Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What a difference one player makes.

No one addressed it fully in the Locker room. And when directly asked both players and coaches skated around the question. Did Russell's injury affect the team.

The answer is yes.

But they were not the only team who noticed #16 wasn't taking the field. Rutgers also seemed to smell the blood in the water. A team that looked anemic in the first half dropped 23 points in the final two quarters.

And the Scarlet Knight defense did something they couldn't do for the fist 30 minutes. Pressure the quarterback. Both Beck and Evans are pocket passers who just aren't as mobile as Wilson, when pressured they were rushed, knocked down and intercepted.

Although the loss is tough for the Wolfpack. I know everyone was excited when Daniel Evans threw the touchdown strike to Anthony Hill. Although the lead was short-lived how cool was that. Imagine if that had been the game winning drive. Daniel Evans in his final game coming off the bench to lead NC State back for the win.

Sadly to say it wasn't to be. Instead we really saw what a healthy Russell Wilson means to this team as far as wins and losses and the confidence he brings to the locker room.

Pix from Papajohns.com

Mike Glennon and Russell Wilson warming up with the team. The present and future of Wolfpack signal callers

Pix from Papajohns.com

South endzone. Anthony Hill would score the final touchdown of his college career here.

Pix from Papajohns.com

View of Legion Field from the Press Box. Both teams were just getting ready to take the field for pre-game warmups.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweet Home Alabama

After spending 8 hours and more than 500 miles behind the wheel I'm finally here in Birmingham.

I have to say that the Wolfpack Nation travels WELL. I saw Wolfpack flags the entire drive down here.

Birmingham (for lack of a better phrase) has rolled out the red carpet this weekend. The city hosted an open block party for both schools and everywhere you go people are so helpful. I do have one knock on the cit I-65 sucks. I could not find a southbound entrance to save me life. I circled down town for 15 minutes. I finally had to just go northbound and hit a U-turn at the next exit( really who just builds northbound entrance ramps).

To the game! So I'm really looking forward to match-up between NC State and Rutgers. The Pack's secondary really came into their own as of late and everything they learned from this past season will be tested tomorrow.

Rutgers Quarterback Mike Teel is just a beast. He's tossed for 23 touchdowns and over 3000 yards. The Scarlet Knights by far will pose the biggest test of the year for State. Pack safety Clem Johnson should see sometime tomorrow. He's been out for close to a month with a leg injury. He's experience will be needed on the field but I just wonder if he can adjust to game speed.

Another story line Russell Wilson. It seems like he is always the storyline but he's been just phenomenal. The question will be can he go another game without throwing an interception. He hasn't thrown a pick since September 13th. If he continues his stellar play and commits NO turnovers the day could go quite well for the Pack. But if he losses a ball or two the game could get out of hand fast.

We'll see what happens tomorrow, though time to hit the sack I'm tired.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Driving back after New York

Thoughts as we make our way back from the 34-28 overtime loss to the Giants.

-The Giants are not the best team in the NFC. They benefited from a Panther defense that was without their space-eater in the middle (Kemoeatu), which led the Giants to a 301 rushing performance (their highest single-game total in nearly 50 years). Carolina's defense was porous against the run (obviously), but being down the big fella in the middle certainly didn't help. NY had 107 yards on the ground at the half, and the floodgates opened in the 2nd half.

-The Panther offense was good in the first half, and in the 4th quarter. Seemed like they played it a bit close to the vest in the 3rd, wen they were going into the wind. Almost like playing a prevent against themselves. To me, they needed to assert themselves physically in that stretch, which they did not. Maybe it's just me, but I want to see the "nasty" come out in big game situations. I didn't see that in the 2nd half. Saw it a ton in the first half. The Panthers needed to finish that game, and they did not.

-John Kasay. He's missed 2 kicks all season long, but the one from Sunday night will be remembered longer than all of his makes this season. That's a shame. Kasay faced the music afterwards, Didn't shy away from any questions, and basically said "I missed it." Tough spot to be in, but you have to respect the honesty.

-All is not lost. Carolina will have their hands full next week taking on a New Orleans team that is out of the playoff picture, but would love nothing more than to ruin the Panthers party. A Carolina win locks up the #2 seed, meaning once the Giants bow out of their first playoff game, (which they will, mark my words), the Panthers would then have the chance to host the NFC title game. A loss to New Orleans, coupled with an Atlanta win over St. Louis (which WILL happen next week), means the Panthers become the #5 seed, and no home games, and no bye-week. Enough motivation?

