Sunday, December 30, 2012

This should be enough for Rivera to keep job

(MONDAY UPDATE: Rivera had an 11 a.m. news conference with the media but did not know what his future held. He said he hoped to keep his job and that he would be meeting with owner Jerry Richardson soon to determine what his and the team's future will be. He did not sound particularly confident. Players leaving the stadium who were interviewed expressed pretty much unanimous support for the current coaching staff).

That should be enough.

Ron Rivera's Panthers won the final four games of their season, finishing a respectable 7-9 and winning a tiebreaker to end up second in the NFC South after edging New Orleans 44-38 Sunday. They lost way too much too early, which meant they missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. But ultimately they did play a little better overall in the second year of Rivera's reign (in 2011, they were 6-10).

I also believe Rivera has improved as a coach and is starting to curb his conservative tendencies. Witness him reconsidering an early punt against the Saints on fourth-and-8 from the New Orleans 37 and instead going for a 54-yard field goal.

The field goal missed, but nevertheless it was the right call. When you play the Saints, you must pile up the points, and the Panthers did so. I also liked the fact that the Panthers knelt down inside the New Orleans 10 to end the game rather than try to score again. That was classy, especially given the fact the Saints had tried to grab every NFL record they could a year ago, keeping in their starters with the game well out of hand.

-- It was impossible not to be impressed by Cam Newton's toughness Sunday. I thought the second time his left leg got bent back almost underneath him that he was done for the afternoon, and yet there he came again, getting retaped and finishing the game after Derek Anderson subbed in briefly (and effectively).

-- I still believe that Carolina has too much money invested in the running back position and I won't be surprised (or displeased) at all if they part with DeAngelo Williams in the offseason. But with Jonathan Stewart so limited due to injury in 2012, having Williams was far more than a luxury Sunday -- it was a necessity. He had one of the best games any Panther running back has ever had (albeit against the defense that has given up more yards than any NFL defense ever in a single season). Williams rushed for 210 yards and two TDs, the most rushing yards in a game any Panther back has ever had.

-- One way to prolong Newton's durability: forget about giving him the ball on third-and-short and goal-line situations. Mike Tolbert has the body for that, as he proved Sunday with three short TDs in which he simply bowled his way through the line.

-- If only Charles Godfrey could play against Drew Brees every week. Godfrey's only two interceptions all season came against Brees -- one he returned for a TD in Week Two and the second set up a crucial Carolina TD in this game. -- By winning this one only six points, Rivera finally got another "close" win. The Panthers are now 2-12 in his tenure in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Panthers-Saints pregame notes and Sunday prediction

On Sept.16, Carolina whipped New Orleans, 35-27, in its 2012 season home opener.

That led to some premature confidence, as best expressed in this quote from Cam Newton after the game. "The vibe is changing," Newton said. "Not only for this team, but for this whole organization."

Well, no. It didn't. The Panthers didn't win again until November, and by then the season was in shambles and general manager Marty Hurney had lost his job. The team has since played well for the most part, going 4-1 over their last five games, but the terrible start means that the Panthers (6-9) will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

New Orleans is also playing well now, but was likewise doomed by a poor start. The Saints have gone 7-4 since starting 0-4. Sunday's game probably won't look like a contest between two losing teams, but that's what it ultimately is.

-- In case you missed my earlier column, I am advocating that team owner Jerry Richardson give coach Ron Rivera a third year to try and get the team turned around. I believe Rivera has gotten better as a coach and that to change out the entire coaching staff again would be a "one step forward, two steps back" approach.

-- The Saints and Panthers have had very similar seasons in several respects besides the slow starts. They can play beautifully. They are responsible for both of 13-2 Atlanta's losses this season. And they can play horribly. They are also responsible for 2-13 Kansas City's two wins.

-- One thing about the Saints: they play entertaining football. Their average score this season is 28-27. The Panthers both score and allow about a touchdown less than that. I think this game will be a high-scoring season finale, and that Carolina will play just well enough to win its fourth straight game. My prediction: Carolina 37, New Orleans 33.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

5 thoughts on Heat vs Bobcats (including Wade's cheap shot)

1. Dwyane Wade really took a cheap shot at Ramon Sessions (see the video here) during the game, lashing out with his left leg after Sessions fouled him and catching Sessions right in the groin. Sessions said after the game (a 105-92 Miami win) that he thought Wade did it on purpose, and I can't imagine that some sort of NBA punishment won't be forthcoming for Wade for that one. It was just too obvious. (UPDATE: On Thursday night, the NBA announced Wade would be suspended for one game without pay because of the incident -- that doesn't really help the Bobcats, though).

2. LeBron James (the subject of my Thursday column) was just so darn good one day after basically beating Oklahoma City by himself on Christmas Day. James had four dunks and four steals in the first quarter alone and ended up with 27 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. But he was still mad about a late three he took in the game that dropped his shooting percentage below 50 percent. He declined comment on whether he thought Gerald Henderson's hard foul on an attempted dunk was a cheap shot, but some of his teammates sure thought so.

3. Buried on the bench for weeks, Hakim Warrick (18 points, nine rebounds) absolutely has to play more for Charlotte.

4. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra really likes Kemba Walker (who had 27 points, six rebounds and six assists). "When Walker is hitting threes like that, he's a tough cover," Spoelstra said (Walker was 4-for-8 on three-pointers). "He's an interesting player. He's built with such a low center of gravity. Great handle. Great change of direction. Deceptiveness. He's a tough guy to corral. He's got a very bright future ahead of him. He's quick, can play 40-plus minutes and it never looks like he's tired. So it was a challenge to keep him out of the paint and when he starts knocking down threes, that makes him equally as tough."

5. The learning process continues for rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had four fouls and only two field goals in 22 minutes.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Panthers-Raiders -- some pregame notes and a prediction

Ron Rivera has a lot to lose Sunday.

Think about it. The Panthers (5-9) close the season at New Orleans, a team that is suddenly hot again and particularly good at home. If the Panthers win that one, it's a bonus. They won't be expected to, even though they beat the Saints at home earlier this year.

But this one? This one against Oakland (4-10) they should win, and that's what makes it dangerous. Throw in a clunker against the Raiders, and the "Give Rivera One More Season" bandwagon (of which I'm a charter member, as I wrote this week) throws a rod. A loss to Oakland makes it look like the Panthers just aren't consistent enough to deserve much continuity.

What Oakland did to Kansas City -- a 15-0 win last week -- was what the Panthers should also have done to the Chiefs. I know the Chiefs were in an emotional state, but there's still no excuse to make Brady Quinn look like Tom Brady. That's the one jarring note in this "3-wins-in-4-games" thing for the Panthers.

Losing to Oakland at home would be very similar to losing to the Chiefs on the road. You would send fans out grumbling in the pre-Christmas chill, angry about all the money they spent on an inferior product.

So win a third straight game and Rivera can cite all sorts of reasons why he should be kept on if he has to justify himself to owner Jerry Richardson and/or the new general manager before the final decision is made. Lose, though, and that list shrinks considerably.

-- One nice part about Sunday's game if you're watching on TV: It's a rare chance to hear Steve Beuerlein on TV. Beuerlein, the former Panther quarterback, is smooth on the air but works for CBS, and I'm usually watching or listening to Fox announcers since the Panthers play in the NFC. In a three-hour telecast, do you think they will work in at least one reference to the famous Beuerlein draw play at Green Bay?

-- The last time Oakland and Carolina played was four years ago in California, and Jake Delhomme had perhaps the worst game a Panther quarterback has ever had in a victory. He was 7-for-27 for 72 yards, one TD, four interceptions and a pass rating of 12.3. The Panthers still won 17-6 behind a defense keyed by Julius Peppers.

-- I think the Panthers will win their third straight game Sunday. I missed their upset against San Diego last week, falling to a horrid 6-8 on gameday predictions for Carolina. My pick Sunday: Carolina 32, Oakland 19.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Perturbed Panther fans Part 2

If you didn't see the full-page advertisement in Monday's Charlotte Observer sports section that was very critical of team owner Jerry Richardson and coach Ron Rivera, you can see the original story about that ad right here.

The ad inspired a lot of debate on both sides. Incidentally, I wrote in today's newspaper that I believe Rivera should be given one more year by Richardson, but that he should be fired following the 2013 season if he doesn't make the playoffs.

Some have praised the ad for its bluntness. Some have criticized it for its anonymous nature. Today, I received the following email from the "Perturbed Panther" fans who wrote the original ad (so they say), and I am reprinting their email on this blog in full without additional comments so you can judge it for yourself. Feel free to leave your own comments about their email below.


I've been asked to contact the Observer on behalf of a large number of Panther fans (many not PSL owners) regarding the reaction to the open letter to Mr. Richardson that was in yesterday's paper.

It seems some media outlets are more interested in the names of the many dissatisfied and demoralized fans in Panther land, or the cost of the ad itself, rather than in the heart and soul of our message.

First, this is not about whining, money, different classes of fans or anything personal between us and Jerry Richardson or Ron Rivera. Both seem like nice gentlemen, but we don't know them personally and that is not the point.

What this is simply about is unacceptable RESULTS and the extreme frustration felt by so many of us by the failure of Mr. Richardson, or to some respect, many of Charlotte's media outlets, to address this perennial dilema openly, honestly and thoroughly. We fans are happy to pay for entertainment and know there will be up and down years in any professional sports franchises history but the Panthers' results are borderline embarassing and we think we fans and the Carolinas deserve a better effort instead of that old bromide about repeating the same thing year-after-year and expecting better results.

