On Sunday, Carolina will notch its third win of the season. Final score: Carolina 31, Indianapolis 23.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving -- and a story

Hello, everyone. First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I am thankful for many things today -- most of all for my family, but also for all the folks who check in on this blog occasionally.

I wrote something a little different today for Thanksgiving -- a story about a J.C. Smith student assistant coach who has cerebral palsy but has become a key part of the Golden Bulls' football program this year. Here's the link.

You might also want to check out Joe Person's story on Panther defensive back Darius Butler, whose 3-month-old daughter has had some serious health problems but who got out of the hospital Wednesday and went home.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Matt Moore leads Cam Newton in QB rating (and other numbers)

Some significant Panther numbers after 10 games:

5.8 -- Matt Moore's lead over Cam Newton in the quarterback efficiency ratings. Moore, the former Panther quarterback, has won three straight games starting for the Miami Dolphins and has improved his rating to 85.8. Newton, after his four-interception day Sunday against Detroit, now sits at 80.0.

8 -- Yards Steve Smith needs for the sixth 1,000-yard receiving season of his career, but the first since 2008.

9 -- Rushing TDs for Newton so far this season, which has already set the NFL record for most rushing TDs by a rookie quarterback.

12 -- Consecutive Panther losses on the road, with the last win coming in December 2009. The Panthers' next game -- at 0-10 Indianapolis Sunday -- will be their best chance to break that streak. Of the 2-8 Panthers' final six games this season, four come on the road.

14 -- Interceptions thrown by Newton through 10 games. The team record for a season? Kerry Collins threw 21 in 1997, a season in which the Panthers went 7-9.

22 -- Losses for the Panthers over their past 26 games. The future can't get here fast enough, can it?

28.6 -- Points the Panthers are giving up per game, which is second-worst in the NFL.

30.0 -- Points Indianapolis is giving up per game, which is worst in the NFL. Maybe we're in for another shootout on Sunday.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bests and worsts in Carolina Panthers' 49-35 loss to Detroit

Highlights and lowlights from Carolina’s 49-35 loss to Detroit Sunday, which dropped the Panthers to 2-8:

Worst waste: The Panthers scored 35 points and still lost by 14? Are you kidding me? As coach Ron Rivera said afterward, he would take 35 points any day of the week. It was a season high in points for Carolina, and the second-most points the Panthers have ever scored in a loss.

Worst blown lead: The Panthers led 24-7 in the second quarter and 27-14 at halftime, but then got blasted in the second half as Detroit outscored Carolina, 35-8.

Worst personal career high: Rookie quarterback Cam Newton threw four interceptions, his personal high in his short career.

Best silver lining: Rookie Kealoha Pilares bolted a franchise-record 101 yards on a kickoff return for a touchdown, helped by some superb blocking from the beleaguered special teams.

Worst franchise career high: The Panthers’ defense gave up 495 yards, most in the team’s 17-year history.

Best former Panther: Chris Harris, who used to start at safety for Carolina, grabbed one of Newton’s four interceptions.

Worst road warriors: The Panthers have now lost a franchise-record 12 straight games on the road. Their last win came on Dec.27, 2009, when they thumped the New York Giants, 41-9.

Best diversionary tactics: Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw five touchdown passes, and not one of them was to Calvin Johnson. As the Panthers looked for Johnson time and again near the end zone, Stafford simply hit the open receiver, over and over. And there was always someone open.

Best Panther unit: For once, you have to hand it to the special teams. They actually outplayed the Lions’ special teams this time. Olindo Mare had two field goals and four touchbacks. Pilares had his 101-yard return. Armanti Edwards had a couple of decent punt returns and the Panthers allowed only one big return for Detroit (a 31-yarder when you added the return and the penalty yardage for a horse-collar tackle).

Best Newton stat: Even on a four-interception day, Newton did a few spectacular things as usual. This time he scored two rushing touchdowns, setting the NFL rookie record for a quarterback with nine on the season.

