Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stewart first major loss for 2013 Carolina Panthers

Jonathan Stewart (28) is out for at least the first five games of the 2013 season.

In what has been a thankfully quiet training camp and exhibition season so far for Carolina, the Panthers have suffered their first major loss.

Jonathan Stewart can be a beast when he's healthy -- remember that 206-yard game against the Giants in 2009? -- but he hasn't been healthy for awhile now. Stewart was placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list Tuesday, meaning he will miss at least the first five games of the season.

His absence certainly isn't unexpected, but it is the most dangerous thing that has happened to the Panthers in the past couple of months. It's more significant than firing Geoff Hangartner or juggling No.3 wide receivers or figuring out that neither Joe Adams nor Edmund Kugbila will play for Carolina in 2013.

Stewart may not play the whole year, either -- there's no certainty that five games (and one bye) worth of missed games will get him healed. If he doesn't play, then DeAngelo Williams sure better not get hurt. I'm fine with Mike Tolbert as a change-of-pace back but not the primary one, and right now he's hurt too (although he may be ready by the Seattle game Sept.8). And Kenjon Barner, Armond Smith or Tauren Poole? That would be scary. I don't think any of them are ready for a significant role in the offense. Even scarier would be Cam Newton leading this team in rushing again, like he did last year, because that opens him up to too many hits.

Those who watch Panthers practice regularly have seen Stewart -- the Panthers' second all-time leading rusher behind Williams in both yards and rush TDs -- grimacing in pain even after slight exertion occasionally, so obviously he's not right. He had surgery on both ankles in the offseason. He also missed the final seven games of last year with injury problems. Like Jon Beason, he signed a huge contract extension not that long ago and has mostly been hurt since.

Running backs, of course, do not last forever -- especially those with Stewart's pounding inside style. He has always split carries and until last year always seemed to be ready for games, but that has changed. Stewart can play the piano beautifully by ear, but it's hard to find a melody in what's happening to him right now. Double Trouble is now in some trouble, as it's now down to Single Not-So-Much-Trouble and a whole lot of hoping.

Friday, August 23, 2013

5 weird stats from Panther win over Ravens

The Panthers’ 34-27 preseason win over Baltimore was remarkable when you look at the stats. Carolina was outgained 357-173 and had the ball 11 ½ minutes less than Baltimore.

But those weren’t the weirdest numbers to come out of this bizarre game. Here are the five I thought were among the most unusual:

1. The Panthers scored 28 points on returns of various types (three defensive TDs and a 74-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. on the first kick return he has ever tried in a Panther uniform). As Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh cracked about his own squad: “The pass game was good -- except we threw it to the other guys.” You can go a decade without seeing 4 return TDs in a single pro football game.

2. The Panthers didn’t run a single play inside Baltimore’s 20 all night. You can’t exactly say they had a red zone problem, because they were never even in the red zone. And yet they scored 34 points. As center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen both said, the first-team offense’s performance was so disappointing it felt more like a loss than a win.

3. Baltimore had 27 first downs. Carolina only had 14.

4. At halftime, Carolina had five first downs, Baltimore had 13, and the Panthers led 24-7.

5. The Panthers were terrible on penalties, getting called for 12 for 133 yards (Baltimore was 9 for 90). And Armond Smith got kicked out of the game for kicking a Baltimore player after a run. And Carolina still won – more because Luke Kuechly had one of the most astonishing halves of football I’ve ever seen from a defensive player than anything else.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What are the odds of Cam Newton winning NFL MVP? 33-1

Anyone who says the Panthers get absolutely no national respect will find this interesting. In the category of "Who will be the NFL's MVP in 2013?", Panther quarterback Cam Newton is listed at 33-1 -- tied for 13th-likeliest with his childhood idol Michael Vick and a couple of others -- in these odds provided by Bovada.