At the end of the day, four winning seasons (and none consecutively) in 18 years is indisputable and kind of says it all. This record, by definition, simply cannot be reflective of effective ownership/management of this or any professional franchise. Then we wonder why a former highly competitive professional athlete and successful businessman would tolerate repeated mediocrity or embarassment. The only answer we can come up with is money. If personal net worth is going up tens of millions of dollars a year, human nature suggests it is awfully difficult to get too upset about the core endeavor that is generating such wealth. Put another way, if the Panthers performance on the field were generating out-of-pocket losses each year, would Mr. Richardson's sense of urgency and efforts to turn things around be as understated?

Scott, the NFL "business trade" is simple: Community gets behind wealthy owner(s) to get franchise established; Once franchise granted,owner virtually guaranteed escalating wealth by the league and parity provisions; Community receives direct and indirect economic stimulation; Fans pay up for right to be entertained and engender pride in franchise and greater community; Team performs at level adequate to sustain the preceeding benefits at highest levels.

The only element of the trade here in Charlotte that has not been delivered is the last one, which happens to be the only "pay back" for us fans. When critics of our letter say we're a bunch of whiners who, if we don't like how things are going, should sell our licenses and/or tickets, our response is: WE DON'T WANT TO QUIT! WE LOVE OUR TEAM AND OUR COMMUNITY! WE WANT THIS OWNERSHIP TO WAKE UP AND DELIVER ON THEIR END OF THE BARGAIN! That is the point we are trying to deliver to the media and Mr. Richardson. Who are we? We are the heart and soul of the Panthers; their most loyal (and demoralized) fans.

We have taken the time and chipped in some money to go public with our views and open the fact-based discussion. We get criticized for speaking our mind and remaining anonymous. Everyone knows who Mr. Richardson is but,with rare exception, he chooses to stay silent. Which do you think is worse.

You guys in the media take the torch from here. Pressure Mr. Richardson to lay-out a specific and plausible turn-around plan. We have done our part and hope you will help get this ownership to deliver on theirs.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Panthers whip San Diego 31-7 -- doesn't it make you a little frustrated??

Doesn't it make you kind of frustrated? Doesn't it annoy you a little that the Carolina Panthers have chosen this time of year to play their best football?

The Panthers continue to play their best when it matters the least, whipping San Diego, 31-7, on the road Sunday.

That win, combined with the 30-20 stomping that the Panthers gave an Atlanta team that is now 12-2 last week in Charlotte, means the Panthers are 5-9 and have won consecutive games for the first time all season. (I covered the Atlanta game in person but watched the San Diego one from my couch -- check The Observer for great coverage from our three writers who attended the game).

Normally, December would be a great month to be playing great. But the Panthers started so horribly that by the time they lost a road game to woeful Kansas City on Dec.2nd, the rest of the season became largely irrelevant.

Well, it is relevant in one big way, in that some jobs are going to be saved around here because of it. Whether head coach Ron Rivera's is among them remains to be seen, but certainly the Panthers aren't going to undergo quite as dramatic a turnover in personnel as they would had they closed out the season, say, 3-13.

Instead, the Panthers (5-9) will end up somewhere between 7-9 and 5-11. Still a losing record, but not quite as dark a season as it once appeared.

But as Rivera said last week following the Atlanta game in a quote that could go for this San Diego game as well: "This shows exactly what we are capable of. That's the sad part."

Cam Newton has now thrown more than 150 passes in a row without an interception, breaking a team record (he hasn't had a pickoff in five games). Newton had two TD passes Sunday but left most of the running to the backs after coming up gimpy early on a big hit, including Mike Tolbert (two rushing TDs) and DeAngelo Williams Newton finished the game but obviously wasn't as mobile as usual.

It didn't matter because the Panthers' offensive line was superb and so was Carolina's defense. It made San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers look awkward and average, as he fumbled four times and was sacked six times. The Panthers were up 21-0 after the first quarter and 24-0 at halftime and basically coasted in from there.

So Rivera made his former boss, Norv Turner, more likely to get fired after his Chargers dropped to 5-9. And he made himself a little more likely to be retained with a Panther team that once again will be left to ponder, when this season concludes Dec.30th in New Orleans, what might have been.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Carolina-San Diego prediction and some pregame notes

Sunday will be a difficult day for both Ron Rivera and Norv Turner. Both are in danger of getting fired in a matter of weeks -- and whichever man loses this Carolina-San Diego matchup is probably in even more danger.

Rivera served as defensive coordinator under Turner at San Diego from 2008-10, and he now employs Turner's son Scott on his own staff. Rivera and Turner remain close friends, and Rivera has had something of a San Diego-to-Carolina player pipeline during his two years in Charlotte (it has produced only mixed results).

The record similarities (4-9 for Carolina, 5-8 for San Diego) are obvious for two teams that were supposed to be playoff contenders. What's also unusual is that each team might have played its best game of the year last week (Carolina beating Atlanta and San Diego beating Pittsburgh).

Turner's biggest problem this season has been with the NFC South. The Chargers are 5-5 against the AFC, but have gone 0-3 against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans. Rivera's biggest problem has been an uncanny ability to lose games decided by seven points or less (the Panthers are 0-7 in those games).

It's possible that both men will be gone no matter what happens Sunday, of course. But either way, it's not going to easy for either one of them.

-- Although the Chargers will give up some points, their defense is very opportunistic. The Chargers have seven defensive scores this season, tied with Chicago for the most in the NFL.

-- The last time the Panthers played in San Diego was the opening game of the 2008 season, when Jake Delhomme threw an end-zone dart to tight end Dante Rosario as time expired for a 26-24 win that began Carolina's last playoff season. Do you know who Rosario plays for now? The Chargers.

-- Philip Rivers does a lot of things well, but one that the former N.C. State quarterback doesn't get enough credit for is simply showing up every week. Rivers will start his 110th straight game against Carolina -- the second-longest starting streak among active quarterbacks (the New York Giants' Eli Manning is at 132). Carolina's Cam Newton (who will make his 30th straight start Sunday) would need to start every Panther game until late in the 2017 season to get to 110.

-- Don't put much stock in my prediction (I can hear you saying, 'Don't worry, we won't.') This has been one of the hardest Panther teams to predict week to week, and I missed them again last week when they upset Atlanta. My record on the year picking Carolina: 6-7. My pick Sunday: San Diego 33, Carolina 27.

NFL playoffs should expand from 12 to 14 teams

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is again thinking about trying to push through an NFL playoff expansion, and I think it's a good idea.

"Right now we're with 12 teams obviously," Goodell said Wednesday in Dallas at an NFL meeting. "We'll look at probably 14 or 16 teams."

Now this idea has been run up the flagpole before in the NFL's competition committee, but to no avail. (Instead, dumb things like moving the kickoff up from the 30 to the 35-yard line have passed -- go figure).

But to me, 14 teams would be a fine expansion of the playoffs starting as early as the 2013 season. Sixteen is too many -- that's half the league and makes it seem too much like the NBA (which includes 16 of 30 teams in its playoffs).

With 14, you still have the first-round "you get a bye" incentive for the No.1 team in both the NFC and AFC. And everyone else has to play in the first round. More teams are involved in the postseason chase in December (and, of course, the NFL and TV networks are happy, because two extra playoff games bring in more money).

Some folks will argue that there are too many mediocre teams getting in the playoffs already, but that's usually because an 8-8 team winds up winning a division somewhere. That's going to happen with 12 or 14 teams, because the divisions aren't going to change and with eight division champs in a 32-team league, one is often going to have a fairly mediocre record.

But if you look at the No.6 seeds in each conference that have won the Super Bowl in recent years -- the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers have both won from that "last team in" spot -- you realize that pro football really is an "Any Given Sunday" sort of sport. A team that is hot at the end of a season can totally run the table.

Giving a No.7 wildcard seed to one more 9-7 or 8-8 team strikes me as a fair thing to do, because that team frequently will be able of pulling a first-round upset. For all you NFL traditionalists, remember that the league once had 14-game regular seasons, eight-team playoffs instead of the current 12 and no overtime at all except for the playoffs -- and tweaks to all of those items worked out OK.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King, however, hates this idea. And I like and respect Peter as one of the best writers and reporters in the NFL business. Part of one of King's tweets on the subject read: "I absolutely, positively oppose watering down the playoffs. Foolish, foolish idea."

On a side note: This isn't part of my reasoning on this, but such a move would undeniably help out a team like Carolina (although not this season). The Panthers will have missed the playoffs 14 times in their 18 seasons by the time the 2012 season concludes, several times by just a hair.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

David Thompson auction results are now final

This ring, which David Thompson received after N.C. State won the 1974 national basketball championship, sold for more than $44,000. (Photo courtesy of SCP Auctions)

N.C. State basketball legend David Thompson netted about $164,000 recently by auctioning off a lot of the basketball memorabilia he had collected over his hall of fame career.

I wrote originally about this in late November. In our interview for that story, the 58-year-old Thompson said he was selling some (but not all) of the stuff he collected through his dazzling basketball career because that while he “isn’t broke by any means” that he wasn’t particularly nostalgic and that most of his memorabilia was gathering dust.

And the money wouldn’t hurt, either, he acknowledged.

“Everybody needs money,” said Thompson, who makes his living these days with occasional motivational speeches and personal appearances. “Everybody has bills. A lot of the guys from my generation have done this, and I just felt like the time was right.”

A number of readers asked for me to follow up and publish the results of the auction once it closed. So here are the highlights:

Of the 49 items Thompson put up for sale through, a California-based company, 45 received the minimum bid and were sold. The only four that did not sell were all relatively minor trophies or plaques.