-A quick shout down to the Giants fans. I thought Philadelphia fans were bad (which they are), but Giant fans throwing snow (and ice) balls at the sidelines is not only uncool, it's dangerous. I took one off the back (luckily more snow than ice). Of course, anybody can be a tough guy when they are surrounded by an entire section of people claiming ignorance. Whatever. The Giants post-season will last all of 4 quarters, as someone will find a way to cut their rushing attack in half.

Here's wishing everyone a Happy Holidays, and don't miss the Sports Night 2008 Year in Review show on Christmas Eve!

Mike Solarte

PS-The Panther car flag now is 5-3 lifetime. Ugh.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Road trip thoughts

Making the long drive up to the Big Apple (no, it's not a sign of News 14 being cheap--we need our live truck to get items back in a timely fashion), had a few random thoughts to drop into the blog.

-Thinking about the NFL schedule makers. When the games were released, certainly no one had any idea that the 2 best teams in the NFC would be facing one another, and it could have been any of the teams. It could have been Minnesota-Atlanta, New Orleans-Detroit (yeah, ok), or any of the other matchups in week 16. Very cool that it worked out like this.

-Flex scheduling may be the best thing the league has done for its fans in years. I know the folks at ABC would have preferred they had the control for the Monday Night games before they got out of the business with ESPN taking over, but given the rules in place to flex games, this is about as good as it can get.

-Panthers will have a walk-thru in Charlotte on Saturday before heading into New York. I'll be interested to know if Maake Kemoeatu has a setback, or he progresses towards playing Sunday night. As of Friday, he was questionable with an ankle injury, but he did practice on a limited basis--an improvement from Wednesday and Thursday when he didn't do anything. Limited participation is just slightly more active than not practicing at all, still, being out there is a positive sign. We'll see how it plays out. UPDATE FROM THE ROAD (3:04 p.m.) Panthers placed G Keydrick Vincent on IR Saturday, ending his season. Vincent suffered a groin injury last week against Denver, and injury the Panthers apparently felt would not heal in time to get him back for a playoff run. Panthers promoted DT Nick Hayden from the practice squad to take Vincent's roster spot.

-News 14 alum Lisa Reyes (now working in NYC), tells me 6 inches of snow is expected for Sunday, although she didn't give me a timetable. A snow game, in New York, 0n national tv. Yeah, that's football, baby! UPDATE FROM THE ROAD (3:04 p.m.)-looks like precip during the day, and 15 degrees Sunday night. BRRRRRRRRRRR!!

-Random travel stat: The News 14 newsroom possesses a Carolina Panthers car flag which owns a lifetime road record of 5-2 (2-1 in the 2003 playoffs including the Super Bowl and 3-1 in 2005 with 1 reg. season game, and 3 playoff games). That flag is making this New York trip on Live Unit 2, in the hopes of pushing further north of the .500 mark, and staying as complete as possible in the process. The picture should give you an indication of the miles this baby has seen.

I'll try to post more once we get into the city, and I get any updates on player status. We'll also be live tonight on Sports Night from the Apple, and Tim Baier (happy birthday, Timmy), is staffing the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C. He'll have game coverage from the nation's capital as well.

A busy Sports Night at 10-don't miss it!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Panthers-Giants...Let the hype begin

Trying to blow this game out of proportion will not be difficult this week. Here's why.

The Carolina Panthers and New York Giants will meet Sunday night, with the winner earning the #1 overall seed in the NFC. With that seed comes home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That alone makes this the biggest regular-season game the Panthers have ever played in franchise history. Period.

Of course, if Carolina wins, they will also wrap up the NFC South title, which is one of the pre-season goals, but being home throughout the playoffs would be something this franchise has never had. Home field advantage doesn't mean automatic wins in the playoffs, but considering this team went 8-0 on the grass at Bank of America Stadium, it couldn't hurt. Imagine the atmosphere from the Monday night game against Tampa Bay. Now multiply that by 100. Welcome to playoff football for the top seed in the NFC.

This game is winnable for Carolina, no question. The Panthers are running ball as well as any team in the league right now. The defense has slowly regained the form it showed earlier in the season. Special teams have been on point as well. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, as the Giants will be a hungry and desperate team Sunday night. The G-men have dropped 2 in a row, and are in danger of losing that home-field advantage. Media in New York are reporting that Brandon Jacobs has said he will play Sunday night, no matter what his wonky knee feels like.

