Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Panther uniforms won't change in 2012

Now that the Carolina Panthers' logo has changed, what about the team uniforms?

If you're a traditionalist, you'll be happy with the answer to that question. If you're wanting something wild and different from a team that hasn't altered its uniforms since it began play in 1995, you won't.

"I don't anticipate any changes at all in the uniforms," Charlie Dayton, the Panthers' team spokesman, said Tuesday.

The logo will be incorporated into the helmets and jerseys, of course. But that's about it. There had been much speculation to the contrary, prompted partly by the NFL's decision to change uniform makers in 2012 (from Reebok to Nike) and partly (I believe) wishful thinking. Anyway, it's apparently not happening. (And those "new Panther uniforms" that people keep sending me links too? Those are artists' concepts, nothing more. Don't be fooled -- they're fakes).

I asked Dayton several other questions about the logo - whether it will be installed at the 50-yard line instead of the NFL shield, when it will be installed atop Bank of America Stadium and so on - but he said he didn't have those answers yet because much still is to be determined.

• I very much appreciate everyone who reads this blog. A couple of stats: I've been writing the blog since 2008, and I have filed about 1,300 blog posts during the past four years total.

And do you know which of those 1,300 posts ranked No. 1 in clicks - and it's not even close? It was my blog post Sunday night that revealed the Panthers' new logo.

Do that many people really care about the Panthers' logo, which like the uniforms had not been altered since the team started playing in 1995? Apparently so.

• My opinion? I'm cool with this Un-Extreme Makeover. The tweaks are subtle. More blue. More rounded teeth. Slightly different eyes.

But the online comments? Oh my. Many seem to love it or hate it. They either say the panther looks fiercer and more aggressive or that he looks like he has a fat lip and a lazy eye.

"I like the new logo - gives a more 3D look which will bode well for television," one commenter wrote.

Countered someone who hated it: "It looks like Sir Purr went to a Lady Gaga concert."

To me, as another commenter wrote, it matters a lot more who the Panthers put inside those uniforms and helmets than what sort of logos are on them. But it does make for interesting offseason fodder, I guess.

A side-by-side comparison of the Panthers' old (left) and new logos.

It'll be Giants over Patriots in the Super Bowl

My colleague Tom Sorensen says in this column that the favored New England Patriots will indeed beat the N.Y. Giants Sunday in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

Sorry, Tom, I don't buy it. Or, to be fair, I buy part of it. We both think the Giants will score 27 points. But you pick them to lose, 33-27. And I pick them to win, 27-23.

Tom's reasoning is that Tom Brady is the better quarterback and will win the game for the Pats, but I don't think he's playing better than Eli Manning right now. For his career, certainly. Brady is a surefire hall of famer. Manning needs to win this game to get into that conversation.

But I believe the Giants' defense is better. They've traveled a tougher road to get to Indianapolis and Tom Coughlin knows how to beat Bill Belichick, as evidenced by the amazing upset four years ago of the 18-0 Pats.

This New England team has a pair of great tight ends and it will score some points, but so will the Giants against that patchwork New England D. I think Green Bay is actually a better team than New England, and the Giants already beat the Packers.

So give me the underdog Giants. Like Tom, I picked both the Giants and New England to win in the championship games on our website. This time, though, we differ -- it's going to be the Giants by four.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Panther logo revealed

New Logo
New logos with various color combinations

(Guys: here's an excellent video from WCNC about the change to the new logo, which includes a shout-out to the "Scott Says" blog).

The Carolina Panthers have altered their logo for the first time in the franchise's 18-year history, making slight refinements to provide what the team called "a more aggressive, contemporary look."

"We have one of the finest and most recognizable logos in the NFL and wanted to make it as modern as possible without losing the dramatic essence of the mark," Panthers President Danny Morrison said.

Left unsaid is how much - if any - the uniforms will change for the 2012 season other than incorporating the new logo into the helmets and jerseys.