Six of Thompson’s items sold for in excess of $10,000 (that includes the 20 percent “buyers’ premium” that bidders had to pay to purchase any item and that went to SCP -- so DT actually received 80 percent of each price listed below). The six five-figure items were, in order of price:

1. His 1974 N.C. State national championship ring for $44,427.

2. His 1996 hall of fame induction trophy for $27, 971.

3. The game net from the 1974 N.C. State-Marquette national championship game for $17,365.

4. His 1976 ABA all-star basketball signed by numerous ABA greats for $13,045.

5. His hall of fame circular bust for $10,237.

6. The Crest (N.C.) high school jersey (pictured below) that he wore for three straight years for $10,038.

Thompson was not a national headline-grabber in the November auction, which featured about 2,000 items altogether from various sports greats. Ozzie Smith’s 13 Gold Glove awards from 1980-92 – sold in a group – went for a whopping $519,203. Babe Ruth’s 1922 team sweater went for $250,642. Oscar Robertson’s 1963-64 NBA MVP award sold for $177,632 and Paul Hornung’s Heisman Trophy sold for $173,102.

It is unclear who bought what, because the buyers in such auctions are granted anonymity unless they voluntarily come forward. Thompson said in our November interview he hoped some of the buyers would ultimately donate what they purchased to N.C. State’s newly established athletic hall of fame. He also said he planned to donate some of the money he earned from the sale to charity.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Worst free throw in the history of mankind shot by an App State player

On Saturday, Appalachian State center Brian Okam launched the free throw seen 'round the world.

His so-bad-it's-funny free throw has already gotten close to 4,000,000 views on YouTube, going viral in a spectacular way. The humor is helped by the announcers, who say: "Second free throw -- my goodness!"

And: "I'm not sure what that was. Good Lord!"

For background, Okam is a 7-foot-center from Nigeria who transferred from Rutgers and doesn't play much for 1-7 Appalachian State -- about 10 minutes per game. He has made 2-of-5 free throws this season. A free throw is 15 feet, and his attempt arched high and got maybe six feet. You've got to see it, really. It's also ironic that it was the second of two free throws, and he had made the first.

The Bobcats' Gana Diop still holds the unofficial record for worst free throw in a pro game. It's on YouTube too -- of course -- and has gotten around 1.8 million page views. But it's better than Okam's attempt -- Diop's probably is only five feet short of the rim. Check them both out and see what you think.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Panthers stun Falcons 30-20 in Charlotte

For one Sunday, the Carolina Panthers were just what Ryan Kalil once predicted them to be. (UPDATE: Here's my column on Cam Newton and that remarkable 72-yard TD run).

Strangely enough, the Panthers looked Super Bowl-worthy for three hours, never trailing and beating Atlanta, 30-20, at Bank of America Stadium on a day that began with a drizzle and ended in brilliant sunshine.

The Panthers are only 4-9 and going nowhere except home in the postseason, despite Kalil's preseason "We'll Win the Super Bowl" prediction in a full-page Observer advertisement in July. But they absolutely dismantled Atlanta (11-2 and already the NFC South champions for 2012) in the first half, then held on convincingly in the second when the Falcons tried to mount a comeback.

Five amazing things about this game:

1) The Panthers won the coin toss, and it seemed symbolic. It was the first time in 14 tries this season they had done so, as Atlanta called the toss incorrectly. Carolina then immediately took the opening kickoff and scored on a long drive.

2) The Panthers outgained Atlanta 270-35 in the first half and led 16-0 at halftime. It was uncanny -- especially the play of Carolina's defense.

3) Cam Newton's 72-yard TD run in the third quarter. On a zone read option play, Newton kept and raced through a huge hole. He looked like he might be stopped around the 20, but slowed down to allow Steve Smith to throw him a block and then did a front flip into the end zone. Yes, a front flip. It had to be one of Newton's best five NFL plays ever. Also, for the fourth straight game, Newton did not have a turnover of any type and became the first Panther QB ever to have a 100-yard rushing game.

4) Carolina kept the Falcons down just enough late. Remember, Carolina had led Atlanta 28-24 in the fourth quarter the first time these two teams met in late September, only to lose 30-28. This time the Panthers led 23-0 and kept the Falcons down just enough (helped by a diving Thomas Davis interception. Ron Rivera gave a game ball to Davis after the game, then broke down talking about it in his press conference afterwards). The Panthers actually made Greg Hardy -- the Panthers' defensive end who had said flatly on Wednesday that the Panthers were a better team than Atlanta -- look like a prophet.

5) DeAngelo Williams. Behind some great blocking on a screen pass (and a perfect call by the coaches), DeAngelo sealed the game with a 53-yard touchdown that put the Panthers up 30-13 and clinched the game with 4:11 to go. Then Williams did something else unusual -- when Newton came to get the football to give it to a fan in the end zone (as is Newton's custom on most Panther TDs) Williams wouldn't give it up. The two playfully wrestled for the ball for a moment, but DeAngelo kept both hands on it and took it to the sideline with him. Newton said afterward that those are "good arguments to have."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Panthers-Falcons prediction and some pregame notes

If the Carolina Panthers are ever going to get to where they compete regularly for the NFC South title, they are going to have to start owning Interstate 85 instead of paying the Falcons a toll every time they drive on it.

Although New Orleans won a Super Bowl with Drew Brees after the 2009 season, the Falcons have been the most consistent team in the division since head coach Mike Smith took over in 2008. This is Smith’s fifth season, and he is 54-22. That’s ridiculously good. Ron Rivera, by comparison, is 9-19.

The Falcons have also beaten Carolina five times in a row.

The Falcons (11-1) have a collection of great skill players and enough good players everywhere else that they are in every game and win most of them. The only real blot on their team’s resume is the lack of a Super Bowl win. And it might happen this year.

I thought Carolina (3-9) actually outplayed the Falcons back on Sept.30 in the Georgia Dome, but Atlanta made the plays at the end to win. That game was a huge part of each team’s season, sending them in far different directions.

-- Atlanta will be quite a test for Cam Newton, who hasn’t committed a turnover in any of the past three games and has actually raised his quarterback rating to slightly above the level that it was during his rookie year of 2011. The Falcons intercepted Brees five times last week.

-- Newton said something interesting this week when I asked him how the team will find motivation the rest of the season. “First, personally, nothing’s in stone right now,” Newton said. “We know what’s going on in this franchise, and we know that the head of the franchise [Panther owner Jerry Richardson] is in search of the formula to win. With people knowing that, you better start putting something successful on film, personally, or the hourglass will be cut short for a lot of people. Nothing’s safe -- not even myself.”

-- Matt Ryan threw the ball 40 times the first time the two teams played. Michael Turner – who almost always creams the Panthers – only had 13 carries. Turner gained 103 yards on those carries, and if I’m the Falcons, I’d feed it to him at least 20 times Sunday. That would also help Ryan stay off the ground – the Panthers sacked him seven times in September.

-- The Panthers have lost 13 straight coin tosses this season (12 for the opening kickoff, one in overtime). The odds of losing 14 straight coin tosses are 1 in 16,384.

-- After incorrectly picking the Panthers to beat Kansas City a week ago, I’m no better than a coin flip myself on their games, with a 6-6 record. My prediction for Sunday: Atlanta 24, Carolina 21.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cam says no Panther job is safe -- not even his

Panther quarterback Cam Newton knows that there are a lot of people playing and coaching for their jobs in this 3-9 Carolina organization right now. He even considers himself to be one of them.

When I asked Newton during his press conference Wednesday how he and the team will find motivation for the final month of another largely irrelevant season, the quarterback said: “First, personally, nothing’s in stone right now. We know what’s going on in this franchise, and we know that the head of the franchise [Panther owner Jerry Richardson] is in search of the formula to win.”

Newton continued that theme by noting that the final month of the season will be heavily evaluated by whomever is doing the judging at that point (it’s unclear whether Rivera will be fired or not, but the team certainly will have a new GM).

Said Newton: “With people knowing that, you better start putting something successful on film, personally, or the hourglass will be cut short for a lot of people. Nothing’s safe -- not even myself.”

Newton is actually as safe a bet as there is to return for Carolina in 2013, when he will enter Year Three of his original four-year rookie contract (with a club option for a fifth that will certainly be exercised). Somewhat lost in the debris of this 3-9 season is the fact that it’s been three games since Newton has committed a single turnover of any type.

The Panthers’ quarterback has had one of the best trio of games of his brief NFL career, throwing for six touchdowns and zero interceptions and running for two more TDs in the last three contests. Still, the Panthers have only gone 1-2 in those games.

His point about the roster churn is very valid. It’s generally accepted in the NFL that about 30-40 percent of a team’s roster changes over every season. But Sports Illustrated’s Peter King noted in a recent story on the Indianapolis Colts – who have been one of the biggest success stories of the 2012 NFL season – that the Colts’ overall roster is actually 69 percent different than it was in 2011.

Newton had a key fumble in the Panthers’ 30-28 loss at Atlanta on Sept.30 – a defeat Ron Rivera said Wednesday that Newton took very personally. Because Newton is from Atlanta and was a Falcons fan growing up, he places particular importance on beating the Falcons (11-1).

“It’s a rivalry game,” Newton said. “…. With me being from Atlanta, it’s even a more added dimension to the game. I want to win this game.”

Time to change back to Charlotte Hornets now that New Orleans will become the Pelicans

Now that the New Orleans Hornets are expected to become the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s time to solve the Charlotte Bobcats’ own name issues.

The simplest solution is the best: The Bobcats need to rebrand themselves as the Charlotte Hornets.

Michael Jordan told The Observer in a group interview I was part of a month ago that he would consider changing the nickname if and when the New Orleans franchise gave up the “Hornets” nickname.

“It's definitely an interest down the road, but right now it's the New Orleans Hornets," Jordan told us. "We would definitely entertain the opportunity. That's as much as we can say right now. We've heard the community ask the question, and we would listen.”

