Sunday, September 29, 2013

Byron Bell makes friends with heckling Panther fan

Above is a short video I made to illustrate this column I wrote on Byron Bell, who had an interesting interaction with a Panther fan in the second row of Carolina's 38-0 win over the New York Giants. Fan John Hurley, whose family owns four PSLs, yelled at Bell before the game that Mario Williams says "Thank you!" for last week (when Williams had 4.5 sacks, several against Bell, in Buffalo's 24-23 win over Carolina).

Rather than ignoring the comment, Bell marinated on it. He gave Hurley a long glare after it, and looked back at him several times during the game, according to Hurley and a nearby fan, after the Panthers did something good.

Following Carolina's 38-0 win, Bell went over to Hurley, shook his hand and gave him his cleats. You'll see a picture of them in the video above.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ginn says 2013 Panthers can equal 2012 49ers

In interviewing Ted Ginn Jr. for this column on him that was published in Thursday's newspaper, I also asked Ginn how the current Panthers compared to the 2012 San Francisco 49ers. Ginn was the return man for those 49ers, who won the NFC and came very close to beating Baltimore in the Super Bowl.

"This Panther team is capable of the same thing, no doubt," Ginn said. "We are similar teams." He then went on to list some 49ers players from the 2012 squad and some current Panther players he thought equal each other at key positions. So, in Ginn's opinion:

San Francisco // Carolina

QB Colin Kaepernick = QB Cam Newton

RB Frank Gore = RB DeAngelo Williams

TE Vernon Davis = TE Greg Olsen

WR Michael Crabtree = WR Steve Smith

ILB Patrick Willis = MLB Luke Kuechly

Return man Ted Ginn Jr. < WR/Return man Ted Ginn Jr. (Ginn believes he is more valuable to the Panthers than he was to the 49ers since he is also being used as a wide receiver -- he already has TDs of 47 and 40 yards here -- while the 49ers had basically given up on him as a wideout).

Anyway, it's food for thought. Certainly the Panthers are only 1-2 this season and have still not shown the ability to win close games in Ron Rivera's tenure. The 49ers went 11-4-1 in 2012, then won two playoff games to take the NFC before succumbing to Baltimore. So these Panthers have a long, long way to go before being considered in the same league as that 49er squad -- but Ginn's comparisons are nevertheless interesting.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

7 things I liked about 38-0 Panther win over Giants

You never can tell, can you? The Panthers played one of the most complete games in franchise history Sunday to smoke the New York Giants, 38-0, Sunday in Charlotte and go to 1-2 in this strange season. It was Carolina's largest margin of victory in their 19 seasons. Here are the seven things I liked the most:

1. Ron Rivera set the tone early. With the score tied 0-0, Rivera went against tendency, going for it on fourth-and-1 from the New York 2. Mike Tolbert scored standing up and, amazingly, the rout was on. Rivera's job looks safe for the season.

2. Cam was Cam. Newton threw three touchdown passes, ran for a fourth and looked like a Pro Bowler after an early interception. He ran the ball a lot when he needed to but put it on the money on all three touchdown throws, with the 47-yarder to Ted Ginn Jr. the showstopper.

3. Greg Hardy and the Panther pass rush. After his tongue-in-cheek prediction of 50 sacks this season, Hardy had been held sackless in the first two games. But he had three in this game as the Panthers harassed Eli Manning all day, sacking him a total of seven times -- tying a Panther team record.

4. Brandon LaFell. A huge game for the Panthers' on-and-off No.2 receiver. He scored twice on passes from Cam Newton -- one from 16, one from 20 -- and also saved a touchdown when Newton was late on a deep sideline throw and intercepted. LaFell's tackle at the Carolina 17 allowed the Panthers' defense to get back on the field, and the defense was so dominant when it counted Sunday that New York ended up not getting any points on that or any other drive.

5. Chase Blackburn. The Panther coaching staff made a sad but necessary move to begin the game, starting Blackburn in front of Jon Beason at weakside linebacker. Beason has been a shell of himself too often in the first two games as he tries to come back from injury. Blackburn had a strong game in a sterling defensive effort, and the defensive secondary was extraordinary for being as patched-together as it was.