Injuries are creeping into the Panthers again, with Maake Kemoeatu (ankle) and Keydrick Vincent (groin) on the banged up list (an update on both comes Wednesday). Still, Carolina has shown they have depth, especially on the offensive line. Defensively, if Kemo can not go, look for Darwin Walker and Gary Gibson (among others) to help fill the void. Watching what the Cowboys D-line did to New York Sunday night, the Panthers would do well to emulate that scheme.

More on this one after we chat up the players on Wednesday, plus an update to this very blog once the Pro Bowl selections are announced in about an hour.

UPDATE: DE Julius Peppers and LT Jordan Gross were named as starters on the NFC Pro Bowl, while WR Steve Smith and LB Jon Beason made the team as reserves. Noticably absent, RB DeAngelo Williams, who only leads the NFL in touchdowns scored this season. Also left off, LG Travelle Wharton and K John Kasay. Kasay has missed 1 kick all season.

I can almost live with Wharton (Steve Hutchinson from Minnesota & Chris Snee from the New York Giants were voted as starters, with Leonard Davis from Dallas as the reserve). Leaving Williams off is a crime, however. I won't go out and say that Williams is a better overall back than starter Adrian Peterson (Minne.), but his year is on par, if not better than, Michael Turner (Atl) and Clinton Portis (Wash). Williams will likely brush this off on Wednesday (if he is available for interviews), but leading the league in TD's has to count for something. Maybe this will be a motivator for him in New York this Sunday.

Also, read a disturbing note from a Richmond Sr. fan, claiming I was a "homer" for Jack Britt during the 4-AA state final in Chapel Hill during the TV broadcast of the game. I am curious why such a comment was made. Britt was the underdog, based on their 0-8 record against the Raiders all-time. Richmond had the toughest road I can remember to get to the final (beating the West region's #3, #2, and #1 seeds, and then facing the East #1). Also, Britt had 2 double-digit leads on Richmond Sr. Britt was actually winning the game. Twice. As Richmond clawed back, I feel very confident that the broadcast reflected their amazing comeback in very complimentary fashion.

I said it on the broadcast, and I will say it again. Richmond won that game as much as Britt may have lost it (with that untimely fumble with 2 minutes to go). I congratulate both teams, and their fans on tremendous seasons. To call me a homer for either side is laughable, at best.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Thank You and Panthers

As I kickoff this blog entry, I wanted to take a moment to say a heart-felt thank you to all the high school football coaches, players, and fans that helped make the Discount Tire Friday night Final such a rousing success this season. Coaches and players were fantastic to work with throughout the season, fans were great mugging for cameras, and more importantly, calling in those final scores--even if it was your team on the wrong end of the score.

The most thanks, however, goes to our tremendous photographers. Our camera folks were out in the trenches week in and week out, bringing some top shelf video back for the viewers to see, and sometimes doing it against rather tight deadlines. My deepest gratitude to each one of you. It is an honor to work alongside you.

I pass out these thank yous in the hopes that you, the viewer, will check out the culmination of this long high school football season, this Sunday when Jack Britt meets Richmond Sr. at 3pm--a game you can see live on News 14 Carolina. I will be calling the action with Adam Gold providing analysis, and Jim Connors working the field level during the broadcast. All 8 title games will be available on Carolina On Demand (channel 1234) in the early portion of next week, so keep an eye out if your team plays for the ring this weekend. Good luck to all!

Now that the mushy stuff is behind us--the Carolina Panthers will try to wrap up a perfect home schedule Sunday when they host the Denver Broncos. Carolina still has everything to play for, and that should worry the Broncos. Sure, Denver is in first place in the AFC West, but I have to tell you, that is the same as being valedictorian of summer school, or the all-time home run leader in minor league baseball. Denver has a tremendous offense. Jay Cutler has some wonderful receivers to throw to. They have played 5 of their 6 divisional games this season. Why is that significant? The highest ranked defense from the AFC West comes from the San Diego Chargers--and they rank 25th overall. That's the BEST AFC West defense. Basically, Cutler has picked on JV kids in the division.

Here is the REAL reason the Panthers need to be wary of Denver. The Broncos are 3-0 against the NFC South. Yep-they have wins over Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Truth be told, only one of those games was a road game for Denver (that was in Atlanta). Still, the NFC South has NO TEAMS at 500 or worse. 3-0 against ATL, NO, and TB is an accomplishment, no matter how you slice it.