Panthers blow 17-point lead, lose to Detroit

The Panthers lost leads of 24-7 and 27-14 in Detroit today, ending up losing 49-35 to the Lions in a wild game at Ford Field. The Panthers' defense gave up the most yardage and first downs in franchise history -- 495 and 29, respectively.

Afterward, disappointed Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said the Panthers had "put on a clinic" in the second half of how to lose a game. Newton threw a career-high four interceptions, but also ran for two touchdwowns and threw for another.

It didn't take long for the Panthers to blow a 27-14 halftime lead. In fact, it just took nine minutes and 3 seconds -- Detroit went ahead 28-27, with 5:57 left in the third quarter.

Detroit QB Matthew Stafford had five touchdown passes after two early interceptions and the Lions had five TD drives of 66 yards or longer. By the end, Carolina's defense looked almost helpless.

The Panthers' defense actually grabbed three turnovers on the first three Detroit possessions, but Carolina was outscored 35-8 in the second half. Detroit clearly out-adjusted the Panthers after halftime.

Panthers off to a great start and 27-14 lead at halftime

A week after playing their worst game of the season in a 27-point home loss to Tennessee, Carolina started with one of its best halves of 2011 against Detroit and led 27-14 at halftime.

The Panthers led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, in large part due to their suddenly feisty defense. The Panther D caused three Detroit turnovers in three possessions in the first quarter -- an interception by linebacker James Anderson, an interception by Charles Godfrey in the Panthers' end zone and a fumble recovery by Andre Neblett.

The first one of those led to no points, as Cam Newton threw his own interception. But the last two did. Carolina went 73 yards on one drive before stalling inside the Detroit 10, with the key play a 29-yard run by DeAngelo Williams. That led to an Olindo Mare 27-yard field goal.

Then, after a fumble recovery, Newton hit Steve Smith in the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown pass to give Carolina a 10-0 lead.

Disgruntled Detroit fans have booed the Lions offense several times. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, playing with a broken finger on his throwing hand and a glove to cover it, had now thrown six interceptions in the past five quarters for Detroit.

Stafford and Detroit cut the margin to 10-7 early in the second quarter however with a lightning-fast, three-play, 80-yard drive. On consecutive plays, running back Kevin Smith ran 46 yards straight up the middle and then took a screen pass 28 yards for a touchdown, as the Panthers' defense suddenly cooled off.

But then Panther rookie Kealoha Pilares took the kickoff return back 101 yards for a touchdown. Boos rained down again in Detroit, and the Panthers quickly led 17-7 with 13:50 still to go in the second quarter. It was the Panthers' first kickoff-return TD in eight years.

And then Carolina added to its lead. Following a Detroit punt, Carolina got a key Detroit penalty to get a fresh set of downs, followed quickly by a 26-yard run from DeAngelo Williams and an 11-yard TD scamper from Newton. That put Carolina up, 24-7, before a stunned Detroit crowd.

But Detroit came back quickly, with Stafford leading another TD drive capped by a short pass. That cut Carolina's lead to 24-14.

Remember, Detroit has already come back from two deficits of 20 or more points to win this year. The biggest Carolina lead so far has been 17 points.

But the Panthers weren't content to sit on the ball. Starting at their own 14, they drove all the way to the Lions' 14 in a 13-play, 72-yard march. Mare hit a 31-yard field goal as time expired at the end of the first half, giving Carolina a 27-14 lead at halftime.

Pregame Lions-Panthers notes

I'm sitting in Ford Field, awaiting the start of the Panthers-Lions game. A few notes:

1) Here's my column from today's newspaper on the future for the Panthers, who I believe may be on a similar pattern as they were about nine years ago.

2) Detroit QB Matthew Stafford will likely play with a glove on his throwing hand today because he has a fractured finger on that hand. Remember when David Carr of the Panthers used to play with a glove on his throwing hand, too, but not due to injury? That didn't work out so well.

3) The stands aren't exactly full a few minutes before kickoff. This game is sort of serving as an appetizer for the Lions-Packers tilt, which will also be in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.