6. Graham Gano. The Panthers' kicker has been overshadowed because of Carolina's first two losses, but he is off to a spectacular start. He is a guaranteed touchback on nearly every kick and nailed a 53-yarder in the second quarter Sunday to give Carolina a 10-0 lead.

7. Melvin White. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette made an athletic pickoff of Manning in the third quarter. He's only the Panthers' second most famous undrafted FA out of that college -- Jake Delhomme would be your No.1 Ragin' Cajun -- but that was a heck of a play. White would later cause a fumble as well. And fellow undrafted rookie Robert Lester also had an interception. The Panthers outgained the Giants by a startling 402-150 in yardage on the day. As Steve Smith said, they played so well they are going to "take a week off" -- the team doesn't play again until Oct.6th at Arizona.

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Panthers-Giants prediction and an interesting fourth-down stat

Andre Brown rushed for 113 yards when the New York Giants clobbered Carolina last year -- also in Week 3 of the regular season.

Some pregame notes and a prediction about Sunday's Giants-Panthers game in Charlotte:

Although they are not in the same division, the New York Giants seem to turn up during critical periods of the Carolina Panthers' history. Three quick examples:

1) Following the 2005 season, the Panthers throttled Eli Manning and the Giants, 23-0, at Giants Stadium in an NFC wildcard game. The Panthers became the first team that day to register a road playoff shutout in 25 years. Manning had three interceptions and only threw for 113 yards.

2) In 2008, in the next-to-last game of the regular season, the Giants edged Carolina, 34-28, in overtime, knocking the Panthers out of contention for the No.1 playoff seed.

3) Almost exactly a year ago, Manning and the Giants drilled Carolina 36-7 in a prime-time Thursday night game in Charlotte. Marty Hurney would later point to that game in particular as one of those that got him fired as Carolina's GM.

Now comes Sunday's game, which could be as significant as No.3 if it goes the wrong way. It is heavily rumored that coach Ron Rivera may not survive an 0-3 start -- that team owner Jerry Richardson could get fed up and, along with general manager Dave Gettleman, fire Rivera during the upcoming bye week if the Panthers don't beat the Giants.

The pressure is on for both sidelines -- the Giants have started 0-2 as well. But if the Panthers want to guarantee that Rivera is here in October, they better beat New York.

-- Manning, of course, will go after Carolina's secondary. It wasn't too good even before four defensive backs went down last week and now is in even worse shape. He would love an outcome similar to last year's, when the Giants scored on their first four possessions and led 20-0 at halftime. But Manning has thrown an astonishing seven interceptions through two games -- at least three more than every other quarterback in the league.

-- I am writing a column for Sunday's newspaper about fourth down. In my research I stumbled across this fact: From the 2011 season on -- the Rivera era for Carolina -- the Panthers have gone for it on fourth down the fewest times in the NFL save for one team. That one team? You can probably guess -- John Fox's Denver Broncos.

-- If I were the Panthers, I'd get Chase Blackburn in the game for some snaps at Jon Beason's weakside position. It couldn't hurt. Beason is trying to play himself back into condition but the results have not been pretty thus far.

-- Feel free to skip this prediction, because I have missed the outcome of the Panthers' first two games this season already, in both cases picking the Panthers to win. For some reason -- it must be my inherent stubbornness -- I'm going to do it again. Carolina 27, N.Y. Giants 20.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rivera not worried about his job security as Panther coach

Panther coach Ron Rivera met with the media as usual Monday, saying his team was "very close" to "getting over the hump" and discounting rumors about his job security.

Rivera said he had not talked with team owner Jerry Richardson since the team lost a heartbreaker, 24-23, at Buffalo Sunday. He said he had spoken with general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday, however, but indicated that was only about upcoming business regarding the Panthers' depleted secondary and Sunday's game against the New York Giants.

"We talked about the game, talked about what our potential moves could be," Rivera said.

I followed up with this question: "So you don't have any doubts about your current job security?"

"No," Rivera said. "The biggest thing is we're going to talk about what just happened and the Giants game coming up."

Richardson waited six days after last season concluded before meeting with the coach and then announcing he would be retained for his third season. Rivera's teams are 13-21 overall at Carolina. The Panthers have started 0-2 this season, losing by a combined total of six points. They are now 2-14 under Rivera in games decided by seven points or fewer.