Why the Panthers will win:

"Razzle & Dazzle." Yep, the new moniker given the Panthers running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams (Razzle) and Jonathan Stewart (Dazzle), should have a big day against the Broncos. Denver is horrific defensively, and again, they haven't played any real competition save for the NFC South and the New York Jets. The Panthers rushing attack is a well-oiled machine these days, and I look for that to continue Sunday.

By the way, "Razzle & Dazzle" was passed to the RB's by receiver Steve Smith. Apparently, Tennessee runners LenDale White and Chris Johnson had already claimed (and trademarked) "Smash and Dash," something that had been used on the Panther duo. Smith delivered the "breaking news" to the media on Wednesday, in a very light-hearted interview session. Call Stewart and Williams what you will--the two are friends on and off the field, and a situation that had the potential to be a negative, has been turned into a huge positive for these two. The Panthers are the ones that benefit.

Defensively, the Panthers have got to tighten things up, notably in the secondary. Earlier in the season, Head Coach John Fox made a comment when his DB's were dropping interception chances, that he would "rather been known as ricochet than toast." Well, "toast" is beginning to be more than something served at breakfast. The Panthers are giving up way too many yards through the air, something that doesn't bode well for them against the pass-happy Broncs. Ken Lucas has been taking a beating over the past few days on message boards and the like, but it's the collective unit of the secondary. Corners and safeties combined. The front 7 has been quite good, recording sacks, and bottling up the run (the rush numbers have been better over the past few games). Still, the Panther defense has been better, and they need to find that stride entering their final 3 games--all 3 are huge for them if they want to road to the Super Bowl to roll through Charlotte.

-A quick note on the Bobcats deal of Jared Dudley and Jason Richardson to Phoenix for Boris Diaw, Raja Bell and Sean Singletary. It's hard for me to question the strength of this deal--basically because a guy like Larry Brown has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know, but as an outsider, this deal looks bad. Giving up Richardson, the teams only bonafide scorer, and a high motor player like Dudley for a pair of lower scoring, but better defensive players, and a rookie just doesn't make sense. I wish Richardson and Dudley well in the desert. They were always 2 class guys in the locker room, never shied away from interviews, and were generally fun guys to talk to. How this trade helps them--well, they go to a team that can be a factor in the West. I'm still trying to see the benefit of this one to the Bobcats, but time will tell, I suppose.

Mike Solarte

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Panthers-Bucs: The Preview

It is the biggest regular season game, perhaps, in franchise history for the Panthers. They have a chance to take over possession of first place in the NFC South, and they get to do it on the NFL's biggest regular season stage. So much rides on this game for Carolina, it's hard to bring it all together in one blog post, but we'll try.

Something's gotta give

The Panther rushing attack is no longer a wishful idea for the team. It is a potent piece of the offense, on par, if not ahead of the pace they had going during the Super Bowl season in 2003. Stephen Davis was the motor for that 2003 team. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart carry that load now. Williams is on the verge of becoming the Panthers 1st drafted running back to break through the 1,000 yard season barrier (he's at 955 coming into Monday night). Williams has been the straw that has stirred the running game drink this season, while Stewart has been a more than capable compliment to Williams. Stewart could eclipse 700 yards as a rookie, which would certainly be beyond respectable.

That ground attack will get a stern test Monday, facing a Bucs defense that has given up just 1 rushing touchdown all season long. Think about that. After 12 games, they have given up 1 TD on the ground. 1. Mind boggling, yet a testament to Monte Kiffin's defensive scheming. The Bucs are no wall flowers, as they play a nasty brand of defense. For Carolina to succeed on the ground, it will come down to execution and will. Carolina's offensive line has to win the battle up front (nothing new there), but to do that, they simply have to want it more. They have to try and do to the Bucs what they were doing to the Packers this past Sunday. Tampa Bay is far superior to Green Bay, both in their personnel, and their health. Green bay was very banged up-Tampa is not.