4) This is a good story on former Panther Kris Jenkins, talking about the violence of football, to the New York Times.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Can Panthers pull the upset at Detroit?

Some pregame notes -- and a prediction -- for the Panthers' game Sunday at Detroit:

First, who said this after last Sunday's huge loss?

"We can't get off to a slow start. We have to start faster and not rely on the fact that we can come back. It's just one of those games where nothing went right, and it happens. But I think we have the right people, and we'll respond next week."
Ron Rivera? Jordan Gross? Cam Newton?

No, that came from Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who was talking about the Lions' 37-13 loss to Chicago a week ago. That game bore a notable resemblance to Carolina's 30-3 loss to Tennessee, with both teams getting way down early and never coming back.

So while the 6-3 Lions and 2-7 Panthers are in a far different place in the NFL standings,, they are in the same place mentally. They just got embarrassed and they are determined to make it right Sunday.

-- I think we'll see the two starting wide receivers in the next Pro Bowl Sunday for the NFC. Steve Smith and Detroit's Calvin Johnson have both had stunning seasons so far. The yardage is similar (951 to 885 in Smith's advantage) but Johnson is the best end-zone target in the NFL right now. He has a startling 11 touchdowns already. Smith has four.

-- And if you think Newton throws to Smith a lot, check this out. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw at Johnson 19 times last week. Nineteen! Johnson caught seven of them. Newton usually targets Smith around 8-10 times per game.

-- While Detroit's front four is fearsome, the Lions' rushing defense is pedestrian, with numbers very similar to Carolina's rushing defense. In the teams' most recent meeting, the Panthers beat Detroit in 2008 by getting both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to rush for more than 100 yards while setting a then-franchise record of 264 rushing yards.

-- After missing the Panthers' outcome for three straight weeks, I finally got them right again a week ago when predicting them to lose to Tennessee. I'm 17-7 over the past 24 Panther games. Sunday's prediction: Detroit 31, Carolina 24.

Fox, Tebow working out surprisingly well

I watched some of the Denver-N.Y. Jets game Thursday night, seeing former Panther coach John Fox relentlessly chomp his gum as the Broncos punted -- and punted -- and punted.

But then here came Tim Tebow, saving the night once again at the end, as the Broncos won 17-13 on a 95-yard drive deep in the fourth quarter.

I have to admit I didn't think Fox and Tebow would be able to work it out as well as they have. The Broncos are now 5-5, and Fox has managed to minimize Tebow's bad points (the guy can't hit an open receiver about half the time, and that's being generous) and maximize his good ones (Tebow is a fine running quarterback).

Best of all for Denver, Fox has exactly the type of defense he likes. The Broncos just blasted Mark Sanchez time and again Thursday night. Tebow was only responsible for one TD; the other was a pick-six off of Sanchez by the ball-hawking Broncos' defense. That's the biggest reason Denver is winning; that defense has greatly improved and is keeping the Broncos in the game.

It's conceivable the Broncos might even win the AFC West and get into the playoffs, because that division is all full of teams around .500. Not likely, but conceivable. And if they do, get this: Fox might get some votes as Coach of the Year.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Does Cam need a better sideline attitude?

In the absence of much other news involving the Carolina Panthers, the attitude of Panther quarterback Cam Newton continues to be a hot-button issue for Carolina fans.

Before we get into the towel Newton puts over his head when things aren't going well, let me say this: Newton is the best thing to happen to this team in a long time. He has made them relevant, interesting and dangerous. If he's not the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, that's crazy.

But as for the way Newton isolates himself on the sideline when things aren't going well, I'm not a huge fan of it. Whether he's got the towel on his head or not doesn't make a difference to me, but I would like to see him trying to inspire his teammates more and less involved in his private pain, alone on a corner of the bench.

I think this will come with maturity. Newton is so dynamic it's easy to forget he's a rookie, sorting out his emotions on a far more public stage than most 22-year-olds have to do.