The Panthers have blown 10 fourth-quarter leads under Rivera, including in each of the last two games. The team also lost its starting free safety and best player in the secondary, Charles Godfrey, Sunday to a torn Achilles tendon. Godfrey is out for the season, it was confirmed Monday. The Giants, who play in Charlotte Sunday, are also 0-2.

An unofficial and unscientific Charlotte Observer online poll as to whether Richardson should fire Rivera this week that has drawn more than 7,500 votes, with about 84 percent of voters saying Rivera should be gone.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Will heartbreaking Panther loss to Buffalo get Rivera fired?

Quick observations on the Panthers' 24-23 loss to Buffalo Sunday (which I watched not from Buffalo, but from my couch, just to make clear where I am while writing this):

-- That is the kind of blown game that gets your head coach fired, and it won't be a total surprise if Panthers owner Jerry Richardson pulls the trigger as early as Monday. He showed last year with the midseason firing of general manager Marty Hurney -- whom Richardson was a lot closer to than Rivera -- that he will make a difficult midseason move if he feels like nothing is working. If nothing else, this puts the Rivera job security question back in play once more.

Rivera is now 2-14 in games decided by seven points or less during his Carolina career. Fox Sports flashed up another statistic late in the game noting that the Panthers had lost nine games under Rivera since he took over in 2011 after leading in the fourth quarter -- the most in the NFL in that time period.

Make it 10.

This one just had some awful decision-making late -- not only by the defense in allowing Buffalo's game-winning, two-minute drive of 80 yards, but also by Rivera. To not try and throw the ball at least once in the final possession -- with the ball inside Buffalo's 35 -- was conservatism at its worst. Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula simply ran it three times in a row, using up all of Buffalo's timeouts, but giving the Bills back the ball only six points down with almost two minutes left instead of going for the jugular.

Remember how well Seattle used up the final five minutes of last week's game, by throwing in similar situations and getting first downs? The Panthers do that just once, and the game's over.

Then came the Bills' final drive and its air of inevitability -- Luke Kuechly's critical pass-interference penalty (negating an interception) and the pass-coverage mixup from the Panthers' patched-up secondary with two seconds left that allowed the last touchdown from two yards out.

-- Critical point: Why would you entrust the game to a beaten-down secondary? That's what the Panthers did by running the ball three straight times on that last drive, playing the "let's don't lose" card once again instead of the "let's finish this." They put it in the hands of a tired defense -- which still should have stopped the Bills, yes, but should never have had to be in that position.

-- Where was the pass rush on that last drive? Where has Greg Hardy been, period? That 50-sack goal isn't looking too good.

-- With the team's secondary in tatters after a spate of injuries Sunday, the team's doctors and Panther general manager Dave Gettleman better have a very good week. Eli Manning is going to absolutely eat the Panthers' lunch next Sunday again in Charlotte if the Panthers can't get the secondary settled.

-- No one can accuse Shula of not taking vertical shots in this game. It seemed like Cam Newton threw a 40-yard ball on almost every drive -- until the end. Only one was completed -- a 40-yarder to Ted Ginn Jr. that accounted for the Panthers' second touchdown. But that deep threat helped the Panthers elsewhere, as the offense looked better in Week 2 despite the final score.

-- Defensive end Mario Williams had the best pass-rushing day I have ever seen against a Carolina offensive line. The stats back it up -- Williams had 4.5 sacks, which was the most the Panthers have ever allowed to an individual. Whenever he was blocked by just one man, he usually ate it up -- especially if the poor soul was the overmatched Byron Bell. It was the second time in a row the Panthers have gotten burned by a former Wolfpack player -- Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 320 yards against them last week.

-- Graham Gano really had a good day, making three fourth-quarter field goals for Carolina but also making sure the Bills could never get a kickoff return by blasting all his kickoffs out of the end zone. This sure wasn't his fault.

-- Kuechly's interception earlier in the fourth quarter was a big play, but his pass interference call was unfortunately even bigger. As good as Kuechly is, in the first two weeks he has been unable to stem the tide of a game turning against the Panthers. Nor has Newton, and those two are the Panthers' two cornerstones. If the Panthers had just gotten one of their final three field-goal drives into the end zone, this one would have been over and Carolina would have been going home 1-1 instead of 0-2.