Smith and his razor glove

Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden said of Steve Smith, "that guy is like Freddie Krueger to me," comparing Smith to the 80's horror film character from the nightmare on Elm Street films. Smith, of course, doesn't have the facial scarring of Freddie, but he does have the ability to give the Bucs fits. Smith has 5 100 yard receiving games against Tampa, all against Gruden-coached teams. Does Smith have to blow up against the Bucs? Not necessarily, but he does have to do enough to keep the Bucs defense honest. Smith's ability to draw at least a cornerback, and then a safety shading to his side of the field means the Panthers could exploit the Bucs with the run game. Once Tampa decides against offering help on Smith, the Panthers could make some hay downfield in the air. Jake Delhomme wants to run the ball first, again, no revelation there. Success on the ground will lead to success in the air. Smith isn't the only receiving option, of course. Muhsin Muhammad could prove to be vital, as well as tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario. Would it be far fetched to think the Panthers might try to set up some short screens and keep the Bucs off balance that way? Would sure make things interesting.

Defense needs to bring the jam

The Panther defense has been chewed up of late, allowing a boat load of points, yet the team has won 3 of 4 in that time. Incidentally, the Panthers have not been nearly as dominant as they were before their bye week. Since that time, they have been shredded in the pass game, and allowed plenty of yardage on the ground. What needs to change? Simply put: attitude. Carolina's defenders need to take the field on Monday with the feeling that no one is gaining anything on them. They have to "bring the jam," so to speak. Deliver hard hits, wrap up at the point of contact, drive the Bucs into the turf. The element of "nasty" has been missing from this team for some time. Monday would be the perfect time to find it again.

Keep Jeff Garcia will be object number 1. The Bucs are down to Cadillac Williams as their running back (although Warrick Dunn has shown he still has tread on his tires). Williams tore up his knee 14 months ago, at Bank of America Stadium. He capped his comeback to the field last week, as he scored a rushing touchdown. Will the memories of his injury come back to him? Maybe. The ability to bottle up Garcia will go a long way in forcing the Bucs to try the ground attack, or go through the air. Garcia's ability to use his legs to keep plays alive has been the achilles heel of the Panthers. Carolina simply can not allow Garcia to have additional time. Don't be surprised if the Panthers employ LB Thomas Davis in his "spy" role, the one that was so successful against Michael Vick. Garcia is not the running threat that Vick was, but he is still dangerous with his feet.

Forget the first meeting

It was week 6. The Bucs blocked a punt and scored a TD off the block. The Panthers dug themselves a hole that they simply could not climb out of, thanks to interceptions that came off deflected passes. That game is gone. Over. It can not be changed. Forget it, don't dwell on it, and if anything, use it as a motivator. Carolina can not afford to lose this game, let alone be embarrassed in it. They have everything to play for, with a lot they can lose in the process. All season long, there has been a fan that sits behind the Carolina bench. Every home game, that fan has had a sign that says "Play this game like...." and then lists 3 items underneath. Things like "home field depends on it," or "first place in the division is on the line," things like that. The fan then underscores the points with the simply line at the end, "because it is."

I'll save that fan some time for Monday. All the sign needs to say is, "play this game like your season depends on it. Because it does."

Prediction: Carolina 23 Tampa Bay 17

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tired, but happy

That's the best way to describe me at the moment. Got home from Green Bay Monday night, after a tough weekend on the road. Not much to post for me today--been 2 days since the Panthers won, and that's all well and good. The tough tests come in December, starting Monday against Tampa Bay. HUGE game. We'll look at that one in depth later this week. For now, just a couple camera phone pics from Lambeau Field, before and after the game.

What an atmosphere!

Mike Solarte

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Big Ups 11/28!

To former DUKIE Chris Duhon. The Slidell, Louisiana native dished out a New York Kicks franchise record 22 assists last night in the Knicks 138-125 win over the Golden State Warriors.

Duhon’s Deuce-Deuce assist total breaks an almost 50-year-old record,

Richie Guerin handed out 21 assists on Dec. 12, 1958.

In addition to the 22 assists Duhon scored 12 points pulled down 4 rebounds and had one steal.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hello, from the Frozen...

STOP! I won't say it!

Besides, it's not really frozen up here. Kinda balmy (for late November anyway).

Quick hit from the hotel:

Have a story running from Green Bay this evening, which (due to NFL rules) we can not place on news14.com , so check it out on Sports Night at 10. It will also run in the overnight hours, but I won't give anything away. Check it out. Cool stuff.

Panthers do not stay in Green Bay when they arrive here (which they got in around 6pm local time). They stay in another town altogether (which I won't disclose for the Packer fans who wish to prank call the hotel). Smart idea to keep the team focused on the job ahead.