Nike has taken over from Reebok as the NFL's official uniform provider for 2012. In conjunction with that move, there have been rumors the Panthers' uniforms will be tweaked by the NFL.

A team spokesman declined comment Sunday night on whether the uniforms would change. But a source close to the team said the uniforms were not expected to be altered dramatically.

The Panthers had not planned to release their new logo Sunday night during the NFL's Pro Bowl game as they ultimately did. But their hand was forced by a picture posted on Facebook by Nike Football and some resulting questions from the Observer.

The Nike Football Facebook page showed 32 pictures of different versions of a new NFL glove produced by Nike, each with an NFL team logo. Instead of the logo the Panthers have used since they began play in 1995, the Nike Panthers gloves carried a logo close to - but not identical - to the new logo the Panthers were getting ready to unveil within the next few days or weeks. To avoid confusion, the Panthers sped up their internal timetable.

The NFL's creative department was responsible for tinkering with the Panthers' logo. The primary changes are in the eyes, whisker and mouth area. The presence of the Panthers' blue color also has become more striking in the logo.

The Panthers plan to transition to the new logo throughout 2012. They also have changed their primary logo typeface.

"It is a cleaner style that is easier to read and should be more applicable to different uses," Morrison said.

(If you want to see a picture of the gloves that started this whole thing, look at the post directly below this one in "Scott Says").

A side-by-side look at the new Carolina Panthers logo (right) and the old one.

Is this the Panthers' new logo?

7:45 p.m. update: Panthers reveal new logo

This is a picture, taken from the Nike Football Facebook page this weekend, of a pair of Panthers' gloves with what looks like the team's new logo. Here also is the old logo, for comparison. Note that the new one -- if it's real, and it appears to be --- has more electric blue on eyes, teeth and whiskers. Otherwise the changes seem subtle except for that blue lip.

Whenever there's a Throwback Uniform day in the NFL, the Panthers never can participate. They have never really altered their uniforms or their logo in any real sense.

That, however, may be about to change. Nike is replacing Reebok as the maker of NFL uniforms this season -- that may be one reason why it was so hard to find a Cam Newton jersey around Christmas, since Reebok apparently wasn't interested in making a lot more of them.

But Nike is apparently going to tinker with the Panthers' uniform (with the Panthers' and the NFL's permission, of course). And perhaps this is a sneak peek of the new logo part of that tinkering. The changes are fairly subtle if this is not just a stylistic "gloves-only" kind of thing -- the whiskers used to be gray and now are blue, for instance, and the teeth and eyes look a bit different.

Alert reader Stephen R. spotted this link and sent it along to me, and it looks legit. So I'm going to change an "off day" into a workday and start asking some questions. When you go to the Nike Football Facebook page, the other teams' logos basically look the same on their gloves -- the Panthers is the only one at first glance that looks obviously different.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Want to know more about Biyombo?

Bismack Biyombo stands beside the homemade goal and backboard where he learned to play basketball in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Biyombo is standing on top of a car in this picture -- the goal still stands. His father, Francois Biyombo, made the goal and said the neighbors thought he was "crazy" for doing so. (Photo courtesy of Bismack Biyombo)

The Charlotte Bobcats are in the midst of an awful season, one that may set historic lows in a lot of categories.

But one player I find fascinating is rookie Bismack Biyombo, the 19-year-old from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) who has traveled an unusual and circuitous path to become a Bobcat. I wrote a long profile column of him that can be found here.

The Bobcats are risking a lot on Biyombo -- they made a three-way trade to get him in June with the No.7 overall pick in the draft, giving up leading scorer Stephen Jackson in the process.

But Biyombo is very intriguing, not only for his 7-foot-7 wingspan but for his language fluency (he speaks four of them fluently), his family history (he is the eldest of seven children) and his basketball upside (Michael Jordan has compared him to a young, raw Hakeem Olajuwon).