Instead, the Panthers go home with a huge number of questions, including how long their head coach is going to last. In the 34 games he has coached Carolina, Rivera has now lost 10 of them after his team led at some point in the fourth quarter.

These sorts of losses have long ceased being surprises. They constitute some sort of coaching character flaw -- this terrible habit Rivera has of riding the brakes with a lead. And I'm no longer sure it can be fixed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fowler and Sorensen pick Carolina-Buffalo game

Columnist Tom Sorensen (left) and myself pick the winner and the score of the Panthers-Bills game on Sunday in the video above.

If you think you have it bad as a Carolina Panther fan, you may want to take some "misery loves company" solace in what has happened to Buffalo.

The Bills haven't made the playoffs since after the 1999 season -- easily the longest playoff drought in the NFL. To put that in perspective, Cam Newton was 10 years old when the Bills got in, only to lose on the "Music City Miracle."

Long gone are the glory days of the early 1990s, when the Bills and quarterback Jim Kelly made four straight Super Bowls (but lost them all). The Bills haven't even had a winning season since 2004. At least the Panthers last made the playoffs in 2008; that's a whole lot better than 1999.

With all that said, these two franchises do have a lot of things in common this season entering this game. Here are three of them:

1) Both teams led at home in Week 1 entering the fourth quarter, only to lose in a fashion their fans found all too familiar to fall to 0-1.

2) Both quarterbacks (Newton and E.J. Manuel) threw for 150 yards or less without an interception in the opener and didn't have a pass play of longer than 30 yards, prompting all sorts of questions this week about "stretching the field."

3) Both teams ran the ball last week for almost exactly the same number of yards (134 for Carolina, 136 for Buffalo).

-- The Panthers lost to a rookie quarterback last season in Russell Wilson, but I don't think Manuel is as good as Wilson and won't play as mistake-free if Carolina can put pressure on him. I think Carolina will win this game by virtue of its dominating defense.

-- My prediction: Carolina 24, Buffalo 14. Tom's pick: Carolina 24, Buffalo 21.

Panthers do not have lowest beer prices in NFL after all

It turns out the Panthers don't have the NFL's cheapest beer -- but they are fairly close. The folks at had produced a survey that showed the Panthers the lowest in the NFL at 27 cents per ounce for the cheapest beer in the stadium.

I posted that in this blog and you, my fine readers, were quick to point out this could hardly be true (see comments below). So I checked with both the website that did the study and the Panthers and it turns out the readers are right.

The guy at said he had talked to some Panther concessionaire of some type who said the team has a $6 beer available, and that it was upon that beer that the 27-cent figure was based. It turns out that was incorrect, though -- that beer only has 12 ounces, according to the Panthers, so that would be 50 cents per ounce.

On a per-ounce basis, the Panthers' cheapest brew is a 20-ounce beer for $7.50, which equates to 37.5 cents per ounce. This is still cheap by NFL standards -- the Panthers would rank tied for fourth-cheapest using that number, behind only Miami, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

So by NFL standards it is still relatively cheap to drown your sorrows at a Panther game -- just not as cheap as was originally thought.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How nice are Panther fans? A Seahawks fan chimes in

Seattle fan John O'Gara and his son pose outside Bank of America Stadium Sunday.


Check out this interesting email I received from John O'Gara, who works for Microsoft, lives in Seattle and is a Seahawk season ticket-holder. He came to Charlotte and watched the game in person along with his eight-year-old son, combining the trip with a visit to his mother, who is retired and living in N.C., and also came to the game.

O'Gara had a great experience at the stadium. I know some hardcore Panther fans will read his letter and say, "We're too nice! We shouldn't be so gentlemanly to other teams' fans!"

In my way of thinking, however, this is exactly how you want to treat opposing fans in Charlotte. You beat them if you can on the field, but hey, it's not their fault they were able to get tickets to the game. They deserve a good game-day experience, win or lose, that doesn't include getting beer dumped on them, etc. (as would undoubtedly happen in, say, Oakland or Philadelphia).