Newton said Wednesday he wasn't about to change his behavior, saying of losing: "This is something that I'm not used to and it's something that I'm not going to get used to. So you look at it as poor leadership. You look at it as a sore loser. I'd rather be a sore loser than anything."

He also said: "I want to win. So I'm going to try to win. And if I don't win, I'm going to pitch a fit."

Right now, as another writer once joked, he is more like "Cam Neton" because the "W's" are missing. The Panthers are 2-7 and about to go on a three-game road trip. Newton, unfortunately, is going to get a lot more chances to practice losing before this season is over.

As I wrote five weeks ago about Newton on this subject:

A good leader grabs his team by the shoulder pads and pulls them up when everyone is down about a loss. But Newton is so involved in his private pain after losses that he has a hard time letting anyone else inside.

There's so much to like about Newton. Don't misunderstand me - he's the biggest reason this team has hope again. He has both Super Bowl and hall of fame potential. I love watching him.

He knows how to win. How to throw. How to run.

But Newton has got to get better at three things - how to learn from losing. How to lead. And how to finish.

When Newton gets those three down pat, there's no limit to what he will do.

I still believe that. And I think he will learn all three of those things and, eventually, become a great NFL quarterback. But, like all rookies, he's a work in progress.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Panthers by the numbers after 9 games

Some significant numbers for the 2-7 Panthers:

0-3 -- Carolina's road record. The Panthers are one of only two NFL teams (along with Indianapolis) that has yet to win a game on the road. They are about to get a lot of chances. Five of Carolina's final seven games are on the road, including the next three.

2 -- Carolina's rank in total penalty yardage this season. The Panthers have been penalized a total of 659 yards. Only the perennial bad-boy Oakland Raiders (775) has been flagged for more yardage.

7 -- Points the Panthers need to surpass their total number of points for the entire 2010 season. They scored 196 last year in 16 games. This year, even with a horrible game Sunday, they have scored 190 in nine games.

9 -- Scoreless possessions for the Panthers Sunday before they finally scored against Tennessee in that 30-3 loss. Those first nine possessions went like this: punt, lost fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal and punt.

49 -- Yards Steve Smith needs for the sixth 1,000-yard receiving season of his career. He's at 951 now. His career high of 1,563 was set in 2005.

137.6 -- Rushing yards per game the Panthers' defense is now giving up after allowing Tennessee 172 Sunday. That average ranks 28th in the NFL.

289.4 -- Cam Newton's average number of passing yards, which is now sixth in the NFL. Newton has been as high as No.2 in that category this season but has fallen off a bit lately in production.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rivera "embarrassed" by game's final minutes

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday in a news conference he was “embarrassed” by Carolina’s 30-3 loss to Tennessee Sunday, and particularly by a couple of things. (Here's my column on what he said -- the shorter version is below).

“Oh absolutely, I was embarrassed,” Rivera said. “I really was. I was embarrassed with the penalties. I was embarrassed the last 2 ½ minutes of the game, the way it went.”

When I asked what he meant by that, Rivera said: “Well, I think all the chippiness that went on between both teams. You know when a game is in that situation, just play it out. Don’t start talking. If you’re winning, great. If you’re losing, stop being frustrated. Do your job. And it goes for both teams. And I don’t want to speak for Coach [Mike] Munchak [of Tennessee], but I think both teams got chippy at the end.

“To me, this is professional football,” Rivera continued. “Act like a professional on the football field whether you’re winning or you’re losing. And that really bothers me. It really does. Because this game is about competition and competing and being the best, it’s not about all that other stuff that goes on. That’s a bunch of bull. It really is. There should be more pride in winning and losing than I saw yesterday from both teams. And that’s just my opinion.”

The Panthers got called for three penalties in the game’s last two minutes and Tennessee was called for two. On the final penalty – a holding call against Steve Smith – a scuffle broke out that involved Smith and several other players from both teams. Rivera then pulled Smith out of the game for the final play. (Smith would later get testy with me when I asked him about this sequence in the postgame locker room).