And wouldn't you like to shoot a few on that basketball goal? I'd like to see how a bank shot works on it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stephen Curry going to be a dad and is back to playing

A short Stephen Curry update for all you fans of the former Davidson Wildcat star:

-- Curry is back to playing after his frustrating ankle injury reared its head earlier this month, which didn't allow him to play Golden State's lone game in Charlotte.

Curry has now been back for two games. He played 36 minutes Monday night in Golden State's one-point loss to Memphis and scored 18 points. His father Dell said today at the Bobcats' pregame shootaround that Curry isn't experiencing any pain with the ankle.

-- Curry and his wife Ayesha have tweeted that they are expecting their first child.

"It's gonna be the husband, me and little Curry next fall -- I can't wait," Ayesha Curry tweeted last week. Stephen added in a tweet of his own: "We didn't waste any time LOL." The two were married in Charlotte in the summer of 2011.

-- Curry won't be on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team -- he didn't make the most recent cut to 20 finalists for what will ultimately be 12 spots -- but holds out hope he might be able to play on the 2016 U.S. team. Curry did play on the 2010 U.S. team that won a world championship.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

An early Super Bowl prediction and other championship game notes

A special "Super Bowl edition" of Scott Says following Sunday's NFC and AFC championsip games, with my prediction at the end (not saying I'll get it right, but I did pick both New England the N.Y. Giants to win Sunday -- see the blog post right below this one).

-- It was great to see both championship games stay worthy of that title, with each of them not decided until the final possession and one going into overtime.

-- Well, Cam Newton just won a trip to Hawaii and should now play in the Pro Bowl. As the first alternate at QB for the NFC Pro Bowl team, he will go in place of Eli Manning, who now has a Super Bowl to play and can't make the Jan.29th game. Newton was in danger of missing out had the 49ers won, for the other two quarterbacks picked before him (Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees) have both said in the past week they plan to play in the NFL's all-star game after losing earlier in the playoffs.

-- Had to feel for Billy Cundiff, the Baltimore kicker who missed the 32-yarder with 11 seconds left that would have forced overtime in New England's 23-20 win. Olindo Mare missed a similar field goal under almost the exact same circumstances against Minnesota this past season and the Panthers lost instead of going into OT. But although that was painful for Panther fans, the stakes were very low compared to this. The game was great, and I had no rooting interest, but I wish it had ended with someone doing something good instead of something bad.

-- Same thing regarding San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams, who muffed one punt and then fumbled another, leading to 10 of the Giants' 20 points. Amazing the Giants never turned the ball over in that steady rain at Candlestick Park and with Eli Manning getting sacked a half-dozen times.

-- Random Panther connection: Serious Carolina fans may remember that in his 15th and final NFL season as a quarterback, current San Francisco 49er coach Jim Harbaugh was a backup to Chris Weinke for the Panthers’ 1-15 season of 2001 when George Seifert was the coach.

I talked to Harbaugh about that a year ago, days before the 49ers hired him away from Stanford.
“I didn't get in any games that year,” Harbaugh said of his season with Carolina. “I signed late, and they had eight games to go. I loved it – loved the coaches that were there and the organization. I especially loved throwing to Steve Smith. We were both on the scout team at that time. It didn't take me long to realize that he was really good. I just kept throwing the ball to him and we were making plays and having fun.”

Harbaugh, who never threw an official pass as a Panther, knew he was going to coach even then. In 2001, shortly after signing as a Panther, he said: “I think you play as long as you can, and then you coach, and then you die.”

-- OK, my Super Bowl prediction. This feels to me like a repeat of four years ago -- the Patriots will be favored (although not as heavily as they were when they entered that game 18-0) but the Giants traveled the tougher playoff road to get there. I like the Giants on Feb.5th in Indianapolis in a mild upset: New York 27, New England 23.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

NFC, AFC championship game winners will be....

As the NFL world awaits what should be a great Sunday, I've got a prediction:

No Harbaughs in the Super Bowl.