Here's what O'Gara wrote:
I returned yesterday from a trip to Charlotte with my 8-year-old son to attend the Seahawks-Panthers game. One of the first things I mentioned to my co-workers this morning when asked “How was the game?” was to share with them how wonderful the people and Panther fans in Charlotte were.

I didn’t know what to expect, really, except that I felt pretty safe dressing my son and I in full Seahawks gear for the game, and cheering loudly and proudly. It was, after all, Charlotte and aren’t people in North Carolina supposed to be friendly and great keepers of “Southern Hospitality”?

Apparently so, as I’ll never forget how the rest of the day went.

As we parked our vehicle -- joined by my mother who recently retired to North Carolina from Nebraska -- we were asked “A long ways to come for a whuppin, isn’t it?” Only thing was, the gentleman asking did so with a nice, friendly, welcoming smile. As we walked up the Bank of America Stadium, we were told, very politely, which way to the right gate.

Once we were in the security line, we were treated wonderfully -- only a minor joke after clearing the bag check to “place our jerseys in the trash bin, located right over there." We were wearing Russell Wilson #3 jerseys, of course… and the suggestion to throw them in the trash was again delivered quite nicely, with a smile and a “just kiddin”.

As we walked to our seats, we started to get stopped by every stadium employee we passed. I am not exaggerating. It happened almost constantly. “Sir, thank you so much for coming, we are really glad you came, and you are welcome here.” It was so consistently delivered that I became very quickly aware that this was intentional. We were receiving the welcome that had been drilled into the staff: Visitors are welcome here, and the Panthers are glad they came. This happened at least six more times before we got to our seats.

The fans around us were really nice, as well. No glares, no negative comments. In fact, it was fun. We chatted with our neighbors, about North Carolina, Charlotte, the stadium, the teams… and had a great time. A few folks told us they liked seeing Russell Wilson doing so well in Seattle. I guess that his time spent at North Carolina State had earned him some local fans, even if he was playing for the opposing team.

At halftime, as we went for snacks and a break from the sun, we were behind [Carolina led 7-3 at halftime]. The nice gentlemen that let us get in front of him going up the stairs said, “Sure is a good game- really close and both teams are working hard.” He could have said, “So, not as easy as you thought, eh?”…. but he was polite, pleasant, and friendly.

As we all know, the Seahawks found themselves leaving Charlotte with a win. As we walked to the car, we wondered how this would go over, and what would be said or done now that the result was known.

Well, we were hardly out of the stadium and a nice man -- that I wish I’d gotten the name of -- stopped my son. He put a brand new Panther logo football in my son’s hands and said, “Son, here’s something for you to remember the great time you had in Charlotte at the Panther game!” When I was worried he was going to say something rude to my son, or who knows what, he gives my son a gift, after having his team beaten by the team my son is clearly here to see. He grinned, smiled, and the whole situation was as genuine as it gets.

I was dumbfounded. We didn’t know what to say, except thank you.

As we continued our walk back to the car, we were stopped numerous times -- sometimes by Seahawks fans who wanted a high-five, some “Sea-Hawks” chants, and a fist bump. But more often, much more often, by Panther fans - thanking us for coming, taking pictures of themselves with my son in his Seahawks gear, and being, again, friendly.

The last chapter in this story? When we needed to pull out of the lot and into the bumper to bumper traffic on Mint- and in our Seahawks jerseys and hats, a Panther fan waves us in front of him, and says “good game”- with a smile.

I sincerely hope that our staff, fans, and the residents of Seattle will be so kind to the Panthers when we would be privileged to have you come play us in our town, someday down the road. I look forward to the opportunity to return the kindness.

Who will I root for, unless we are playing them? The Carolina Panthers, who have some of the nicest and most polite fans in the NFL.

So what do you think? Were Panther fans too nice to O'Gara and his family -- or just right? I would argue it was just right and judging from the first batch of comments most would agree -- but not everyone.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Quick observations on Seattle 12, Panthers 7 (final)

Some quick observations about the Panthers' 12-7 loss to Seattle, in which the team blew a 7-6 lead going into the fourth quarter:

-- Josh Thomas certainly deserves criticism for giving up the 43-yard touchdown that put the Seahawks ahead for good in the fourth quarter. He was actually beaten on two straight plays that could have been TDs -- the first was dropped (Thomas said afterward in the locker room he was "winded" after the first play). But let's also remember this: you are not going to hold Russell Wilson and Seattle down forever. You've got to score more points than a single lousy touchdown. I put this loss more on the offense.