“I just think Steve was frustrated, as was everybody else,” Rivera said. “Steve went to make a physical block, the guy reacted and they got into a little bit of a skirmish. I just wanted to alleviate the situation. I’d have done that to anybody at that point. I did that with Charles [Johnson] when Charles got his penalty [earlier in the game]. After being head-butted, the referees didn’t see the head butt [on Johnson], they got him…. We can’t have that on the football field. And I hope our guys understand why I asked them to come off the field.”

The Panthers were penalized 12 times for 99 yards in the game and remain among the league leaders in the major “most-penalized” categories.

Frustration with Panthers showing everywhere

It's Monday, and everyone associated with the Panthers seem to be either angry or depressed.

I wrote my column today on the Panthers' embarrassing performance in their 30-3 loss to Tennessee Sunday, but what seems to be drawing more attention on our website is my postgame exchange with Steve Smith.

You can read the whole thing here, but a couple of points first since I keep getting asked questions similar to these in emails:

1) I wasn't trying to bait Smith with a question about what happened at the end of the game. I honestly wondered -- and still wonder. Why was Smith so angry at that point in the game? Why did the coaches pull him out following the play? What exactly happened? That's what I wanted to know.

2) I've gotten a number of comments basically in the vein that I shouldn't be asking players hard questions like that when they haven't had much time to cool off. I understand the point there, but there is a 10-15 minute "cooling off" period before the media is allowed inside the locker room to talk to players. And these types of questions are asked literally after every game, by the dozens. When the Panthers win, reporters ask what happened on the plays that went well. When they lose, reporters ask what happened on the plays that went poorly.

Anyway, here's the transcript. It wasn't the first time Smith has gotten testy with me and it certainly won't be the last. I've covered all of his 11-year career for the Panthers, and to me he remains the best player the team has ever employed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Panthers' first stinker of the season

One thing you could say about the Panthers -- until today -- was that they made every game exciting even though they lost most of them.

Not today, though. Tennessee was up 14-0 before the game was 10 minutes old, and the Panthers never made any sort of run as the Titans absolutely blasted the Panthers, 30-3. There were maybe 2,000 fans watching at the end of the game.

Every phase of the Panthers team -- offense, defense, special teams, coaching -- looked awful most of the time and mediocre at best.

The stadium was almost empty with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter -- the first time it's been that way all year. It was like that all the time in 2010, when the Panthers were nearly always out of the game in the fourth quarter.

This felt like a return to last season. Tennessee became the first team to truly make quarterback Cam Newton look like a rookie, and the Titans' 79-yard punt return a minute into the game set a tone that was never altered.

Newton, who had been averaging about five passes per game of 20 yards or more, never had one longer than 19 on Sunday. He threw for 212 yards and ran for 55, but he also threw an interception and couldn't get his team into the end zone.

I asked him after if he had ever quarterbacked a game in which his team didn't score a touchdown. "Never," he said sternly. "Ever. Ever." He also used the word "embarrassing" over and over to describe the Panthers' performance.

And it was nasty. On a day the sun never came out, the Panthers (2-7) never showed up either. A 27-point loss to Tennessee? C'mon.

Bad mistakes early for Panthers in 1st quarter

Carolina started its game against Tennessee very poorly. The Panthers were behind 7-0 only 64 seconds into the game and 14-0 before it was 10 minutes old.

The Panthers went three-and-out on the first series of the game, and then Jason Baker's 56-yard punt was run back 79 yards for a touchdown down the sideline by Marc Mariani.

The coverage was horrible on the play -- Mariani basically went straight up the sideline after one juke.

Then Carolina did put together a nice drive -- a Cam Newton interception was nullified when Tennessee had a defensive holding call -- and got inside the 10. But on the play that got them there, tight end Greg Olsen fumbled the ball away and Tennessee recovered at its own 8.

The Titans immediately went on a 92-yard TD drive from there that took only six plays, with the final 43 coming when the Panthers' secondary let Damian Williams turn a short pass into an easy touchdown with some awful tackling by Sherrod Martin and others.