2013 NFL MVP - Odds to Win

Peyton Manning (DEN) QB 5/1

Aaron Rodgers (GB) QB 13/2

Colin Kaepernick (SF) QB 10/1

Drew Brees (NO) QB 10/1

Adrian Peterson (MIN) RB 12/1

Tom Brady (NE) QB 12/1

Matt Ryan (ATL) QB 15/1

Robert Griffin III (WAS) QB 18/1

Russell Wilson (SEA) QB 18/1

Andrew Luck (IND) QB 25/1

Calvin Johnson (DET) WR 25/1

Eli Manning (NYG) QB 25/1

Arian Foster (HOU) RB 33/1

Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) QB 33/1

Cam Newton (CAR) QB 33/1

Matthew Stafford (DET) QB 33/1

Michael Vick (PHI) QB 33/1

Tony Romo (DAL) QB 33/1

Matt Schaub (HOU) QB 40/1

J.J. Watt (HOU) DE 40/1

Chris Johnson (TEN) RB 50/1

Joe Flacco (BAL) QB 50/1

Marshawn Lynch (SEA) RB 50/1

Philip Rivers (SD) QB 50/1

Jay Cutler (CHI) QB 66/1

Ray Rice (BAL) RB 66/1

Alfred Morris (WAS) RB 66/1

Jamaal Charles (KC) RB 66/1

Matt Forte (CHI) RB 66/1

Steven Jackson (ATL) RB 66/1

Doug Martin (TB) RB 66/1

Andy Dalton (CIN) QB 75/1

Alex Smith (KC) QB 75/1

Josh Freeman (TB) QB 75/1

Sam Bradford (STL) QB 75/1

A.J. Green (CIN) WR 100/1

Andre Johnson (HOU) WR 100/1

Brandon Marshall (CHI) WR 100/1

Reggie Bush (DET) RB 150/1

Also, Panther defensive tackle Star Star Lotulelei is listed as 14-1 to follow Luke Kuechly as the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Beason looks happy, moves well on Monday

Jon Beason had pieces of grass stuck to his shoulders after practice Monday. Sweat dripped from his face. He was breathing hard – and he was grinning.

Beason looked good in his second straight practice Monday, and my bet is the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker will play at least a little bit Thursday night at Baltimore against the Ravens in the Panthers’ third preseason game.

“You know what?” Beason said. “I’m just happy to be back out there. I don’t care about what shape, what I’d do right, what I do wrong -- I just miss the grind. Being with my teammates, man. Messing around. Hanging in the huddle. You know what I mean? It’s long overdue.”

Beason has played in only five of the Panthers’ past 32 regular-season games, so any optimistic pronouncements about his condition must be treated with caution. He is coming off microfracture knee surgery, always a tricky process.

But he looked good Monday. I was impressed he ran as well as he did on a very damp field, cutting quickly and running extra sprints after practice. He intercepted Jimmy Clausen once in a team drill. He wasn’t unbelievable – remember, he is adjusting to playing weakside linebacker with Luke Kuechly now permanently installed in the middle. But Beason was good enough that coach Ron Rivera was thinking about all sorts of possibilities about how to get Beason on the field more after practice.

Beason said he wanted to “re-establish” himself this season and that he would "love to play" Thursday.

“You want to play fast,” he said. “You want to get back to the person you used to be. You’ve got to get over that fear. A lot of guys are afraid of it. But if it feels good, I’m going, and I’m going to go hard.”

Monday was a nice step toward that.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back in black -- Panthers to wear all black at Philadelphia

The Carolina Panthers will go with their "all-black" look for only the second time in team history this Thursday night in their preseason game at Philadelphia.

Although this has yet to be announced and Panther officials would not confirm it, word around the locker room is that the Panthers will wear black jerseys, black pants and blue socks -- the combination that won NFL.com's "Greatest Uniform in NFL History” contest in a major upset last month.

Home teams get to choose the jersey color for NFL games, and the Eagles chose white. The Panthers normally wear white in the early season to keep cooler, but will go all black -- a look that has long been asked for by many of their fans -- for the 7:30 p.m. game to be televised on WCCB-Channel 18.

The team isn't scheduled to wear all-black at home until late in the season, when they will wear black jerseys for their final four home games starting in mid-November against New England, Tampa Bay, the New York Jets and New Orleans. They could wear black pants as well for any or all of those games and likely will for at least a couple. Unlike jersey color, the pants color can be decided at the last minute. Here's a list of the Panthers' jersey colors home and away throughout the season -- they also will wear black for their Week 2 regular-season game at Buffalo and at Miami later in the season.

The black-on-black look you will see Thursday on TV does contain one bolt of color – the electric blue socks. Wide receiver Steve Smith is responsible for that -- team officials allowed him to choose the sock color for the all-black look last year.

The Panthers debuted the look last November. It has only been worn once, in a 36-14 home loss to Denver, which makes the “Greatest Uniform in NFL History” title seem rather ironic. The Panthers defeated the San Francisco 49ers' current uniform in the finals, getting about 90 percent of the vote in a contest where fans could vote an unlimited number of times.

Friday, August 9, 2013

5 thoughts on Panthers and 24-17 preseason win over Bears

1. If there was any doubt left, Armanti Edwards is going to make this team – again – as a backup receiver. Coach Ron Rivera has said repeatedly the real test will be whether Edwards can make catches in traffic, and he had a couple of good ones Friday.