-- Ron Rivera goes to 2-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less in his tenure.

-- DeAngelo Williams' fumble inside the 10 was a heartbreaker, as it looked like the Panthers were about to go ahead on their own fourth-quarter score. Williams has not been a fumbler in his career, averaging only about one per season. But that was a huge one. Carolina never saw the ball again. DeAngelo was a stand-up guy about it afterward, telling reporters he was responsible for the loss.

-- One of the biggest reasons Carolina lost was a propensity for really dumb plays by some of its lesser-known players. Frank Alexander bopped a Seattle offensive lineman and got disqualified from the game. Josh Thomas had a punt touch him while he was trying to block -- on a play where Ted Ginn Jr. was not catching the ball -- and had a turnover to go along with getting beaten deep. Armond Smith was penalized -- twice! -- for flirting with out of bounds too much while trying to cover punts.

-- Carolina's front seven, particularly Charles Johnson, was as good as advertised for most of the day. Johnson's strip-sack-recovered fumble - the old Lawrence Taylor triple play -- got the Panthers out of a big jam in the second quarter. Then his pressure caused Wilson to take a 21-yard intentional grounding penalty and forced the Seahawks to take a third-quarter field goal. But the Panthers were really bad on Seattle's last drive, when the Seahawks ground 5:25 off the clock.

-- Where were the Panthers' second and third receivers? Cam Newton didn't target any wide receiver but Steve Smith until the third quarter. Newton threw for only 125 yards, although he had no turnovers. He wasn't helped by the normally sure-handed Greg Olsen dropping two passes.

-- Offensive coordinator Mike Shula's play-calling as a whole was unimpressive in Week 1, particularly on one drive where he ran the ball twice with a second-and-2 and failed to get it either time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Prediction: Panthers to edge Seattle on Sunday

A few notes and my prediction on Carolina's season opener vs. Seattle (1 p.m. in Charlotte):

While many ACC fans will keep a close eye on former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson Sunday, the Panthers may have even more trouble with Marshawn Lynch. Watch out for No.24 -- he has rushed for more than 100 yards in 16 of his last 25 games and has made the Pro Bowl each of the past two years.

Lynch got only five carries in the preseason, but don't be fooled by that. The Seahawks were just trying to limit his hits because he's going to take so many in 2013, and he will be a workhorse Sunday. If he rips off a lot of 8-10 yard runs, Carolina's defense never will have much chance to use its pass rush. The Seahawks ran the ball more than any other NFL team in 2012, which took a lot of the pressure off Wilson. Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei needs to have a big game Sunday inside to allow middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to zero in on Lynch.

-- In Carolina's 16-12 loss to Seattle in Charlotte a year ago, the Panther offense generated a measly three points. The touchdown came from Captain Munnerlyn's interception return of a Wilson pass, and the Seahawks took an intentional safety late in the game.

-- Does Jon Beason have something to prove Sunday? You bet he does. The Panther linebacker was once in the middle of the Carolina defense and a team captain. Now he is neither of one of those things -- he has shifted to outside linebacker to accommodate Kuechly's emergence and he was not voted a team captain this season. How well Beason plays -- and if he can stay on the field after missing 27 of the past 32 games due to injury -- is a huge key for Carolina this season.

-- In my prediction column that will appear in print in Saturday's special Panthers section and is already online, I picked the Panthers to go 10-6 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 this year. My colleague Tom Sorensen was more pessimistic, picking them to go 8-8.

If the Panthers are going to get it done this season, these are the types of games they must win -- at home against a quality opponent. My pick: Carolina 23, Seattle 21.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

So was Steve Smith right about Chudzinski?

Steve Smith says former Panther offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski got "too cute" in pursuit of a head-coaching job with Carolina's play-calling in 2012.

Steve Smith fired a shot across the bow Wednesday, saying Rob Chudzinski's ambition hurt the Carolina Panthers' offense in 2012.