I like Carolina's chances Sunday, as long as they can grind the Packers up on the ground. Green Bay has a tough time stopping the run, and the Panthers have moved the ball on the ground fairly well in the past few weeks. In all honesty, this is a game that could resemble the Detroit game--lots of rush attempts and maybe 20 Jake Delhomme passes. Carolina doesn't want to test the Packer corners (Al Harris and Charles Woodson), as they are among the best in the game. Prediction: Carolina 24 Green Bay 17.

Also, nice work by the Panthers to lock up Chris Gamble to the 6 year deal on Friday. Thing is, now they have to find ways to keep Julius Peppers and Jordan Gross (if they want to go that route). Peppers is having a nice year with 9 sacks, and loads of pressure, but he has vanished at times. Still, it's far better than all of 2007 for him. Some tough decisions lie ahead for Marty Hurney and company.

OK--that's it for now. Look for me on the sidelines on Sunday. I'll be the guy in the black NFL Media vest (lol).

Mike Solarte

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Off the top, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone enjoyed a terrific holiday.

Had some things to get off my chest as the week nears an end. Here goes.

-Can we PLEASE STOP any and all singers of the national anthem that decide to use their performance as an audition for a record company? The song was not intended to be sung with creative license. It's the song of the country. Sing it as it was written. If you want a record deal, give Simon from American Idol a call. I hear he's always looking for talent.

-While we are at it, any chance we can get the studio guys back on tv during the holiday broadcasts at halftime? I'm a football fan, I want football. Highlights, analysis, previews, whatever. Give me the game. I mean, really, NOTHING says NFL football quite like the Jonas Brothers. Maybe it's just me, but those 3 kids looked awfully nervous being so close to the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. The halftime performance in the early game was bad enough for me not to even remember who it was. C'mon networks--give me football. If we want music videos, we can switch to MTV or something.

-The early game was atrocious. The Detroit Lions stink on ice. How they are put together is anybody's guess (and it really is, since the master chef, Matt Millen, was fired earlier this season). There may be 4 actual football players on that roster. That's a shame, too, because a good Detroit team is good for the NFL. They may be able to turn things around, but how quickly? It's a mystery much like, who will succeed Charlie Weis at Notre Dame if/when they fire him? I got nothing there.

-The NFL having 3 games on Thanksgiving is all well and good, but putting one of them on a network that, what, 10 homes and a few dozen sports bars can see is beyond stupid. The late game between Philadelphia and Arizona could actually be the best game played Thursday, and most of the football watching population will miss it. (EDIT AT 11PM--Upon further review, maybe it was better most of the world missed it).

-As for the Carolina Panthers, I am hoping they get out of the gate quickly on Sunday in Green Bay. A fast start, fast finish will add up to a win. Green Bay is banged up. SERIOUSLY banged up. 5 players are either out, or did not practice on Wednesday. 10 or so others were limited on Wednesday. Carolina, on the other hand, is remarkably healthy with only Adam Seward missing the Wednesday practice. I haven't made a prediction on this blog in a while, but I'm throwing one out there now. Panthers take Green Bay down 31-10. A big day for the Panther rushing attack, the defense gets after Aaron Rodgers, bottles up Ryan Grant, and Carolina improves to 9-3.

I'll be heading up to Green Bay this weekend, and will have reports for you on Sports Night, so make sure you check out the show!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Cold Splash of Reality

The Carolina Panthers got just that on Sunday, thanks to a sluggish start. Trailing 17-0 in the first half, the Panthers eventually fell 45-28 to Atlanta. Do the math. The 17 point margin looks a lot like what Carolina spotted the Falcons in the first half, right?

It's inexcusable. You can pay lip service to the Falcons, but the fact of the matter is the Panthers have started flat in the past 3 weeks, and you could even go back to the game before the bye when they started slowly against Arizona.

I hate being "that guy," right now. You know, the guy who points out the flaws, but offers no tangible way to correct them. Here's why I can't offer anything in the way of advice. I'm not a football coach or a player. I don't have the practical knowledge of the game, and how to best instruct anyone on getting off to a faster start.

Here's the rub, however. This isn't about being talented, or being properly coached. To me, from the outsider perspective, this comes down to simply wanted to beat the daylights out of the opponent. It's about smacking (in this case) Green Bay in the mouth from the opening kickoff, and continuing to deliver the punishment until the final gun. It's about wanting it. It's about willing it. It's about walking off that field at the end of the game exhausted, knowing you spent the last 3+ hours physically imposing your will on the opposition, and taking what you feel is yours--the victory.

It's about attitude. Swagger. Moxy. Guts.