Boos are sounding in Charlotte, as Tennessee leads 14-0 with 5:45 still left in the first quarter.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cam Newton and injury scares

It is a testament to the starpower of Cam Newton that this is a fact:

On Saturday, Cam Newton was added to the Panthers' injury report -- he is now listed as probable due to some soreness in his throwing shoulder. As I write this, that story is now headlined on's homepage, on a busy college football Saturday and with all the attendant news to Penn State returning to the field without Joe Paterno.

Of course, this is thought to be news because of fantasy-football folks, I suppose. But still -- probable is probable. Newton practiced all week. He should play against Tennessee Sunday -- that's what "probable" means.

Still, it's a bit scary for any Panther fan. That's the No.1 concern, isn't it? Keep Newton healthy.

As much as he does for this team -- he has been a part of 18 of the squad's 21 touchdowns -- to lose him for any length of time would take the bloom off the rose to a large extent. I know some would say what kind of rose is a 2-6 team, anyway, but if you went to any Panther games in 2010, you know what I mean. This season has felt so much different, and a whole lot of that is due to No.1.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Panthers-Tennessee notes -- and a prediction

The Panthers seem like they haven't played a game in forever.

It feels like that when you go into your bye week losing to a team you shouldn't have lost to. I remain convinced the Panthers are better than Minnesota, but Olindo Mare's hooked field-goal attempt and Steve Smith's questionable holding penalty Oct.30th ended the Panthers' final drive on a sour note that has been ringing in the air around here for the past two weeks.

So on Sunday here comes Tennessee. The Titans' best player -- running back Chris Johnson -- has been having a horrible season by his standards. And yet the Titans are still 4-4 and in the playoff hunt. While this game is winnable, it will require a far better performance than the Panthers gave against the Vikings.

-- When Cam Newton talked about the Tennessee defense this week, the name he mentioned first and foremost was Titan cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Newton said he believed the strength of the Titans' defense is its secondary, with Finnegan the headliner of that bunch. It will be interesting to watch Finnegan (No.31) when he's matched up with Steve Smith Sunday.

-- In the four games Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has started against Carolina (all while he was with Seattle), he has won three of them. One was the NFC championship game in 2005, when the Panthers got blown out in Seattle and the Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl.

-- A shudder-worthy memory: The last time these two teams played against each other, in 2007, the quarterback matchup was Carolina's David Carr against Tennessee's Vince Young. Tennessee won, 20-7.

-- I'm going to do Panther fans a favor. I started off OK early in the season picking Panther outcomes, but I've gone totally off the rails over the past month. I'm 0-3 predicting the past three Panther games, and so based on recent history my pick today is almost guaranteed not to turn out right. So here's an early Thanksgiving present for all you Panther fans.

My pick: Tennessee 27, Carolina 24.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One of Charlotte's own writers and the book he plans on Paterno

Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski, who graduated from UNC Charlotte and began his journalism career at The Charlotte Observer, has been in State College, Pa., this football season working on a book on Joe Paterno.

Posnanski, who recently moved back to Charlotte, is now trying to figure out the direction his book goes after the scandal surfaces this week. I will tell you this -- he will figure out something, because Posnanski is one of the most gifted sportswriters in America. But he is wrestling this week, as so many are, with all the twists this dark story has taken.

In his blog, Posnanski explained what drew him into writing about Paterno:

"A few months ago, I began working on a book about Penn State coach Joe Paterno. I have spent the last few months living in State College, Pa. Paterno gave me permission to write the book, but plays no editorial role in it. I decided to write about Paterno for a hundred reasons, but mostly because I’m fascinated — fascinated by a 60-year coaching career, fascinated by the Grand Experiment, fascinated by his motivations and values and the apparent and interesting contradictions of his personality. There have been other books written about Paterno, good books. It seems to me that there is more to say…"

Posnanski also included his thoughts on where the book is headed and why he will hold off on writing his opinion on what's happened with Paterno this past week, writing: "I need time. This story, for me at least, needs time. This thing is so vile, so grotesque, that it is human nature to want everyone to pay. Innocent children were hurt, scarred, and as a parent this is something so horrible that I cannot even think of a penalty harsh enough. There is no way to see this thing clearly now, not for me, anyway.