“Down the road” is apparently here, according to a Yahoo Sports report that cites numerous sources in saying that New Orleans will rebrand itself as the Pelicans, perhaps as early as the 2013-14 NBA season. The team has planned to change its nickname ever since New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson bought the team earlier this year. The report isn't official yet, but no one has stepped forward to deny it from New Orleans.

The Bobcats were named in part for previous owner Bob Johnson, who was widely unpopular in Charlotte. Although Jordan was once Johnson’s minority partner before buying the team from him, I don’t think MJ likes the nickname at all. He often refers to the team as the “Cats” in conversation, dropping the “Bob” entirely. And “Bobcats” has always sounded like the name of a middle-school basketball team to me, one whose varsity was named the “Tigers” or something more ferocious.

So here’s a chance to remind people of the glory days of NBA basketball in Charlotte. The name was so deeply embedded in the culture that even now people accidentally call the Bobcats the Hornets, and it’s been a decade since the Charlotte Hornets existed.

So why fight it? Embrace the change. Become the “Charlotte Hornets” once more. Sure, it will cost several million to do this, but it will be money well spent and the new Charlotte Hornets will eventually make it up via jersey and memorabilia sales. This makes sense from both a financial and an emotional standpoint. Bring back the buzz – let the Charlotte Hornets live once more.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How is it possible to blow an 18-point lead in 5 minutes? Bobcats show us how

How do you blow an 18-point lead in the last five minutes of an NBA game?

The Bobcats showed us all how Monday night, losing a 97-79 lead in regulation in the final five minutes and ultimately losing, 118-112 in overtime.

In those last five minutes, the Bobcats kept jacking up difficult shots and couldn’t get a single rebound. They never got to the foul line, while Portland did a lot by driving the ball, slowing the game down and then grabbing offensive rebounds on its (rare) misses.

It was remarkable, really, to see the Bobcats fritter it away in person. They did so much good work. Byron Mullens slammed home the most spectacular dunk of his NBA career – a vicious one-hander from the free-throw line to posterize LaMarcus Aldridge. If you saw it, you won’t soon forget it. Ben Gordon had a rare four-point play as part of his 29 points. Walker scored more points in the first half (17) than his season average (16.3).

And still, the Bobcats messed it up.

The defeat also means that the unfettered feel-good era of these 2012-13 Bobcats is over. It lasted a month, which was enough time for the Bobcats to win as many games as they did all of last season.

But now reality has intruded. Once 7-5, the Bobcats are now 7-9 with two more likely home losses on tap for this week (the New York Knicks and San Antonio) unless they start playing a lot better.

That 7-9 mark is still far better than 7-59 – their mark from a season ago that set a new NBA standard for futility. The Bobcats could lose 49 more games in a row and still not get there.

But even with all the new players in the rotation, these Bobcats aren’t a .500 team. They are destined to slip further below that line of demarcation as the season progresses. They are a young team that is all over the place, closing games like a champ on one night and giving up huge leads the next. Eighteen points in five minutes? That’s a hard lead to lose even if you were trying to lose it, and the Bobcats weren’t. But they also weren’t the same team – almost complacent until the last couple of minutes, when they got jittery.

“We got sort of calm once we got the big lead,” guard Ramon Sessions said, “instead of attacking like we did to get the lead in the first place.”

Kemba Walker said Portland “out-toughed” the Bobcats late, which sounds about right. Aldridge (25 points, 13 rebounds) was dominant on the glass, and the Bobcats were as fragile as glass, and in the end they got handed one of those losses that is going to sting for quite awhile.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lessons we (re)learned from Panthers' nasty loss to Kansas City

In case anyone needed a refresher course on how bad the Panthers can be after some of the false hope provided by Carolina's win over Philadelphia on "Monday Night Football," it came on Sunday in Kansas City.

The Chiefs -- who had lost eight games in a row, had the NFL's lowest-scoring offense and were 1-10 entering the game -- simply outplayed Carolina for a 27-21 victory.

Carolina (3-9) still hasn't won two games in a row all season.

Three things I saw over and over from my vantage point at home in front of the TV:

1) The Panthers never could bother Brady Quinn. He ate the defense up with one completion after another. They made Quinn, whose NFL career has mostly been one of disappointment and unrealized potential, look like Tom Brady. They even let him scramble for what was basically a game-ending first down on third-and-long. The Chiefs hadn't scored more than 16 points in their last seven games, but they had 17 at halftime. Cam Newton was pretty darn good in this game -- although he failed once again to lead a game-winning touchdown march at the end when he had time and a great chance on the Panthers' next-to-last possession. But Quinn was even more accurate. The Panthers' defensive secondary left much to be desired, as did the pass rush.

2) Ron Rivera was out-coached. The Chiefs took a huge gamble and made it work on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the final play of the first half, as Romeo Crennel skipped the sure field goal and went for a TD. The Chiefs also looked like the far more disciplined team, drawing far fewer penalties. Rivera, on the other hand, punted the ball back to Kansas City and relied on a defense having a bad day to stop the Chiefs on a three-and-out late in the game, which it couldn't do because of Quinn's scramble.

3) The Panthers really just aren't that good. Their offensive line has problems, as we know. But so do a lot of other places (wide receiver, secondary, D-line and on and on). This is not a team that looks to be "trending up," as Rivera said Jerry Richardson told him it needed to be to keep his job after this season. This looks more like a team that is legitimately a 3-9 team. Not a particularly unlucky team. Just a bad one.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Predicting Panthers to beat the Chiefs Sunday

Can you say two in a row?

The Panthers haven't won consecutive games all season, but they'll never have a better opportunity than Sunday when they go on the road to face the woeful Kansas City Chiefs.

While the Panthers (3-8) have had it bad this season, the Chiefs (1-10) have had it worse. Think of the 2010 version of the Panthers -- that 2-14 team whose offense couldn't score a TD if it got a turnover inside the opponents' 10 -- and you've got a good feel for the Chiefs.

Kansas City has lost eight in a row, and here are their point totals in the last seven of those games: 6, 10, 16, 13, 13, 6 and 9. They can run the ball decently and they can play defense sometimes, but that's about it. And their once-vaunted homefield advantage has slipped away -- Kansas City is 0-6 in Arrowhead Stadium this season.

The only way I see Kansas City winning is if Jamaal Charles rushes for more than 200 yards, which is how the Chiefs beat New Orleans earlier this year.

-- Weird Panther trivia question: Do you know what college is represented the most on the Panthers' roster? Answer below, just before my prediction.

-- I don't normally root for Panther players to perform well individually, but on Sunday I want one Panther to grab 111 yards or more worth of receptions. Why? Because the all-time Panther single-game reception yards leader in the very brief series with Kansas City is Rae Carruth, who had a 110-yard receiving game in 1997. I am always in favor of Carruth's terrible name being erased from Panther history, although the stain will never quite go away.

-- Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Cam Newton has 20 rushing touchdowns. That's better than everyone else in the NFL in that time period except Houston's Arian Foster (22). Still, Newton's rushing TD pace (six so far in 2012) is way off his QB record of 14 in 2011.

-- The trivia answer, according to the Panthers: Oregon State, with three players, is the most well-represented. They are Derek Anderson, James Dockery and Dwan Edwards.

-- I have finally edged over .500 on Panther predictions this season at 6-5 after getting the last three games in a row correct. Going for four straight with this one, which I don't think will be that close: Carolina 28, Kansas City 13.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

David Thompson is selling off a lot of his old basketball memorabilia

David Thompson's 1974 national title ring he won at N.C. State and his old high school jersey from Crest are two of the items he is auctioning off.Photos courtesy of SCP Auctions.

Legendary N.C. State basketball player David Thompson is selling a lot of his personal basketball memorabilia through an auction site (, including his 1974 N.C. State national championship ring and his old high school jersey.

The high bid on the championship ring is $9,746. The current high bid on the Crest high school jersey is $3,300. Among the other items in the 48-item “David Thompson Collection” is the net from the 1974 N.C. State-Maryland ACC final, considered one of the greatest games ever played (minimum bid of $750). Not everything is that expensive – a number of plaques Thompson received throughout his career have minimum bids of $200.

In an interview Wednesday, Thompson, 58, said he was selling some (but not all) of the stuff he collected through his Hall of Fame basketball career because that while he “isn’t broke by any means” that he wasn’t particularly nostalgic and that the money wouldn’t hurt, either.

“Everybody needs money,” said Thompson, who makes a living these days with motivational speaking and personal appearances. “Everybody has bills. A lot of the guys from my generation have done this, and I just felt like the time was right.”

Thompson said many of the items he put up for sale (alongside items from NBA hall of famers Oscar Robertson and Sam Jones) were gathering dust in his late parents’ family home outside of Shelby or in his own attic at his house in Charlotte. He said he planned to give some of the money he earns from the auction to charity, including an increase in his annual donation to The “V” Foundation for cancer research.

He is not selling everything. The auction house, which is located in California, asked him about his basketball hall of fame ring. But he refused to sell that as well as some mementoes from his ABA and NBA days.

Thompson said the N.C. State national championship ring was the “hardest” to give up, even though he had only worn it “once or twice” to reunions. His hope is that an N.C. State fan would buy the ring and ultimately donate it to the school’s newly-established athletic hall of fame.

More about Thompson, my interview with him and the auction will be in my Thursday sports column. The online auction itself closes on Saturday.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Panthers win 30-22 over Eagles thanks to Cam Newton and his 4 TDs

PHILADELPHIA -- Say what you want about Cam Newton, but he was the best player in the game Monday night.

Newton threw for two touchdowns, ran for two more and never turned the ball over in the Panthers’ 30-22 win over Philadelphia, as Carolina improved to 3-8 this season.