Don't get me wrong--I am not down on this team. Unlike many people I have spoken with, I do not believe they will go 8-8, and miss the playoffs. The Panthers are talented. They are well coached. They have all the tools. They need the killer instinct to take teams behind the woodshed, and get the job done. They need to find it over the next 5 games, starting with the Packers this Sunday. Watching New Orleans throttle Green Bay Monday Night was enough to send chills up your spine. Carolina needs to let their fans feel that good, too.

Oh, and I nearly forgot--big props to my newest, best buddy, Shane from Shane's Towing in Winder, GA. The News 14 Carolina live truck suffered a cut right rear tire on the way back, and with the truck being as heavy (with the added weight of TV equipment), a standard jack is no good. Shane came out, got to us around 1am (after a 44 mile drive to us in Commerce, GA), got us straight and on the road. My photog Adam Butler, and I made it back to the station right about 4 a.m. Shane is a small business owner, family man, and a pretty cool dude. Problem is, it took an issue with our ride to ever come in contact with him.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How about those Red & White boys!!!

Before I begin this post in the spirit of full disclosure I have to admit that YES I am a graduate of North Carolina State University. However, where I received my degree has never affected my reporting.

Legal stuff out of the way, HOW ABOUT THOSE RED & WHITE BOYS?
For the last three weeks I’ve followed the Pack and every week their offense continues to amaze me. The ability of Russell Wilson to move the ball effectively and efficiently and the maturation of the offensive line are just incredible.

Yes Saturday’s 41-10 win at UNC came largely by way of UNC’s 6 turnovers.
But the Pack only scored 17 points off of three of the turnovers. Take away those and you still have a 24-10 N.C. State win.

Back to Russell Wilson! It has honestly been a pleasure covering this kid’s growth. In the third quarter of Saturday’s win the redshirt freshmen made a play that just left the members of the media on the field in awe!

With less than six minutes to play, third down Wilson rolls out right chased by UNC linemen. The guy makes eye contact with Taylor Gentry, with pressure coming down on him, Wilson settles in and makes a perfect pass to Gentry who curls off his route to create space from UNC’s defensive back: Result N.C. State first down. And three plays later it’s Andre Brown on two-yard touchdown run.

The know how of a redshirt freshmen to be comfortable and make that play—just plain incredible.

Saturday’s win will go a long way for the N.C. State faithful and their ability to harass co-workers across the Old North State. But more than bragging rights I think the Wolfpack Nation can be proud of the young talent amassed in Raleigh and the confidence the players have in Tom O’Brien and each other.


(p.s I’m sure all of my Carolina friends will text me with evil messages telling me to wait till basketball season. But that’s in January and as of November 22nd it’s 41-10 Wolfpack)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Big Ups 11/21

A Big Ups goes to Rod Brind' Amour!

The Canes captain notched a goal November 16th against the Tampa Bay Lightining.

Moving him ahead of Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk for 50th on the National Hockey League's all-time leading points list.

Giving him 1,127 points over the course of his 20 year career.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Week 11 nearly complete

The Dallas Cowboys (at the time of this blog post) lead Washington 14-10 late in the 4th, so what better time to look back at Week 11 in the NFL, starting with the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers offense slept in, arriving at Bank of America Stadium at the start of the 2nd quarter, and when they did get there, they erupted for 21 points in the quarter. The slow start allowed Detroit a ray of hope, as they led 7-0 after 1. Detroit put up 3 Jason Hanson field goals, one from 56 yards which may have been good from 66, to trail 21-16 at the break.

Carolina did an adequate job of keeping the Lions at bay the rest of the way, as the teams swapped TD's in the 4th, to get to the final of 31-22. Game balls, as issued by yours truly.

Offense: The Rushing Attack.

Sure, it's one ball for the O-line, the receivers, and the running backs, but come on. DeAngelo Williams goes for 120 yards on 14 carries and 2 TD's, Jonathan Stewart goes off for 130 on 15 carries and a TD. First time in franchise history that the Panthers have 2 runners break the 100 yard mark in the same game. O-line did a great job, as evidenced by a comment made by Williams in post-game. He said, as a running back, " you see colors flashing," which helps determine his route. Today he said there weren't a lot of colors flashing. Simply put, the O-line was slaying the Lions defensive front, and clearing the way for the "Smash and Dash" tandem to blow up.

