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 ESPN.com'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 SI.com 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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A TV show Panther fans shouldn't miss and other Friday notes

This is the day I traditionally post my forecast of Sunday's Panthers game. But for the only time in a 17-week period, the Panthers don't play Sunday due to their bye week. This is something of a relief, since I can guarantee for once I won't miss the outcome -- I've misfired on the last three Panther games in a row. In the meantime, a few notes:

1) If you missed the "Turning Point" NFL Films show Thursday night on Versus, you need to tune into it Saturday at 5 p.m. if you are a Panther fan. It will re-air on NBC that day, so whether you have cable or not, you can see it, and you should.

NFL Films had coach Ron Rivera miked up for the game -- there's a cool conversation he has with one NFL official in the pregame about Cam Newton -- and also caught some good sideline dialogue involving Steve Smith and others for the Panthers-Minnesota game.

The first 20 minutes or so of the hour-long show focuses mostly on last week's game. I was impressed by Rivera's sideline demeanor. The coach mutters "He missed it" when Olindo Mare hooks the 31-yarder that would have sent the game into overtime, but quickly rebounds and tells Mare "Keep your head up" as he comes off the field. He mostly tells players "Do your job, Do your job" as they head onto the field and comes across as calm and in charge.

The slow-motion highlights, though, are reason enough to watch -- practically every big play Newton and Smith have had all season is shown, and that's a lot of big plays. It's really good stuff. Again, Saturday at 5 p.m. on NBC -- tape it or watch it (the Panther section only lasts about the first 20 minutes).

2) Here's my column from today on the verbal jabs from UNC interim football coach Everett Withers and N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien, in which I call Withers' words silly and short-sighted.

3) Pro Football Talk has an interesting story today about how the Panthers drafting Newton No.1 ended up paying off for Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who just signed a big contract. Buffalo had its eye on Newton at No.3, see, and Fitzpatrick then wouldn't have gotten a new deal.

4) Our Rick Bonnell has a nice piece in today's Charlotte Observer about what might have been had the Bobcats opened their regular season as scheduled vs. Milwaukee tonight. I still think there will be an NBA season this year, but I don't think they'll try to squeeze in 82 games anymore -- maybe more like 60-70.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Withers doesn't have a leg to stand on -- and O'Brien is understandably furious

Oh c'mon, Everett Withers. Really?

Withers, who is serving as North Carolina's interim head football coach, took some verbal shots at N.C. State Wednesday in a taped radio interview with Joe Ovies of Raleigh's 99.9 "The Fan."

N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien responded angrily to what Withers said today -- read on for some of those comments or listen to them here.

But first, the setup: Particularly, Withers questioned the "academic environment" at N.C. State, which is laughable considering the Tar Heels are the ones who fired their coach Butch Davis just before the 2011 season due to the fallout of an academic scandal. In fact, UNC is waiting right now to hear word from the NCAA as to what its punishment is going to be after an investigation into the football program.

Yet Withers said in the radio interview: "When you have as many schools in this state as we have, and the recruiting base gets watered down a bit, I think the kids in this state need to know the flagship school in this state. They need to know it academically. If you look at our graduation rates, as opposed to our opponent's this week [N.C. State], graduation rates for athletics, football, you'll see a difference.... If you look at the educational environment here, I think you'll see a difference."

Withers was apparently referring to the fact that, according to data provided by the NCAA for the freshman class of 2004, UNC's football team had a graduation success rate of 75 percent compared to 56 percent for N.C. State. UNC's federal graduation rate, which doesn't count transfers or players who left early, was at 58 percent compared to 50 percent for N.C. State.

All of which is well and good, but again.... UNC has been involved in an NCAA investigation that includes what the NCAA defined as academic fraud!! Jennifer Wiley, a former university tutor and once an employee of Davis's, was accused of three major violations herself! It was only last Friday that UNC officials had to go to Indianapolis for a hearing held by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.

In other words, Withers doesn't have a leg to stand on in this argument. The Tar Heels have long claimed the academic high ground. But for now, because of the actions of a few, that claim has to be forfeited as far as the football program is concerned. N.C. State fans and players are likely incensed by these comments.