"Writing about Joe Paterno is a challenge for many reasons, but probably the greatest challenge is that his personality attracts extremes. He is called saint. And he is called hypocrite. He is a hero. And he is a villain. He is real. And he is a phony. And I believe deeply that he is none of these things… it wouldn’t be much fun or a challenge to write about him if he were a simple label or a simple man. I came to State College to write about a real man. I won’t tell you anything surprising: This terrible, evil story has made it harder. But I do buy into Tom Hanks’ line about baseball. It’s supposed to be hard …"

In Posnanski's personal blog , he refered to the Sports Illustrated blog and said that's all he planned to write on the situation for now:

"I know there are people who believe that I have a responsibility to write more, to have an opinion, to come out strong, I know this because many, many people have written to tell me that in no uncertain terms.

"I respect their opinion. But I disagree with it. The way I see it: I have a responsibility to write the best, most insightful and most honest book I can possibly write about Joe Paterno. That's what I signed up for. I'm not backing down from that because of this awful, evil situation. I'm also not walking away from a life and a man. When something this horrible happens, it's hard to hear yourself think -- it's impossible for me to hear anything. I won't add to the noise. If you want to read instant and strong opinions about Penn State and Joe Paterno, I can assure you there is no shortage of howling there."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Penn State does the right thing

Penn State -- finally -- has done something right in the child-abuse sex scandal that has rocked the football program. The school fired Joe Paterno, its football coach for the past 46 years, on Wednesday night. This action came only a few hours after Paterno, 84, had announced he would retire -- but at the end of the season.

As I wrote in my column for Wednesday's newspaper, Paterno didn't fulfill his moral obligation when he was told of an eyewitness account of an alleged sexual assault committed by his longtime former assistant, Jerry Sandusky, on a 10-year-old child in the Penn State football facility's showers in 2002. (At the time, Sandusky was retired but still had the run of the Penn State facility -- the eyewitness was a Penn State graduate assistant).

Paterno said in a statement Wednesday that in hindsight he wished he had done more -- he told the school's athletic director about the alleged 2002 incident but not the police. As of early Wednesday, Paterno planned to coach the Nittany Lions against Nebraska Saturday.

Penn State's board of trustees, however, didn't think that was enough and severed ties with Paterno immediately. The school's president, Graham Spanier, also was fired Wednesday night. The athletic director Paterno reported the alleged sexual assault to was already gone.

The fallout will undoubtedly continue, but this was a necessary step. I was in the studio of WFNZ's excellent afternoon radio show with Taylor Zarzour and Marc James Wednesday afternoon, talking for an hour mostly about Paterno. It didn't matter that it wasn't a local topic per se; it seemed to be what every caller wanted to weigh in on.

When the co-hosts asked me point-blank if Paterno should be coaching Saturday against Nebraska -- if retiring at the end of the season was really enough -- I had to think about it for a second. I had just wanted him out; I hadn't thought as much about the timing of it.

Then I said I hoped Paterno wouldn't be coaching Saturday, that when you want to clean house, you might as well get started sooner rather than later.

Penn State's house is badly stained, and it needs to be cleaned up. This was a beginning, but in no way is it the end.

Paterno retires -- and he should

I wrote my controversial column for Wednesday's newspaper about Joe Paterno, who in my opinion didn't fulfill his moral obligation in the Penn State scandal and therefore should retire.

Paterno has released a statement today saying he will retire at the end of the season.

I have received a ton of phone calls and emails today, and there are close to 100 comments below the column itself. This is a deeply divisive issue -- it wasn't Paterno who allegedly committed these heinous crimes, after all, it was his longtime trusted assistant Jerry Sandusky. But Paterno didn't do enough to report one particular horrific alleged incident when it was brought to him in 2002, and that's why I think his time has come and gone.