2. Both rookie defensive tackles looked good for Carolina, with No.1 draft choice Star Lotulelei sturdily holding the point of attack.

3. On the downside, the Panthers’ offense netted out zero points in Cam Newton’s three first-quarter possessions. It’s a fake game, yes, but that’s cause for a bit of real worry.

On Newton’s final pass of the night – returned 51 yards for a touchdown by Chicago – the quarterback locked in on tight end Greg Olsen on a third-and-2 and forced a throw he never should have made. "Got to get the cobwebs out," Newton said.

Newton is prone to looking first at Steve Smith (who wasn’t in the game at the time) and Olsen, which is natural. But he’s got to get his other receivers more involved more often. To be fair, his three-yard TD pass went to Brandon LaFell, who really needs to have a big year.

4. Tight end Brandon Williams is such a raw talent. He needs to stick around, at least on the practice squad. On a Hail Mary, he would be a serious threat.

5. The first-team Panthers’ defense looked better overall in limited work than did the Panther offense. Josh Norman had his first interception to set up the first Carolina TD then, while Luke Kuechly once made tackles on three straight plays and Charles Johnson had a nice sack from the left side. Norman later scored on a 60-yard pick-six that was the biggest play in the Panthers’ 24-17 win.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Manning brothers rap one of best NFL commercials of all time

Do not miss the Mannings and their rap. Seriously. You must see it.

If you haven't seen this yet, you must watch it: Peyton and Eli Manning have outdone themselves with a hysterical, so-bad-it's-good rap -- yes a rap -- to promote DirecTV and "football on your phone."

This is undoubtedly one of the five best NFL-related commercials I've ever seen, and other than the Mean Joe Greene/Coke commercial I'm not remembering the other three off the top of my head. There are several great lines, but the one where Eli Manning rips on Alexander Graham Bell ("Who cares? Dude's dead!") and Archie Manning's surprise appearance are among the highlights.

Note to all big-time pro athletes: Making fun of yourself is almost always the way to go for a likable commercial. (That's one reason why Newton's commercial with the little kid warming up his arm for Play 60 is the best one he has done. Here the Mannings do it beautifully -- with the help of some very talented writers, a great director and some killer wigs. This is a commercial that will be talked about for years.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gerald Henderson wants to be part of Bobcat solution

The Charlotte Bobcats have had a disturbing tendency over the years to part ways with key players with not much compensation – either via trade or free agency.

Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace – they were four of the most important players on the Bobcats’ lone playoff team ever (in 2010). None of them are here anymore.

Gerald Henderson is here, however – the Bobcats held a press conference for him Monday after Henderson re-signed with the team. He’s guaranteed to be in Charlotte through the 2015 season, but his third contract year can be voided at his option.

That’s not a perfect situation, but it beats the alternative. Henderson and Kemba Walker were the Bobcats’ two best players last season. They both will return, and the team has added several other key pieces – most notably first-round pick Cody Zeller and big man Al Jefferson, who was the most expensive free-agent acquisition in team history.

Henderson spoke Monday of being “part of the problem” the last two seasons – meaning he signed his name to that combined 28-120 record (worst in the NBA the past two seasons) just like everyone else on those very forgettable squads. Now, the shooting guard said, he wants to be part of the solution.

“Charlotte has become like a home to me,” Henderson said. “… You go through anything tough, it’s easy to kind of give up on it and say you want to move on…. But we need to find our way out of it.”

Henderson, who averaged a career high 15.5 points last season and increased that to 23.9 points over the season’s final 21 games, said he will continue to work to make himself a better three-point shooter.

“That’s where the game has gone,” said Henderson, who has long been known as a slasher with a decent but not spectacular outside shot. “….That’s the direction our team is going too. I’m just going to have to roll with that… It’s always my nature to try to get closer to the basket, but my game has to evolve.”

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Thoughts on a fine Fan Fest

Fan Fest gets a little more fan friendly each year for the Panthers. They had a crowd of 20,134 for the annual free practice at Bank of America Stadium Saturday afternoon, and many of the star players (Cam Newton, Greg Hardy and Luke Kuechly among them) stuck around a long time for autographs afterward. The roster cards given to fans were useful and sturdy. It was hot but a breeze swirled for much of the practice, making the temperature bearable. A nice afternoon.

-- One thing I would add at the end of the Fan Fest practice: Give coach Ron Rivera, Steve Smith or Newton a handheld microphone and have them simply talk for about 60 seconds and thank the fans for coming out. A simple thing to do – the Charlotte Bobcats have done a version of that for years – that would pay some dividends. Or have Mick Mixon interview each of them for two minutes each.