O'Brien certainly is. When asked about Withers' comments Thursday, O'Brien responded by referring to UNC officials’ trip to Indianapolis last Friday to appear in front of the Committee on Infractions to answer charges of nine major violations in an ongoing NCAA investigation of impermissible benefits and academic fraud

“Here is a guy that’s on a football staff that ends up in Indianapolis,” O’Brien said. “. . .If you take three things that you can’t do in college football, you have an agent on your staff. You’re paying your players. And you have academic fraud. That’s a triple play as far as the NCAA goes. So I don’t know that he has anything to talk about or they have anything to talk about. If that’s what people want in their flagship university in North Carolina, then so be it.”

After being asked what he meant by “paying your players,” O'Brien indicated that he was referring to the impermissible benefits players received.

“They had players accepting money from somebody,” O’Brien said. “I mean, money is being given from someone to somebody, that’s been documented, right? I don’t know how it got there. Maybe I’m wrong saying that. But those are no-nos as far as the NCAA goes.”

And there was one more shot from O'Brien, too.

“At our school, A number one, all classes have a syllabus,” O’Brien said. “Our guys go to school. They’re not given grades, and they graduate. It’s a little tougher here, if you have to go to school and you’re expected to have a syllabus and go to class. So I think all our guys earn everything they get here. Certainly our graduates earn everything at this university."

How can Panthers' stadium experience be improved?

I wrote my column today on whether Cam Newton should make the Pro Bowl -- expanding my blog post from Wednesday into a full-length column.

My bottom line was that if I had to vote today, I wouldn't vote Newton for the Pro Bowl. You can pick three quarterbacks from the NFC, and I would pick Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. But Newton would be my fourth choice -- and the No.4 quarterback actually gets to play in the Pro Bowl a majority of the time, because one of the top three is either gearing up for the Super Bowl or hurt.

As for other Panther news, the team has decided it's time to renovate Bank of America Stadium and has hired an architectural firm for a year-long study on how best to do that. "The major emphasis will be on improving the fan experience," Panther president Danny Morrison told our own Joe Person about this. But Morrison offered few other details.

OK.... so if that's the case, how would YOU like to see the fan experience improved at B of A Stadium? The stadium opened in 1996, so it's 16 years old and showing its age a bit, although still plenty good enough I think to host the team for decades to come.

I would certainly think the stadium needs a technological upgrade, however. The "new" video boards were an improvement four years ago, but still not to the level of what I see at many stadiums around the country. And the scoreboard could use some work and expansion, for sure. I am sure there are other things you can think of that I can't.

Again, a warning to keep the comments clean. They stayed mostly that way for yesterday's blog post on Cam Newton -- thanks to the 95 percent of you who had thoughtful things to say -- but by the end degenerated too far and I had to hide all the comments as a result of that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Should Cam Newton make the Pro Bowl?

The NFL's official website is already taking fan votes on who should make the Pro Bowl this season (here's the link if you want to vote).

And while it seems too early, you have to bear in mind that both the NBA and MLB basically select their all-stars based on a half-season of play as well. In the NFL, the fans' vote counts for one third of the total vote, with coaches' votes and players' votes counting a third apiece as well (the players and coaches won't vote for about a month -- the game is in Hawaii the week before the Super Bowl, meaning anyone who is about to play in the Super Bowl won't go and an alternate will be selected).

So my question to you today is:

Should Cam Newton make the Pro Bowl?

Here are the facts as I see them:

The NFC will have three quarterbacks on its roster for the Pro Bowl (often, the fourth quarterback in voting ends up playing, since one of the three often is hurt or in the Super Bowl).

There is one shoo-in. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers not only should be selected as the starter but should end up being this season's NFL MVP. He's quarterbacking an undefeated team, he has 20 touchdown passes and only three interceptions -- he's smack in the middle of his prime, playing better than anyone in the league.

For No.2 quarterback I'd pick Drew Brees. He's had some interception problems this season (throwing 10) but he still is a surgical quarterback and one of the best in the league. While it's been somewhat of a down year for Brees, his standards are so high. Having watched him firsthand for a number of years I still think he's all-star worthy, and he leads the NFL in passing yardage.