While the "Superbaugh" remains a possibility, I think New England and the New York Giants will ultimately each beat a brother and play an encore of their stunning Super Bowl from four years ago, when the Giants dashed New England's dreams of a 19-0 season with a 17-14 upset victory.

Remember that one? The Patriots lost when Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left. The Giants scored 14 of their 17 points in the fourth quarter to win.

This Giants team, to me, looks just as good as that one was. New York has gotten hot at just the right time, much like the Green Bay Packers did a year ago. That Packers team was seeded No.6 and this Giants team No.4, which means the Giants will be playing their third game in three weeks in these playoffs. But they have such an impressive string of victories and are playing so well I think they can go into San Francisco Sunday and upset the favored 49ers and rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, 23-17.

As for New England-Baltimore, if it were on a neutral field I might well pick the Ravens. Given that this one is played in New England, however, where Tom Brady is nearly invincible, I think the Patriots will win over John Harbaugh and his Ravens, 31-20.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Peter King sounds off on Cam Newton

In case you missed my story on whether Cam Newton's rookie year was the best in NFL history -- I eventually come to the conclusion it was -- here's the link to that.

What a lot of people apparently found interesting in this story package, too, were the comments from Sports Illustrated's Peter King about the same issue. They are below. King, one of the most respected NFL writers in the business for decades, recently wrote one sentence in his magazine's Jan.9th issue stating that Cam Newton had the best NFL rookie season ever.

I asked him to expand upon his reasoning, and so he wrote the following in an email:

To: Scott Fowler
From: Peter King

I didn't make that statement lightly. I understood, in particular, the seasons of Taylor, Sayers, Dickerson and Moss, and have a great respect for football history.
I said it because, even in light of all the great years quarterbacks had this season, there was something so different about Newton's season. He did not meet most of his teammates or the men who would coach him till six weeks before he had to play a real game. After playing one season at a junior college and one at Auburn, with no prolonged exposure to the kind of "pro style" offense that most NFL teams would ask him to use, Newton walked into Spartanburg with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Not only did he have the pressure that normally comes with being the first pick in the draft, he would have to adjust to a new team and a new staff and a new league in a far shorter period of time than any rookie in a generation - or longer.
He broke the rookie record for passing yards in a season. He broke the record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback - and he's a third of the way to breaking the career record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. He accounted for more touchdowns than any rookie ever. The Panthers scored 210 more points this year than last. Is it a coincidence that Newton accounted for 210 points? He did - 35 touchdowns, times six. That's 210. The Panthers went from 32nd to sixth in total offense in one year.
With great respect to the other great rookies, who caught and sacked and intercepted and returned and ran their way to great seasons, Newton passed and ran and scored better than any rookie quarterback of all time. That's why I think he had the best season by a rookie ever.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Stephen Curry says it's "unlikely" he will play Saturday vs Charlotte Bobcats

Golden State’s Stephen Curry understands that a lot of people in the Carolinas want to see him play Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Unfortunately, Curry said in a phone interview we had Friday, that’s “unlikely.”

“I haven’t ruled it out,” Curry said of playing Saturday night against Charlotte in the Warriors’ only trip to play the Bobcats this season. “But I guess I’d say it’s unlikely. I’m not putting on extra pressure on the idea of playing this game just because it’s a homecoming thing. We all have to be smart about it.”

Curry’s right ankle has been giving him trouble again – the same one that he had surgery on in May 2011 and then has re-sprained several times early this season. He has been in Charlotte all week, rehabbing the ankle and planning to meet up with the Warriors when they get to town for Saturday night’s game. He said the ankle feels "great" right now but that it has been such a nagging issue he doesn't want to rush back, which has been a problem before.

Curry has sprained the same ankle more than a dozen times in his career, he said. But he had the ankle looked at this week by his doctor and it was determined it was still structurally sound, so no further surgery is required. Rest and rehab on the ankle for the former Davidson star – that’s the current prescription.

Said Dell Curry, Stephen’s father and also the Bobcats’ TV analyst: “The hard thing for him is he’s young, he wants to play. It feels good. But we’re trying to get him to look at the big picture. For his future as well as the team’s, he’s got to get healthy.”