Newton 2.0 seemed a lot like Newton 1.0 Monday night, which was a good thing. The Eagles couldn’t get hold of him on critical third downs. He didn’t make every throw perfectly, but he completed passes of 55 and 43 yards and generally made the right decisions (he threw for 306 yards, with a QB rating of 125.0). He was back to “Superman,” in other words, dominating much of the evening before a national TV audience. Worth noting also: it was Newton's second straight game without a turnover.

-- The Eagles (3-8) were without their top quarterback (Michael Vick), their top running back (LeSean McCoy) and – for almost the entire game – their top wide receiver (DeSean Jackson). And still the Eagles hung in there. Carolina was fortunate to cause and recover three second-half fumbles that helped ensure the victory. And how about a game ball for Gary Barnidge -- the reserve tight end caught a 24-yard TD pass and recovered the Eagles' final fumble on a kickoff.

-- One of the most amazing stats of the season: The Panthers are now 0-for-12 on coin tosses (including an overtime coin toss they also lost). As the visitors, the Panthers get to call the opening toss on Sunday at Kansas City. I think the team should have an online “heads” or “tails” poll of fans on their website, have fans pay a quarter for each vote with all the money going to charity and let the winner be the Panthers’ call on Sunday.

-- The way the Panthers shuffle through placekickers, Graham Gano has to be on somewhat thin ice now after missing an extra point in the fourth quarter that would have iced the game (the Panthers then led by eight points, not nine). His kickoffs were generally good, though. He did make a 23-yard field goal.

-- Although Eagles fans are renowned for their loyalty – and their frequent booing – even that loyalty has some limits. The stands at Lincoln Financial Field probably included at least 10,000 empty seats.

-- Sherrod Martin dropped two potential interceptions on the same series – the Eagles’ first of the first quarter. If Martin makes either of those picks, I think rookie Nick Foles’ confidence would have eroded early. But Martin did cause that key fourth-quarter fumble on special teams.

-- The Eagles actually were offsides on three consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter – on defense. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.

-- Even in the Philadelphia pressbox, word spread of the Charlotte Bobcats’ astonishing 64-24 halftime deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s just a score you don’t see very often.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Picking the Panthers to edge the Eagles Monday night

Locally, this game will be kind of cool -- a rare chance to see the Carolina Panthers on "Monday Night Football."

Nationally, though -- what a clunker! You can imagine what NFL and TV executives were thinking when this one got put on prime time back in the spring -- two dynamic quarterbacks, two teams at least likely to be in the playoff hunt (or surely at least one would be) and the cacophony of noise that is always there in a night game in Philadelphia.

Well.... The noise will be there, although the Eagle fans are angry and liable to turn on their 3-7 team at any second. One of the quarterbacks will be there for sure in Cam Newton, although he has regressed in Year Two. Michael Vick may not play for Philadelphia, and even when he has he has been a turnover machine too often in 2012. And ain't nobody going to the playoffs -- with the Panthers at 2-8, the teams have only five wins between them. I don't envy Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico trying to make this one sound good for a national audience.

-- Head coaches Andy Reid and Ron Rivera worked together for years in Philadelphia (with Rivera coaching under Reid). Now they are in roughly similar situations, with both men's job security in question. Reid has even been speculated to be a possible successor to Rivera in Charlotte should both be fired at season's end.

-- When the Panthers played (and won) at Philadelphia in the 2003 NFC championship game, some players refused to even let their friends and families travel to the game. The reason? A well-founded fear of the nastiness that is prevalence at an Eagles home game, which is one place that you truly never want to be caught wearing a jersey for the opposing team.

-- While the Panthers' record is slightly worse than the Eagles, I actually think they are a slightly better team. At least the Panthers have led most of their losses in the fourth quarter. By that time the Eagles are often out of the game. My prediction: Carolina 20, Philadelphia 16.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Keep Rivera through the end of 2012 -- then make the decision

To fire Ron Rivera at this point of the season would serve no real purpose, other than to throw the Carolina Panthers into chaos and embarrass a good man.

Rivera believes that he will at least be allowed to coach the 2-8 Panthers' final six games, and if so, that's the right call.

The calls for Rivera's head grow among the fan base, which is understandable. Carolina is 8-18 in his two-year tenure and 1-11 in games decided by seven or fewer points. The Panthers blew an 11-point lead in the final six minutes to lose at home against Tampa Bay. They have mastered the art of coming from ahead to lose.

An unofficial poll on The Observer's website asked whether Rivera would still be the coach on Monday night after the Panthers' latest loss. Out of nearly 4,800 votes by 6 p.m., 54 percent said "No."

Rivera still was the coach as of Monday night, though. And while I can't say I would give him a vote of confidence to be the coach in 2013, he deserves to coach the rest of the 2012 season. Jerry Richardson has never fired a coach midseason, and there's no need to start doing that right now.

“I’m not concerned about me, I’m really not. I’m concerned about them,” Rivera said. “We have a group of coaches that I believe in 100 percent. I’ll be all right. No matter what happens I’ll be OK. Whether I’m here next year or not, I will be A-OK.

“I will go forward, I will make things happen whether it’s here or somewhere else. I will. I believe in who I am and I firmly do believe in my abilities as a coach."

Rivera doesn't have very long left to prove himself. Richardson, 76, has shown he is impatient for a turnaround by already firing general manager Marty Hurney in the middle of the season. Rivera may well be next, and he probably should be next unless the Panthers perform some miraculous turnaround. But he deserves to coach these final six games first.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bucs beat Panthers 27-21 in OT as Carolina blows 11-point lead in last 6 minutes

The Panthers snatched another defeat from victory’s jaws Sunday, blowing a 21-10 lead in the final six minutes and losing, 27-21, in overtime to Tampa Bay before a disconsolate home crowd. Here's my column, focusing on the uncanny ability of the Panthers to lose close games.

In a game with wild swings, Tampa Bay scored the game’s first 10 points, Carolina scored the next 21 and then the Bucs scored the final 17 – including a 15-yard pass from Josh Freeman to Dallas Clark on the first possession of overtime. Clark beat Carolina linebacker James Anderson on the play. Because the Bucs scored a TD, Carolina didn’t get a chance to possess the ball in OT, so the Panther defense ended up allowing 80-yard touchdown drives on the game’s final two possessions. In the postgame, quarterback Cam Newton called the Panthers' inability to finish games out "the story of our lives." Tight end Greg Olsen said that of all the close losses this year that this one "takes the cake." Defensive end Charles Johnson tweeted out that he was "embarrassed" by the loss. "Some people study and work harder than others and they get expose [sic]" read part of Johnson's tweet.

Carolina was seemingly in control late, when Cam Newton’s 29-yard pass to Brandon LaFell pushed the Panthers to a 21-10 lead with six minutes to go. The Bucs got a field goal to slice the lead to 21-13 and then – after the Panthers bled the clock awhile – Tampa Bay started its final drive with 62 seconds to go, zero timeouts and 80 yards to go.

But the Bucs went all the way down the field – helped by a 15-yard penalty on linebacker Thomas Davis for hitting a defenseless receiver in the head. Vincent Jackson burned the Panthers badly late, scoring on both a 24-yard touchdown and then on the ensuing two-point conversion.

The Panthers dropped to 2-8 on the season after leading for most of the game, and you have to think a loss like this will come back to haunt a lot of people at Bank of America Stadium at season’s end. Tampa Bay improved to 6-4.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Panthers-Bucs prediction and a few pregame notes

Once upon a time, the 2012 Carolina Panthers were considered a real possibility to make the NFL playoffs. They brimmed with optimism in training camp. Their Pro Bowl center took out a newspaper ad saying they would win the next Super Bowl.

And then Tampa happened.

On Sept.9th, the loss to Tampa Bay set the tone for this season -- and what a jarring tone it was. The Panthers had crushed Tampa Bay twice in 2011, but the season opener for both teams was a completely different story.

Carolina could only rush for 10 yards, foreshadowing what would be a season-long problem. DeAngelo Williams had minus-1 yard in six carries, which meant Jonathan Stewart (who didn't play) actually led his backfield mate in rushing after the first game.

Tampa Bay led 13-0 at halftime and won 16-10. The Panthers really have never quite recovered. At 2-7, they now reside in the cellar that was supposed to be the Bucs' home in 2012. Tampa Bay, at 5-4, has a shot at a wild card playoff berth.

-- Have you seen how many points the Bucs have been putting up? In going 4-1 over their past five games, they have scored at least 28 points in every single game. Luke Kuechly and company will have quite a struggle Sunday, particularly with rookie running back Doug Martin (862 rushing yards). Martin has been one of the best rookies in the NFL this season, and his yardage total is nearly as much as Cam Newton, Stewart and Williams combined (873).

-- Newton's arm will be the key to the Panthers' offense Sunday, not his legs. Tampa Bay gives up a ton of yardage through the air -- the Bucs are dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed (Newton had 303 in the first game). With the attention Tampa Bay always pays to Steve Smith, this could be a Sunday where Brandon LaFell comes up big.

-- With the Panthers fumbling through another season and the holidays around the corner, I expect Sunday's crowd will be somewhat down. But the game that really might end Carolina' 101-game sellout streak comes Dec.23rd, when the Panthers host the Oakland Raiders two days before Christmas.

-- The Panthers have played seven close games this year and only been blown out twice (to each of the Manning brothers). I foresee another close game Sunday -- I am only 4-5 on Panther predictions this season after getting the Denver game right last week. My prediction: Tampa Bay 26, Carolina 22.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kemba, Cam going in separate directions in Year 2

Charlotte guard Kemba Walker used a wicked crossover move to get open for a 19-footer Wednesday night, then swished it to win the Bobcats their third straight game, 89-87, on the road over Minnesota.