But you could argue for a number of quarterbacks other than Rodgers for spots 2 and 3. Here are the primary contenders besides Brees:

Eli Manning, NY Giants: 13 passing TDs, 5 interceptions, a QB rating second only to Rodgers in NFC.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit: 19 passing TDs, 4 interceptions, leading Detroit to a breakout season.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia: 11 passing TDs, 8 interceptions, leads all QBs in rushing yardage per game at 60.3 (Newton is slightly under 40 per game).

Alex Smith, San Francisco: 9 passing TDs, 2 interceptions, modest numbers but the 49ers are 6-1.

Tony Romo, Dallas: 11 TDs, 7 interceptions, has made some big plays and big errors so far this season.

Cam Newton, Carolina: 11 passing TDs, 9 interceptions, 7 rushing TDs (tied for third in the NFL among all players), 2393 passing yards (second only to Brees in the NFL), leads NFL in pass plays over 20 yards (40), but Carolina is only 2-6 -- a worse record than any of the other QBs I'd put under consideration.

The Panthers will definitely have some offensive representation at this year's Pro Bowl. Steve Smith is a lock. Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil are likely -- both linemen played in the game last year.

But what about Newton? Too much, too soon? Too many turnovers? Not enough wins? Or is his dazzling talent worthy of a Pro Bowl slot in his rookie year?

Remember, you can vote here. NOTE: I've had to disable the comments for this blog post -- thanks to the 95 percent of readers who kept it clean, wrote thoughtful posts and remembered that this blog is also read by many young students. Unfortunately, about 5 percent of the commenters were so profane -- and those popped up so frequently -- that I eventually had to shut them down.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oh, if only the 49ers would do this too...

That's great news today about the new football field for the Charlotte 49ers being named for sports and corporate icons Hugh McColl and Jerry Richardson. That the 49ers' field will be called McColl-Richardson Field sounds cool -- and very "Charlotte-y."

Both men have done so much for this community and I'm glad they have thrown their collective weight behind the 49ers' new venture (the school starts actually playing football in 2013).

Now I'm sure the press conference was very nice (I wasn't there), but here's something I also wish that McColl, Richardson and the 49ers could combine on a hilarious rap video like this one, which Bowling Green put together in a very similar situation to celebrate its new basketball arena called the Stroh Center that opens later this month.

The video is worth watching, I promise. But if you don't have time, let's just say that Bowling Green (which put all this together in an official but very entertaining sort of way) had a whole lot of fun and has garnered more than 100,000 hits on YouTube by doing the video.

The video disrespects no one, makes you laugh aloud at least a few times and has gotten a fairly obscure college like Bowling Green all sorts of good publicity. It has been featured on ESPN, in USA Today and a number of other places.

If the 49ers could do something similar at some point and it ended up going viral -- Richardson and McColl would have to play along of course -- it would be something else. Surely there is a rapper as talented as this guy -- he's a sophomore at Bowling Green -- on the Charlotte 49ers' campus somewhere.

Panthers by the numbers after Week 8

Some significant numbers for the 2-6 Carolina Panthers halfway through the season (my "midpoint of the season" column can be found here):

0 -- Number of Panther running backs in the top 30 in the NFL in rushing yards per game (DeAngelo Williams ranks highest, at No.32, with 45.4 yards per game).

11 -- Passing TDs for the Panthers this season. Carolina had nine passing TDs in all of 2010.

14 and 31 -- The Panthers' longest punt return and kickoff return, respectively, this season. The opponents' corresponding numbers are 89 (punt) and 78 (kickoff).

25.9 -- The number of points per game the Panthers have allowed. That is fifth-worst in the NFL. The Panthers have held an opponent under 20 points only once in eight games.

40 -- Number of passes Cam Newton has completed that have gone for 20 or more yards in the Panthers' vertical passing attack. That's No.1 in the NFL. The next highest is Houston's Matt Schaub, with 34.

65 -- Penalties called on the Panthers through eight games. This is second-worst in the NFL only to Oakland, which has 69. Some of the blame must go on the coaching staff for this stat. (Carolina is also second in yards penalized, with 560 compared to Oakland's 600).

2289 -- Total number of passing yards for Carolina last season in an entire 16-game season.

2393 -- Total number of passing yards for Cam Newton through eight games this season.