I'll be writing a full-length column on Stephen Curry for Saturday's Charlotte Observer -- please watch for that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Was Cam Newton's rookie year the best ever?


Hi everyone, it's Friday morning. I posted this blog Thursday afternoon and it drew a torrent of comments. Most of them were great -- a high-level debate on various NFL rookies -- but toward the end too many of them veered into the same, sad, profane drivel. So I have had to dismantle all the comments for this post -- sorry.

Please watch for a fuller version of this story in Sunday's newspaper -- I did read all the comments and have taken them into account while I'm writing. Also watch for this -- I asked Sports Illustrated's Peter King to defend his statement that Cam Newton's rookie year was the best ever, and he did so in an email to me at some length. It's really interesting, and we will publish it in full online and in the newspaper.

Thanks for reading,

I'm writing a column for Sunday's newspaper and online that will delve into the question of whether Cam Newton's rookie season should be thought of as the best by any player, at any position.

I haven't made up my mind myself, although Peter King of Sports Illustrated has already written that he thinks it was. I'm still researching but thought you might enjoy a look at some of the competitors for this mythical "title" (a more complete list will be in Sunday's newspaper).

In chronological order, these are six of the best rookie seasons ever.

DICK "NIGHT TRAIN" LANE, cornerback, 1952: Set an NFL record that still stands with 14 interceptions in a 12-game season.

GALE SAYERS, running back, 1965: Scored 22 touchdowns as a rookie, including six in a single game.

LAWRENCE TAYLOR, linebacker, 1981: Was named AP Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie; had 9.5 sacks before it became an "official" statistic.

ERIC DICKERSON, running back, 1983: Led the NFL in rushing with 1,808 yards; also scored 18 rushing TDs.

RANDY MOSS, wide receiver, 1998: Led NFL with 17 receiving TDs; had 1313 receiving yards.

CAM NEWTON, quarterback, 2011: Accounted for 35 total TDs (21 pass, 14 run). The 14 rush TDs set an all-time record for QBs (not just rookies).

There are a number of others -- you'd be surprised, for instance, how many running backs ran for 1,000-1,500 yards as a rookie -- but those are six of the best. Where do you think Cam stacks up??

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A bo-o-o-o-ring BCS title game thanks to Alabama's ferocious D

Congrats to Alabama for winning one of the most boring title games in the history of college football Monday night, 21-0 over LSU.

It's not Alabama's fault. The Crimson Tide fielded what might be the best defense in college football history and dared LSU to do anything.

The Tigers couldn't. It's their fault. They were horrible offensively, getting only five first downs and only crossing midfield once (and that was in the fourth quarter). They had 92 total yards. When announcer Brent Musburger proclaimed at one point that the Crimson Tide D was treating the 50-yard line as if it were the goal line -- well, that was it exactly.

Watching it, I felt like I was at one of those high school football mismatches you occasionally see when some 4A power plays a 1A team just to get an easy early-season win.

Now I know Alabama's D is fantastic, and the Panthers would be well-served to consider a couple of the Tide defensive players with that Top-10 draft pick they hold in April.

But c'mon, LSU. The Crimson Tide was at least allowing 8.8 points per game coming into the game. You couldn't even score once?

By the time Alabama had kicked its fifth field goal, I went to bed. That 15-0 lead might as well have been 150-0. It was an anti-climactic end to the bowl season -- but also a well-deserved coronation of an Alabama team that I can't imagine ever lost to LSU in the first place during the regular season.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fox Ball wins in Denver for Broncos over Steelers

John Fox did it again Sunday in Denver, running his career playoff coaching record to 6-3 with an electrifying 29-23 overtime victory over Pittsburgh.

While Tim Tebow will get the headlines nationally -- he outplayed Big Ben Roethlisberger and threw for 316 yards -- it's worth throwing a bouquet to Fox for this one, too.