The Bobcats are now 4-3. The other young star in Charlotte -- Carolina's Cam Newton -- quarterbacks a team that is 2-7.

It's interesting how Kemba and Cam have gone in two separate directions in Year 2. They were very different in Year 1 -- Cam was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year and had what I still consider the best rookie year by any player ever (Lawrence Taylor would have an argument, few others would).

Kemba, meanwhile, was shooting a nasty 36.6 percent for the 7-59 Bobcats. So he was at rock bottom and Cam was high on the mountain in Year One in Charlotte. In some ways, it is natural they have both moved toward each other in Year Two.

Now Kemba has far more help than he did a year ago. Cam has less (have you checked out his offensive line lately?) Kemba has more confidence. Cam has less. Kemba is making the big shots he mostly missed a season ago. Cam just isn't quite getting it done, especially in the fourth quarters of games.

Cam can still be great -- although right now he's an average NFL quarterback, as I wrote earlier this week. The cool thing, though, is that Kemba now looks like he can be great, too. And if both these young players stick around Charlotte for the next 5-10 years, it will be very interesting to watch their development.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Heads keep rolling at Bank of America Stadium as Panthers fire special-teams coach

The heads continue to roll at Bank of America Stadium -- Panthers head coach Ron Rivera fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy Monday. He has replaced Murphy with Richard Rodgers, a college teammate of Rivera's at California who he had brought in as the special teams assistant for 2012. Here's my column about the firing and what it means for Tuesday's newspaper.

Murphy's coverage teams allowed a 76-yard punt return touchdown in Denver's 36-14 whipping of Carolina on Sunday. It also got a missed field goal from Justin Medlock and, as usual, nothing good from its own kick and punt coverage teams.

By doing this in midseason, we get another indication of how serious Rivera's own situation is. General manager Marty Hurney has already been fired -- team owner Jerry Richardson issued that pink slip -- and Rivera and his staff are also coaching for their jobs over the final seven games of the season.

So was this a good move? I think so. Murphy's special teams have mostly underperformed for the past year and a half. Rivera characterized the move as necessary because of "philosophical differences" and a lack of production from the special teams. He's got to try something, and of the three chief Panther assistants (the offensive and defensive coordinators being the other two), Murphy has shown the least when you look at the entire history of all the coaches' 25-game tenure.

Of course, no one has shown too much -- the Panthers are 8-17 under Rivera and this staff, which is why all of them have a tenuous hold on their jobs. But if you were going to shake things up, as Rivera obviously thinks he needs to, Murphy was the likely choice to go.

Now what about Rodgers? Well, he shares a name with the American composer who co-wrote Oklahoma, South Pacific and The Sound of Music. But he's not that guy. This is the Richard Rodgers who was part of the five-lateral affair called "The Play" that beat Stanford in 1982. This is his first year in the NFL, so there's really no telling how he will do.

One thing it sounds like is going to happen, though: Joe Adams is going to start returning kicks again before long. Adams got in Rivera's doghouse because he fumbled three times this season, but the Panthers are getting so little out of their punt and kickoff returns that they've got to try something. Rivera said Adams would be getting an opportunity before long.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Panthers take a 36-14 beating from Denver

Carolina fans got to be happy Sunday for almost one whole quarter. The Panthers scored the second time they got the ball, the defense held the Broncos to no points on their first two possessions and it was 7-0, Carolina, late in the first period.

From there, though, it was all downhill. (Here's my column about the game, on the scary thought that Cam Newton has become an average NFL quarterback). The Broncos scored 29 straight points before the Panthers finally got on the board again late in the fourth quarter, thumping Carolina, 36-14, in Denver head coach John Fox's return to Charlotte. By the end, more than half the fans in a mostly empty stadium wore Denver orange.

Four reasons the Panthers (2-7) lost so badly:

1) Offensive third-down conversions. The Panthers were 0-for-19 on third downs. I mean, really? After that one TD drive early -- when they didn't even need a third down to score -- they couldn't sustain a thing.

2) Awful special teams. The Panthers had improved in this area for much of 2012, but reverted to their 2011 ways in this game. Denver's Trindon Holliday, the shortest player in the NFL at 5-foot-5, took a punt back 76 yards for a score in the second quarter. Justin Medlock also missed a 43-yard field goal that would have cut the Broncos' lead to 17-10. (Note: Holliday did throw the ball out of bounds before crossing the plane of the goal line, though, so that TD technically should have been overturned.)

3) Peyton Manning. In only his second game ever in Charlotte, Manning was pretty much just what you would expect. At one point, he was 13-for-14 and the only incompletion was a drop. He did lose a fumble, but in general his errors weren't bad ones and his throws, while occasionally fluttery, almost always were perfect. He threw for 301 yards, one TD and no interceptions.

4) Cam Newton and his offensive line. Can't put this all on Newton, because he got hit over and over as the Panthers' offensive line was simply overwhelmed -- especially by Broncos linebacker Von Miller. But Newton's throw while under heavy pressure that got picked off by Tony Carter and returned 40 yards for a TD was the game's back-breaker, and he overthrew Steve Smith several times. And Newton just kept holding and holding and holding the ball. Newton also took a fourth-quarter safety on the Broncos' seventh -- yes, their seventh -- sack.

At least the towel Newton covered his head in on the sidelines was cool -- camouflage color, in honor of Veterans Day. (Steve Smith later used one of those towels to cover his head while the Panthers were driving for their late fourth-quarter score while the rest of the Panther first-teamers were still on the field -- Ron Rivera said later he asked for Smith to be pulled because he wanted to let the young guys play some, but that it wasn't a "performance issue." Smith would not talk to reporters after the game.

On the plus side: It was a beautiful day. Panther owner Jerry Richardson released a statement more or less discounting reports that he might move the team to Los Angeles. Greg Olsen caught two TD passes. And the Panthers' defense actually played pretty well.

The Panthers' defense, in fact, only allowed 20 points -- the other 16 came from the Broncos' return scores on the punt and interception and the safety. But the Panthers' offense was so inept when it mattered that this bird never had a chance to fly.

Geez, the Bobcats are better than they were last season

It was only one victory over Dallas and both Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion were out for the Mavericks. But the Charlotte Bobcats' 101-97 overtime victory over the Mavericks Saturday night still was quite a sign as to how far they've come from that horrid 23-game loss streak that ended last season.

This was the Bobcats' second victory, both of them at home. This one also came over the only NBA team the Bobcats had never beaten. I was in the stands, watching with my son and one of his buddies, which was a nice place to be. I wasn't working the game for the newspaper, but thought I'd weigh in anyway with a bonus blog since it was so good. Five quick impressions:

1) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (25 points, 12 rebounds) looked like a major player against the Mavericks. This was exactly what the Bobcats (2-3) hoped he would be when they drafted him No.2 this summer -- a little bit of everything. Michael Jordan compared MKG to Scottie Pippen in The Observer's recent interview with MJ -- on this night, it didn't seem quite as farfetched.

2) I thought I was dreaming, but it was reality: Gana Diop actually played in the third quarter and had a block and a steal on consecutive possessions.

3) Kemba Walker (26 points, eight steals) has taken a major leap in Year Two. His quickness can be stunning. Either he or MKG were involved in just about every key play for Charlotte. And Walker is getting so much better at working himself free and then hitting the mid-range jumper.

4) Dallas's Vince Carter got in Brendan Haywood's face after the game ended, as Haywood tried to keep Carter away from the Bobcats' bench. Looked like it could have gotten ugly for about 30 seconds, but the two former Tar Heels ultimately kept it (mostly) a verbal altercation except for some light shoving. Carter was furious about something, though.

5) The Bobcats' recovery in the final 25 seconds of regulation was quite a feat. Down four with 25 seconds left, they got a dunk by Haywood, a missed free throw, a rebound and finally a driving layup by Ramon Sessions (who has been a very good closer so far) to tie it. After that, winning the OT was comparatively easy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Longtime Panther fan who sells tickets because of team's inferior play ignites firestorm

The comments of longtime PSL holder Todd Pedersen have ignited quite a debate among Panther fans. Pedersen, in this column I wrote for Friday's newspaper, routinely sells his Panther tickets and makes no apologies for doing so. They often end up in the hands of fans of the other team. He said it's his way of recouping some of his investment in the PSLs and boycotting the inferior product the Panthers have put on the field since 2010 (they are 10-30 in that time frame, the NFL's worst record).

Well, that column started a firestorm. Presented here, without names attached except for one prominent Panther fan most people would know in the final comment, are some excerpts from the comments that the story has gotten and emails I've received:

-- Todd Pedersen -- RIGHT ON!!!!!! My wife and I are PSL holders from the team's inception, and his comments express my sentiments perfectly.

-- He's no FAN. He's a sell-out, bandwagon rider, and proud of it. Pathetic.

-- When the Packers didn't win for decades, they still had loyal fans. Just sell your tickets and quit dogging on your team in public. You're an embarrassment to yourself and the city.

-- I am a displaced Panther Fan, I get DirecTV so I can watch the games from Eglin AFB, FL. My whole family is driving up (11 hrs) for the long Veteran's Day weekend so we can go to the Panther Game and support our team....and this is the guy you choose to profile?

-- I absolutely agree with Mr. Pedersen. I grew up a N.Y. Giants football fan. Knowing how difficult it was to get Giants tickets, I purchased six PSLs. Unfortunately, I still have them. For the last three years I have sold the whole season.

-- When I read the first few paragraphs, I was ready to fry this guy! But having read the article all the way through, I (also a Clemson SC/Year 1 Vet and having only missed about 7 games since Day 1) can't blame him. Understand his frustration completely. And he offered up his name.