In a teleconference with Seattle-area reporters -- Smith was not available to Carolina-based media Wednesday -- No.89 said: “The prior offensive coordinator really was positioning himself to just apply for that head coaching job. I think our offense suffered a little bit because of that. At times, we got cute. We did things that weren’t necessarily us, like the under-utilizing of (fullback) Mike Tolbert. But we’re out of that. The past is the past.”

"Chud," as everyone calls him, is now the head coach at Cleveland. Smith's comments were the most negative ever directed at the Panthers' playcaller in 2011 and 2012, although Tolbert earlier this preseason made a reference to what he called "a lot of broken promises" regarding his own use in 2012. I believe Smith's comments echo an undercurrent among a number of Panther offensive players -- this is something that has been whispered about, for sure, but outside of reporters' earshot until now.

Here's what I think: Smith is correct in at least one sense. There's no debate: Tolbert was not used enough last year until the very end of the season. The guy can play. He's a fine short-yardage back, and he's really good out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. He's about to get used a whole lot, too, assuming his body holds up, with Jonathan Stewart out the first five weeks.

Another thing I didn't like about "Chud's" offense -- too many carries (and hits) for Cam Newton. No way your quarterback should lead the team in rushing in the NFL, but Newton did in 2012 (the first time that happened since Donovan McNabb for Philadelphia in 2000). Too much risk.

But in another sense Smith is wrong. To imply Chudzinski put his own personal goals in front of the Panthers winning doesn't make sense to me. For "Chud" to get a job, Carolina had to do well. I think he called plays to win, not to impress owners around the NFL. If it did both, so much the better. And he was innovative. He brought the "read-option" to Carolina in 2011 before RG3 made it much more well-known. He had some incredible gadget plays that worked (remember Richie Brockel's TD)? He certainly got Smith the ball a lot (well, that was Newton throwing it but still).

Smith had 1,000-yard years in both 2011 and '12 in Chud's offense after a terrible season in 2010 with Jimmy Clausen as his QB. And Chud's two offenses at Carolina ranked very high in team history (setting a team record for yards in 2011 while ranking No.7 in the NFL and then a more modest but still respectable No.12 in 2012).

So, like many controversial comments, Smith's has some truth to it but is not entirely true. It's very possible Smith will find something to complain about in Mike Shula's more conventional offense, too, before this season is over -- it certainly hasn't looked good in the preseason.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Best and worst Panther season openers ever

Cam Newton is 0-2 on opening day for the Panthers, although in each case he has passed for more than 300 yards.

My column for Wednesday's newspaper will be on the historical importance of Opening Day to the Panthers. Did you realize Carolina is 6-12 all-time in season openers, and that their winning percentage of .333 ranks dead last among the 32 NFL teams?

Looking back at their 18 previous openers before Sunday's home game against Seattle, there have been so many Sundays filled with promise that turned into duds (including the last four in a row). I have picked my three best and three worst Panther openers out of this list of 18. Scan it and tell me which one you think was the best and/or worst either in the comments section or an email to I'll reveal my picks in the column and will also post them in this blog entry once the column is online. (UPDATE: Here's the full column -- I picked 2003, 2008 and 1996 as the best openers and 2004, 2009 and 2012 as the worst).

One additional note I discovered: When Carolina has won its season opener, the Panthers have made the playoffs 50 percent of the time. When the Panthers lose it, they have made the playoffs only eight percent of the time.

1995 -- Atlanta 23, Carolina 20 (OT)

1996 -- Carolina 29, Atlanta 6

1997 -- Washington 24, Carolina 10

1998 -- Atlanta 19, Carolina 14

1999 -- New Orleans 19, Carolina 10

2000 -- Washington 20, Carolina 17

2001 -- Carolina 24, Minnesota 13

2002 -- Carolina 10, Baltimore 7

2003 -- Carolina 24, Jacksonville 23

2004 -- Green Bay 24, Carolina 14

2005 -- New Orleans 23, Carolina 20

2006 -- Atlanta 20, Carolina 6

2007 -- Carolina 27, St. Louis 13

2008 -- Carolina 26, San Diego 24

2009 -- Philadelphia 38, Carolina 10

2010 -- New York Giants 31, Carolina 18

2011 -- Arizona 28, Carolina 21

2012 -- Tampa Bay 16, Carolina 10