The game reminded me more than anything of Carolina's overtime win at St. Louis in the 2003 season. That one ended on a slant over the middle, too, on the first play from scrimmage of an overtime (double OT, in that case). That time it was Steve Smith going the distance. This time the Broncos earned a trip to New England next week and have made the final eight of the NFL playoffs. They'll almost certainly lose to the Patriots, but still it's been quite a run for a team that was awful in 2010.

Some of the frustrating elements of the Fox regime were on display in this game -- the 3-man pass rush that helped Big Ben and the Steelers back into the game, the draw play on third-and-long.

But give the man and his staff credit -- they also maximized Tebow's talents and hit one long ball after another in the passing game. Kudos to Fox. As we all know around here but sometimes forget, the man can coach.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Downbeat Silas?! Something's wrong

I didn't see a minute of the Charlotte Bobcats' 22-point loss to Indiana Saturday as I was too busy flicking around between the NFL playoffs and college basketball and honestly forgot it was on.

But by happenstance, I did catch most of Paul Silas's televised postgame news conference. And I was stunned at how sad or angry or annoyed or a combination of the three he was.

Silas, as Rick Bonnell notes in this game story, doesn't think the Bobcats were tough enough Saturday. He pointed to the way Tyler Hansbrough and others banged the Bobcats around in the second half. He declined comment when asked to expand on Boris Diaw, who has been very inconsistent for the past week and had terrible numbers Saturday.

He looked nothing like the Silas we usually see -- cheerful, always looking for silver lining.

This was a different Silas, and it says to me the coach must think something is really wrong with the Bobcats and better get fixed quick.

Silas and I live fairly near each other, and when he was a retired NBA coach there for a few years he did some assistant coaching on a volunteer basis at a recreational Optimist basketball league. I coach in the exact same league now. It's a blast, win or lose -- kids sprinting up and down the court, skidding after loose balls, playing with total effort.

Now I know Silas gets paid very well for what he does now, and he does a very good job with what he has with the Bobcats. But for a day anyway, I think after watching his downbeat press conference Saturday, Silas would agree that I had a lot more fun coaching Saturday than he did -- and I bet he would have gladly traded places.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

If you can't say something nice...

My colleague Tom Sorensen had a great interview with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson Wednesday. In the Q and A segment, Tom asked Richardson for some word associations with certain players on the team. Richardson praised players like Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Davis and others in the Q and A, but was uncharacteristically silent when asked about Panther safety Sherrod Martin. The exchange went like this:

Q: Sherrod Martin?

RICHARDSON: What about him?

Q: What do you think about him?

RICHARDSON: I think he plays safety.

In another part of the interview, Richardson said he wished the Panthers would tackle better. No one missed more obvious tackle opportunities than Martin. I think in that part of the interview, Richardson clearly was under the "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" philosophy.

And if I were Martin, I'd be worried.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On Cam, Polian and the NFL

A few NFL-related notes and opinions in the aftermath of Carolina's 6-10 season and the beginning of the playoffs this weekend:

1) There are several "Rookie of the Year" awards, but the biggest and most respected are those presented by the Associated Press. They won't be announced this year until Feb.4 in a live TV special on the eve of the Super Bowl. Along with Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, the NFL and AP will announce the league MVP and other awards that evening.

I've said it before and will again -- Cam Newton should be a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year. If he doesn't win it, that's crazy. I know Andy Dalton at Cincinnati had a fine year, too, and got the Bengals to the playoffs with a lot more defensive help than Newton had. But Newton had one of the best rookie years -- and possibly the best -- of any NFL player in history. He deserves it.

Incidentally, two rookie QBs will face off in Saturday's Cincinnati-Houston playoff game when Dalton faces T.J. Yates (who is supposed to be healthy again, although Jake Delhomme will be ready if not).