-- I sold about half of my tickets this year mainly for economic reasons. All but one game I sold to friends at face value who I know are Panther fans. I did sell my Cowboys tickets online and not sure who bought them, but expect it was a Cowboys fan as they are the only ones stupid enough to pay $300 for (2) $41 tickets. That $218 profit helped me to be able to go to the games that I did.

--You don't QUIT as a fan because of losing; his family doesn't quit on him, when he doesn't sell his wares consistently! I challenge the guy to sit with me at a game next year so that I can show him what he lacks!....... LOYALTY. -- Greg "Catman" Good

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Panthers-Broncos prediction and some pregame notes

Sunday is a special day for the NFL in Charlotte, but not because John Fox is coming back to Carolina to coach the Denver Broncos.

We've seen Fox coach before -- nine years worth of him. He will be working the gum, listening to the the headset, slapping some hands, making a few smart and a few very conservative decisions and saying "It is what it is" in his postgame press conference. No big deal.

But Peyton Manning in Charlotte? Now that's something different. Even though Manning has been in the league since 1998, he has only played in Charlotte once. That was in 2007, when Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to a 31-7 rout of a Carolina team coached by Fox and quarterbacked by Vinny Testaverde and David Carr (i.e., the bad old days).

Manning also lost a game to the Panthers in 2003, when Carolina won on the road at Indianapolis in overtime during the Panthers' Super Bowl season under Fox.

Manning is one of those guys all NFL fans should feel slightly richer for having seen in person. So if you've got a ticket for Sunday, consider yourself lucky no matter the outcome. There's no guarantee Manning, 36, will ever play football in Charlotte again -- in fact, it's more likely that he won't.

** It's worth remembering that the Panthers once tried hard to trade for Manning. In 1998, before the draft, the Panthers offered Indianapolis and former Carolina general manager Bill Polian (then running the Colts) a slew of assets for the No.1 pick Indianapolis held. Those assets included quarterback Kerry Collins (a Polian favorite -- he had taken him in 1995 while at Carolina), wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and some high draft picks.

The Colts thought about it, but ultimately said no. Then they took Manning.

Oh, what might have been. Collins was allowed to quit the team only a few months later by Panther coach Dom Capers and Manning became the only man ever to be a four-time NFL MVP.

** If the Panthers plan to spring this upset, they better have a lead built up once the fourth quarter rolls around. Manning has thrown nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions this year in the fourth quarter, leading Denver to a 103-23 point advantage in the last 15 minutes. That's easily tops in the NFL (Carolina has been outscored 65-36 in the fourth period).

** Two really good young linebackers are in this game -- Denver's Von Miller and Carolina's Luke Kuechly. Miller makes more splashy plays -- he is tied for the NFL lead in tackles for loss -- but Kuechly has already established himself as one of the surest tacklers in the league.

** The Broncos aren't unbeatable, as their 5-3 record will attest. Carolina has been in every game but one this season, but the Panthers are 2-6 because they are 0-5 in games decided by seven points or less.

I don't think the Broncos will utterly dominate the Panthers, but it's hard to take Cam Newton over Manning in the fourth quarter at this point in their respective careers. My prediction: Denver 27, Carolina 21.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A story about Darrell Royal, who passed away Thursday

Legendary Texas football coach Darrell Royal died Thursday at age 88, which reminds me of a story.

When I was seven years old, I was a huge Longhorn football fan. Everyone was where I lived back then – my birthplace of Austin, Texas. Royal by then had won two national championships (in 1963 and 1969) at Texas and was, as you might expect, a virtual king in Austin.

Anyway, I wrote Royal a fan letter. I can’t remember much about it, except it included a couple of illustrations of Longhorns doing various great things with the football and maybe a play-calling suggestion or two (yes, I was trying to tell football coaches what to do back then, too).

And Royal wrote back.

I wish I had saved his letter, but I still have the memory. He had signed his letter, I do remember that, and it had my name at the top. And he had thanked me for my support of Texas football and my drawings (there was no mention of the play-calling, however).

It’s very possible a Texas football secretary had a standard letter to send out in such cases and put them in front of Royal by the dozens to sign every day. But in any case, it was powerful to me.

Those sorts of things too often get lost in athletics sometimes now – the power of a letter, or an autograph, or a player or coach taking a few moments to speak with someone who idolizes him. But if you ever had a moment like that yourself with an athlete or coach, I bet you still remember it (and feel free to share it in comments section below).

I wasn’t a big letter writer at age seven – I believe I only wrote two of them to sports figures. But the other one got answered, too. I’ve told this story before in a column from 10 years ago, but indulge me:

In 1972, I was also a big fan of the L.A. Lakers. Back then, I had written a letter to the coach of the 1971-72 Lakers NBA championship team – Bill Sharman.

Although I hadn’t asked for any autographs in that letter 30 years ago, Sharman had written back from California and enclosed a sheet with all of the team’s signatures – Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich among them. I loved that sheet of paper and stuck it on my bulletin board with thumbtacks. But a few years later, I lost it.

Fast-forward thirty years. Sharman’s son-in-law in Florida somehow saw my 2002 column about my original letter. He told Sharman -- who made basketball's hall of fame as both a player and a coach -- about it.

Sharman, who is now 86 years old and at the time was 76, dug through his files. He found a picture of that 1971-72 team and signed it. He found a copy of that original set of team autographs, which he Xeroxed for me.

Then Sharman stuffed all that in an envelope and sent it to me from California along with a note that concluded, “Thanks for bringing back some very nice, exciting memories!” I still have that one.

And I still have the memory of Darrell Royal, too – who originated the Wishbone, famously disdained the forward pass and once made the day of a seven-year-old boy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Panther Bests and Worsts at midseason -- what do you think?

I know everyone is a little busy with it being Election Day, so please VOTE before you read this.

OK, you're done? Good. I'm writing a column for Wednesday's newspaper and online with the working title of "Panther Bests & Worsts at Midseason." I'd like your help. I'm trying to pick out some of the most extreme moments, both good and bad, at the halfway point.

UPDATE: HERE'S THE COLUMN that resulted -- I did read closely everyone's comments who submitted something down below and they helped very much in making my final selections.

Some of the categories will be pretty straightforward, like: "Best Player." I'm leaning toward Charles Johnson there, although Luke Kuechly certainly deserves consideration. Other categories may include "Worst Single Play," "Best Single Play," "Worst Coaching Decision," "Worst Call by an Official For and Against the Panthers," "Worst Thing An Announcer Said on TV About the Panthers" and so on. They don't all have to be serious -- I plan to have some fun with this.

If you have any input on the categories and what you'd put in them, leave it in the comments section below. Also, feel free to make up your own category. If you post your comment before 4 p.m., I will be able to read it and take it into account before submitting this story and might even quote from it in my story. So let your voice be heard on Election Day -- twice -- and tell me what Panther moments, both good and bad, you remember most from the first eight games.

P.S. -- Also remember that I moderate my own comments below this blog. Anything goes as long as you don't use profanity (this is the No.1 reason when comments don't get posted) or you don't outright slander someone.

You absolutely don't have to agree with anything I write -- I've been a sportswriter for 25 years now, so I have a very thick skin. But since kids read this blog, too (it ranks as one of the 2-3 most popular blogs on the website), we're not going to have a bunch of cursing and name-calling on it. Thanks, Scott

Monday, November 5, 2012

What does Ron Rivera need to do in the second half of Panther season to save his job?

No one knows the answer to the question posed in the title of this blog except Panther team owner Jerry Richardson, and he’s not talking.

Rivera used the phrase “trend up” again Monday when I asked him what would be realistic for his 2-6 Carolina Panthers over the season’s final eight games.

“You want to win them all,” said Rivera, whose Panthers host Denver and former Carolina coach John Fox on Sunday. “You want to win as many as you can. What that number is I don’t know…. There’s a lot of people watching. We have to make sure they see we are trying to do things the right way. This game is about production. It’s a business of production.”

A 6-2 second half would show major progress and might save the jobs of Rivera and his staff. Anything less would mean a losing record for the 2012 season and could be the kiss of death.

At 2-6 after Sunday's impressive win at Washington, the Panthers would need to go 7-1 or 8-0 in the second half of the season to make a very unlikely playoff run. That is almost out of the realm of possibility, but not quite. Only two teams left on the Panthers’ schedule (Denver and Atlanta, both home games) have a winning record.

Interesting historical note: In 2004, the Panthers started 1-7. Then they went on a 6-1 tear and ultimately needed to only beat New Orleans at home in the final game of the season to sneak into the playoffs at 8-8. But they lost that one, finishing 7-9.

That season came under Fox, as did three of Carolina’s four playoff seasons and the Panthers’ only Super Bowl appearance. Until the last of his nine seasons, when the team imploded and went 2-14 in 2010, Fox was relatively popular in Charlotte.

Rivera was popular last year, too. But the honeymoon has ended and the tough work has begun. Even after Sunday’s win, Rivera is 8-16 as the Panther coach.

A victory over the Broncos would make Rivera’s life a whole lot easier. Then a trend really might start to take hold at Bank of America Stadium.

But a loss to the favored Broncos would push Rivera one step closer to the precipice.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Panthers whip Washington 21-13 in most complete game of season

The Carolina Panthers just played their best game of the season, breaking a five-game losing streak by whipping Washington, 21-13, Sunday on the road.

What was most impressive about this victory? How many contributors there were for Carolina. The Panthers' defense, first and foremost, was the key.