I take no pleasure today in the fact that Paterno -- who is 84 and has 409 victories, the most of any major-college coach -- is retiring. But it is the right thing for him to do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Panthers make right move after marijuana charge

I think the Panthers did the right thing today releasing rookie linebacker Lawrence Wilson, who had marijuana in his car last week when he was stopped on Interstate 85 near Salisbury for speeding.

Wilson admitted he had the pot in his car in an interview with our Joseph Person Monday, but disputed that he had as much as Rowan County sheriff's deputies said he did. Still, as Wilson said: "Weed's weed, no matter how much you've got."

Indeed it is. "Weed's weed" is one of those quotes I think is going to stick with me for awhile, but luckily Wilson won't be sticking with the Panthers.

Look, the guy was on the practice squad anyway -- it's not like the Panthers are releasing a star. Still, though, the Panthers are trying to do the right thing here. As Panther coach Ron Rivera said Monday: "We don't need distractions like this."

No, they don't. I do feel some sympathy for Wilson, who started crying after he was stopped. Obviously, he knew he messed up.

But Wilson and the rest of the Panthers had been warned only hours ago by Rivera to behave during the bye week. He didn't, and he paid the price.

Panthers by the numbers entering Tennessee game

Some interesting Panther numbers as the team prepares for the start of the second half of its season, vs. 4-4 Tennessee Sunday at home:

1 -- TDs scored by Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, who has had a terrible year so far by his standards after getting a huge contract (3.0 rushing average, 366 yards -- only 47 more than Cam Newton).

3 -- NFL teams with fewer wins the 2-6 Panthers (0-9 Indianapolis, 1-7 St. Louis and 1-7 Miami)

7 -- Charles Johnson's number of sacks through eight games, which ties "Big Money" for sixth in the NFL in that category.

27 -- The Panthers' defensive rank in rushing yards allowed per game. They are giving up 133.2 per game and will try not to be the defense Chris Johnson gets well against Sunday.

42 -- Yards that Steve Smith trails New England's Wes Welker by for the overall NFL receiving yardage lead (960 to 918).

299.1 -- Newton's average passing yards per game, which now ranks him fifth behind the four quarterbacks averaging 300-plus (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Should Panther fans stand or sit and when?

(UPDATE from Scott: This subject proved to be so divisive and drew so many comments Monday that I wrote an extended column about it for Tuesday's newspaper, including what the Panthers' official policy is on the stand-vs.-sit debate. Here's the link).

I got an interesting email from Eileen, who sits in Section 115 at all the Panther games, the other day. Since the Panthers have another home game next Sunday against Tennessee, I thought I'd share it and see what you think. Eileen believes, basically, that most fans at Bank of America Stadium -- and the stadium staff -- want people in their seats most all the time, and she takes exception to this.

Here's Eileen's letter:

"Longtime Panther fan here who has gone to just about all home games since the very beginning. I've noticed lately, that more and more fans are yelling at other fans to sit down during the games.

"Now, I'm not talking about excessive standing or inconsiderately blocking the view of a small child, senior citizen, or handicapped person. I'm talking about that they don't seem to want you to stand AT ALL. Not even when we are on D and it's third down? Or when we score? Stadium staff seems to be enforcing this as I have seen them tell fans to sit down!

"Just curious if you have had anybody else comment about this or what the majority's opinion might be? I want to be a courteous fan but I can't help but think that If you want to sit down for the whole game... STAY HOME ON YOUR COUCH and watch it on TV."
(End of letter)

OK, I'm back.... Well, as that the old fight song says, "Sit and Cheer for the Panthers." No wait, that's not it. Anyway.... So what do yall think of Eileen's letter?

Would you rather sit, stand, or somewhere in between for the three hours of a normal Panthers game? Have you had experiences, good or bad, with people standing or sitting too much around you at a Panther game?

Please keep the comments clean, and if you will, when you do comment include the section where your PSLs are if you have them.