-- One thing I would subtract from practice: Newton catching punts. He tried to grab a couple of 60-yarders Saturday. It was cute and fun and all that, but you don’t want your star quarterback catching punts very often. It’s an easy way to jam or break a finger.

For the record, Newton fell on his face trying to catch the first one and missed. Then he bobbled but caught the second one and slung the ball high in the air in exultation.

-- Nice to see a few keepsake balls go into the stands. Captain Munnerlyn and Haruki Nakamura threw them into the crowd after their interceptions in team drills and Armanti Edwards did the same after a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone over Munnerlyn. Edwards, once again, looked good.

-- Among the other players I thought had some fine moments Saturday: tight end Brandon Williams, cornerback Josh Norman, Nakamura and punter Brad Nortman. And kicker Graham Gano has an incredibly strong leg – no doubt he will have that job come Sept.8 and the home opener against Seattle.

Friday, August 2, 2013

How much do you tip on takeout orders? Drew Brees wants to know

This receipt, showing Drew Brees' takeout order tip of $3, has been circulated widely online -- much to Brees' consternation.

I ask the question in the headline only because arguably the best player in the NFC South division -- New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees -- is getting hammered online because on a $74.41 takeout order he tipped only $3.

Brees, of course, is very, very rich. This does not obligate him to throw $20 bills around like confetti, but on first glance this does seem a little cheap to me.

Then again, I hardly ever buy takeout food unless it's in a drive-thru setting. Our family of six does eat in restaurants a good bit, where my wife -- who waited tables to help put herself through college -- is a 20-25 percent sort of tipper. I used to be cheaper than that, but she has gradually over the years trained me to do the same (more if the service is great, less if it's awful).

Brees is, by all accounts (including mine), a very good person. He addressed this small "controversy" Thursday at the Saints' training camp and on Twitter, saying in camp he was disappointed "that it actually got spun and perceived as -- you immediately jump to the conclusion that he stiffed a waiter or waitress. That's the part that bothers me."

Brees also wrote on Twitter: "In case anyone still cares about this report: I tipped $3 on a takeout order. Had we sat down it would have been 20% (plus)."

So what do you think? Do you tip on takeout orders at all and, if so, how much? And would you do it differently if you had signed a $100 million contract to play quarterback in the NFL?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hangartner move shakes up camp

SPARTANBURG -- Offensive guard Geoff Hangartner was part of the status quo for the Carolina Panthers, which was part of the reason his release Thursday was startling.

“We didn’t see it coming at all,” said Amini Silatolu, who had thought he and Hangartner would likely be the Panthers’ starting guards in 2013. “He was the last person I thought that would get released.”

The Observer certainly didn’t see it coming, either. We published a feature story about Hangartner a few hours before he got fired.

Hangartner had started 28 games over the past two Panther seasons and could play both center and guard. He was a well-liked man with the endearing locker room nickname of “Piggy.”

On Thursday, Piggy’s teammates kept using the same sort of words to describe his sudden release, and most of them started with “S”: Sadness. Shock. Surprise.

I’ll add another: Shaken up. You could almost see the rest of the players looking over their own shoulder pads after this one. That ancient saw about the NFL standing for “Not For Long” was in evidence again in Spartanburg Thursday.

But should we really be that startled? Hangartner did not play well last season (splitting time at guard and center). He is 31 years old. Garry Williams was already getting a significant number of first-team snaps at right guard in training camp and looks headed toward the starting lineup.

The timing is unusual, yes. But ultimately this is the sort of move that NFL teams duplicate by the dozen toward the end of August when the 53-man rosters are chosen.

Should Panther fans be outraged? No. I don’t think this was a money issue. I think it was a talent issue.

New Panther general manager Dave Gettleman obviously didn’t think much of Hangartner’s ability, and that ultimately led to Hangartner getting the ominous text to go see head coach Ron Rivera first thing Thursday. Left tackle Jordan Gross thought his friend might be getting traded to Denver, but it was nothing that good.

And all that’s OK. The status quo for the Panthers hasn’t been good enough for five years now. I hope Hangartner lands on his feet elsewhere, but this is not a move Panther fans need to get incensed about.

I won’t pretend to be able to judge the merits of an offensive guard based on watching training-camp practices. But these are the kinds of moves Gettleman was brought in to make – to look at the team with fresh eyes and determine where the weak links are. It’s what he is paid to do, and the new GM deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one.