It didn't allow the Redskins and dangerous rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III into the end zone for the first 58 minutes. And when Washington did finally score with 1:28 to go, Steve Smith recovered the ensuing onside kick and Carolina ran out most of the clock. Washington (3-6) finally got the ball back with 18 seconds left, no timeouts and on its own 17-yard line, and only got one play off for a loss before the game was over.

The Panthers got a strong rush with just their front four for much of the game -- Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy both had huge afternoons. The Panthers also made a key stop early in the game on a fourth-and-goal run by Griffin in which cornerback Josh Thomas blew up the play by forcing Griffin away from the sideline so the pursuit could catch him. Santana Moss was also no factor for Washington. Give defensive coordinator Sean McDermott some credit for this one.

On offense, it wasn't just Cam Newton. DeAngelo Williams scored on a 30-yard rushing TD. Steve Smith scored his first TD of the season on a tough catch and forced two important pass interference penalties.

Most unlikely of all, Armanti Edwards -- yes, that guy -- took advantage of a blown Redskins coverage and went 82 yards with his second career NFL catch. Armanti didn't score, but he set up a touchdown with the play, which went from one 9-yard line to the other.

The Panthers' offensive line was much better (albeit against a Redskins defense that doesn't scare much of anybody). And Newton scored on a rushing TD, gleefully doing his "Superman" routine before the jeering fans. Two of the Panthers' three scoring drives were more than 90 yards -- the first time in franchise history they have had two 90-yard-plus TD drives in the same game.

The Panthers (2-6) should have won last week, too, when they nearly doubled Chicago in yardage and still managed to mess the game up in the fourth quarter. This time, they finished the game the way a team should.

There were quibbles certainly -- Brad Nortman seems to shank one punt per game, Newton's throws were on and off and Hardy and Thomas Davis both picked up silly penalties -- but that's all they were Sunday. Just quibbles. The main things went right, as the Panthers won for the first time since September 16th.

One other note: According to the "Redskins Rule," which has worked 17 of the last 18 presidential elections, the Redskins' loss in their final home game before the election means the incumbent party will lose the presidential race and that Mitt Romney will be elected president Tuesday. If that actually happens, a lot of Republicans owe the Panthers big. (The rule didn't apply in 2004, however -- that was the one miss -- so Democrats can take heart in that).

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Panthers-Redskins prediction and some pregame notes

For a game between two losing teams, Sunday should be a lot of fun. That's primarily because we can watch two young quarterbacks -- Washington's Robert Griffin III, shown above, and Carolina's Cam Newton -- as they try to one-up each other.

Griffin and Newton have very similar skill sets, although Newton is a lot bigger. Griffin's hype very much matches Newton's from a year ago -- there's nothing like a rookie coming in and dazzling people to get ESPN all aflutter. Watching him play against a Panther defense that is very used to mobile quarterbacks, having faced Newton every day, will be cool. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly will be particularly important for Carolina Sunday, because he's one of the few people in the Panthers' front seven who can keep up with Griffin in the open field.

-- There is far more at stake Sunday than a simple football victory. According to the "Redskins Rule" -- which has proven true in 17 of the 18 presidential elections contested since the Redskins moved to Washington in 1937 -- a Redskins win in the team's final home game before Election Day has meant a win for the incumbent party occupying the White House. A Redskins loss has meant a victory for the challenging party.

The rule didn't work out in 2004, but has every other time. Remarkable, isn't it? So if Washington wins, the "Redskins Rule" says that Barack Obama wins another four years on Tuesday. If the Panthers win, expect Mitt Romney to become the next president.

-- You've gotta love this: According to a story in The Washington Post, Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris still drives a silver 1991 Mazda 626 with 124,000 miles on it. The pastor at his church sold it to him for two dollars.

-- Expect a high-scoring game, because that's the kind the Redskins usually play. The short version of the Washington scouting report: great offense, terrible defense. The Redskins are dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, and if Steve Smith doesn't get 100 yards receiving Sunday I will be very surprised. But the Redskins have a strong offense and one that is a lot more balanced than Carolina's because the run is mixed in so effectively.

-- The 1-6 Panthers have made an art out of losing close games this season, having lost their past four by a total of 12 points. I foresee the trend continuing. My predictions haven't been very good this season on the Panthers -- I am 3-4 picking their games because I have trusted them too often. Not this time: Washington 27, Carolina 24.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Photo of 7th-graders dressing up as disgruntled Panther fans for Halloween

Five seventh-grade boys at one of Charlotte's private schools banded together to dress as "Disgruntled Panther Fans" for Halloween 2012. (Photo courtesy of Page Hull).

OK, so the Panthers are getting to that jokey stage now -- the picture above only cements that logic. Last year I saw a lot of kids dressed as Cam Newton for Halloween. This year? Well, the Newton jerseys are still out there, but as you can see from the above photo, some youngsters are becoming a little more creative with them in 2012. That's what happens when you start 1-6. Did anyone else out there see any Panther-oriented costumes for Halloween?

Jordan backs Dunlap's l-o-o-ong practices, says Bobcats must get back to basics

It wasn’t the newsiest section of Michael Jordan’s exclusive interview with The Observer Thursday – that would be either the part where he said he was going to own the Charlotte Bobcats for the “long haul” or when he said he had a definite “interest” in renaming the team the Charlotte Hornets if the New Orleans Hornets ever changed names themselves.

But here was one of the most interesting parts to me that came out of Michael Jordan’s 23-minute “state-of-the-team” interview with five Charlotte Observer sportswriters and editors Thursday on the eve of the team's season opener at home against Indiana Friday.

Jordan addressed the Bobcat players Monday to make sure they knew he endorsed new coach Mike Dunlap’s methods, including the three-hour-plus practices that Dunlap has been prone to holding (one even stretched to four hours). Jordan said he knew some players had been grumbling about the extra work – he didn’t name names – and wanted to set them straight.

“This is what championship teams do,” Jordan said he told the squad, adding that those practices reminded him of his own time in the league. “If we did it in Chicago and we became a championship team, why wouldn’t we want to do that here? If you turn your nose up to it, then maybe you need to look in the mirror and see that you’re a part of the problem.”

Jordan said he was particularly happy with Dunlap’s emphasis on fundamentals, such as: “Boxing out. Making good passes. Utilizing each other’s talents. Understanding basic basketball….. One of the reasons I felt compelled to speak to the team was, ‘Look, I endorse what Coach is talking about.’

“Unfortunately we had some guys who were not receiving it that way…. They didn’t want to do it. And I felt the need to step in and say, ‘Look, this is how we’re going to do this. The culture of what’s happening in Charlotte is going to be this. Either you buy in or you’re not going to be here.’

Jordan said he thought his message had been received, but that he wanted Dunlap to reiterate the message of getting back to basics all season.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do NOT trade Steve Smith

An NFC team has inquired about trading for Panther wide receiver Steve Smith in advance of the NFL's trade deadline, which is Thursday at 4 p.m.

This is a deal the Panthers absolutely should not make. Smith is 33, yes, and he won't play for too many more years (he signed a three-year contract extension in April). But he remains the Panthers' best wide receiver, and because of his age the price the Panthers could extract from another team would not be nearly enough to account for his worth to Carolina.

Put it this way. Have you ever owned a car that you absolutely loved despite its flaws? You and the car had tons of great trips and memories together. And it still ran just fine. But then it was getting sort of old and you went to a dealership, looked at the new models and asked how much you could get if you traded the car in for something else?

And then the salesman comes back and you are absolutely horrified by his lowball offer. You think to yourself, "This car is worth a lot more to me than it is to someone else. I think I'll just keep it."

That car is Steve Smith at this point in his career. As I wrote in the previous blog post, I'm absolutely fine with the Panthers trading running back DeAngelo Williams at a spot where the team has two other solid backs. But Brandon LaFell isn't consistent enough yet to be a No.1 receiver in the NFL, and the Panthers certainly don't want to have to start Louis Murphy as a No.2 guy. His hands aren't consistent enough.

Smith requested a trade in 2010 after the 2-14 season, but that wasn't granted and he ultimately made peace in returning to the Panthers, especially once they drafted Cam Newton. He told media members in the Panther locker room Wednesday that he planned to finish his career in Carolina. Of course, it's ultimately not his choice -- he doesn't have any sort of no-trade clause. Smith said Sunday after the Panthers dropped to 1-6 that the losing had grown "monotonous" and "tiresome." But No.89 can still play and can still scare defenses, and the Panthers' off-and-on offense still needs him desperately. The Panthers should not trade him. As for DeAngelo? See the blog post just below this one -- I'm fine with that.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Panthers should trade DeAngelo Williams

It’s time for the Panthers to trade running back DeAngelo Williams if they can get a decent price for him.

The NFL trade deadline is 4 p.m. Thursday (it was extended from Tuesday due to Hurricane Sandy complications), and Williams is on the market. The way things are going now, the Panthers have way too much invested in a trio of running backs – Jonathan Stewart, Williams and Mike Tolbert – and are not getting nearly enough out of them in an NFL that is, after all, a pass-first league.

Getting a third-round pick for Williams doesn’t sound like much, but that’s probably about the right price. It’s what Greg Olsen cost the Panthers, after all.

What would help the Panthers more is they could get Williams’ contract off the books and spend that money elsewhere – like on another offensive lineman. But finding a suitor at the correct price will be difficult, since it will need to have cap room and an immediate running-back need.

I doubt the trade will ultimately happen. In the NFL, trades are rarer than in most pro leagues. But the Panthers should pull the trigger on this one if they can. And given how little Williams has been used this season -- he again hardly made a dent in the Panthers' 23-22 loss to Chicago Sunday -- I doubt if he would mind a bit. (UPDATE: A team source told The Observer that at least one playoff contender has inquired about Williams, but head coach Ron Rivera said he doesn't anticipate any Panther trades before Thursday's deadline.)