2) I mentioned in today's column that I thought Bill Polian got a raw deal in Indianapolis, where he and son Chris Polian were fired Monday. I still do. Polian was remarkably good at what he did -- he was the architect for Buffalo's Super Bowl teams, the Panthers' playoff team in 1996 and the Colts' decade of excellence.

Polian could also be a prickly character, and there's no shortage of stories about his temper and his on-and-off relationship with the media and others. While I got along pretty well with Polian -- I found that he would complain about a story you wrote, but also was one of the few NFL front-office types I've ever met who would also seek you out to compliment you on one -- some in the media did not, as this blog from an Indianapolis Star sportswriter attests.

3) The Panthers' inability to finish games was striking in 2011, and ultimately the reason they aren't in these playoffs. They really aren't that far away from a wild-card spot -- I think Carolina could give the 4,5 and 6 teams in the NFC a decent game (N.Y. Giants, Atlanta and Detroit). But check this out.

For the season, Carolina outscored its opponents in the first quarter (plus-13) and in the second quarter (plus-31). But they were minus-7 overall in the third quarter and then a staggering minus-60 in the fourth. There's the difference in the season.

Did you know that 49 percent of NFL games this season were decided by seven points or fewer? The fourth quarter, ultimately, makes the difference between 6-10 and 10-6, and the Panthers just didn't play well enough in the final 15 minutes of games this past season.

4) I recommended a couple of books in my column today but failed to note one thing about "The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky," which chronicles the 1992 NCAA tourney classic between Duke and Kentucky. Author Gene Wojciechowski will be signing copies of the book Thursday, Jan.12 at the Duke basketball museum/hall of fame adjacent to Cameron Indoor Stadium from 6-7:30 p.m. and on Friday, Jan.13th at The Regulator Book Shop in Durham.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Saints blast Panthers, who end season 6-10

There wasn't much good news for the Panthers in their final game of the season, as they ran into the red-hot New Orleans Saints and got eviscerated, 45-17.

The game was 17-17 at one point until Panther safety Sherrod Martin made the most obvious bad play of the game, letting Marques Colston get behind him with 15 seconds left in the first half and New Orleans on the Carolina 42. Colston scored, the Panthers went into halftime down 24-17 instead of tied and it got worse from there.

"That took the wind out of our sails," Panther coach Ron Rivera said.

The Panthers' offense then couldn't score a single point in the second half and the defense just kept getting worse. Drew Brees ended up with five TD passes before being taken out in the fourth quarter. The Saints never punted while he was in the game, scoring six TDs in Brees' eight possessions.

Carolina ended the season 6-10 and with some obvious gaping holes on defense. Brees can make anyone look bad, but too often this year the Panthers gave up too many points and big plays. They have a playoff-caliber offense already; the defense and the special teams need to catch up.

Still, Panther fans have to feel a lot different right now than one year ago, when the team was 2-14, the coaching and quarterback situations were uncertain and the Panthers were generally regarded as the worst team in the league. This is a team with a future -- if it can get its defense improved.

Halftime blog: Brees dissecting Panthers

The New Orleans Saints have the best offense in the NFL right now, and it's been on full display in the first half as the Saints lead Carolina 24-17 at halftime.

The Saints have a staggering 360 yards at halftime and are on pace to easily shatter the record for the most the Panthers have ever allowed (493). Carolina's patched-together defense, combined with Brees' surgical skills as a quarterback, have made for three long Saints TD drives, one field goal by John Kasay and one surprising interception by Carolina's R.J. Stanford.

The Panthers' worst mistake was with 15 seconds to go and the game tied at 17. New Orleans had no timeouts left and the ball at Carolina's 42. The Panthers basically just had to keep everything in front of them -- at worst they were going to allow a field goal. But Sherrod Martin allowed Marques Colston to get behind him for a 42-yard TD pass.

On offense, Carolina is running the ball beautifully (134 yards already on the ground). Cam Newton has one nice TD pass to Steve Smith and a bad interception he threw in the Saints' end zone on an awkward-looking jump pass. Jonathan Stewart has a 29-yard rushing TD.