There was a bit of wind at field level, which may have had an affect on Jake Delhomme's ability to throw it down the field. His numbers were very pedestrian-10 of 19, 98 yards and a TD, but a big "0" in the INT column. Panthers lost on turnover, a strip of Steve Smith on a play that could have been a biggie. Grade out the offense with a nice B effort, as they played well for 3 quarters.

Defense: Charles Godfrey

What a season this rookie is having. He came into camp, and earned the starting job, and has not been a disappointment at all. Against Detroit, Godfrey had a fumble recovery, along with a 4th quarter interception, which set up the insurance touchdown that put the game out of reach. Godfrey also had 5 solo tackles (unofficially), and was just everywhere. Plus, Godfrey handled himself well in postgame, when being teased by fellow safety Chris Harris. Harris was giving Godfrey the business about being tackled by Duante Culpepper after the pick. Harris saying, Godfrey committed one of the cardinal sins-being brought down by a QB. Godfrey replied, "at least I caught it," referring to some of Harris' dropped INT's earlier this year. Touche.

Special Teams: Jason Baker

On a windy Day, Baker's average was down from his norms. Baker averaged 37.4 yards for hsi 5 kicks, but he provided the coverage teams plenty of help in getting their jobs done. Only 1 punt was returned, and that was for 7 yards. The others were either a fair catch, or downed inside the 20, with Baker pulling out a rugby punt that pinned the Lions on their own 2 yard line. Normally Baker's distance averages into the 40 yard area, with his net average staying right near that 40 yard number. Since they have figured out how to keep punts from being blocked, the special teamers have been a solid phase of the game. Props to Rhys Lloyd for 3 more touchbacks, and Mark Jones had 4 kickoff returns for an average of 20 yards per return.

Elsewhere in the NFC South, Atlanta (Carolina's next opponent) dropped a 24-20 decision to Denver (huh?), while Tampa Bay and New Orleans bot picked up wins.

The NFC South as of this hour:
Tampa Bay 7-3
Atlanta 6-4
New Orleans 5-5

Games for the division in Week 12
Carolina at Atlanta (4:15 pm kick)
Tampa Bay at Detroit (1pm)
Green Bay @ New Orleans (Monday Night)

From my seat, Tampa blasts the Lions and gets to 8-3. Green Bay and New Orleans could actually be a better game than the experts may think. That one is a toss up.

As for the Panthers and Falcons, think back to week 4. Carolina won the game 24-9, on a day that saw Muhsin Muhammad rack up 147 receiving yards with a TD, Steve Smith had a 56 yard TD catch, and Jonathan Stewart notched an 8 yard TD run. Carolina dominated the Falcons defensively as well. What does it mean for week 12?


Atlanta has grown up since then, in spite of their loss to Denver on Sunday. The trip to Georgia is no gimme for the Panthers, and they will have to play all 4 quarters to pick up a tough road win, in a building that has been notoriously tough for this franchise. A win over the Falcons would put the Panthers in the catbird seat. After Atlanta, the Panthers go to Green Bay, face Tampa at home on Monday Night (Dec. 8), home with Denver, then on the road at the NY Giants and New Orleans to close out the season.

Sunday was the last patsy the Panthers will see all year, as the weakest opponent (on paper) would appear to be Denver. As they say, "this is where the rubber meets the road."

Oh, and Dallas has beaten Washington, by the way.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The calm before the storm

Nuggets on this rainy Thursday...

- Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers earned the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award on Wednesday, a nice reward for what has been a fairly spectacular season for him. 7 sacks in 2008, up from his total of 2.5 last season. He seems to have taken the pre-season challenge issued to him by owner Jerry Richardson (in 2007), about being more of a leader. The Panthers face a Detroit team on Sunday that, frankly, if they don't get a win, the season is over. A loss to the Lions (who haven't won a game this season), would be far more devastating than the close win they had over Oakland. Losing to Detroit would get this team questioning itself in the worst of ways. My opinion: The Panthers blast Detroit back to the Motor City--maybe even pitching their 2nd shutout of the season.

- Football is coming to the Charlotte 49ers. The Board of Trustees voting unanimously to get the ball rolling so the school can field a team in the 2013 season. Plenty of folks deserve congratulations on this moment, and I honestly don't know their names. They are the more than 4,000 people who have pledged their support (both spiritual and financial), to this endeavor. The ones the promised to pay $1,000 for the right to buy season tickets, an item the school calls "Forty-Niner Seat Licenses." The school would play in the Football Championship Subdivision (think Appalachian State). with designs on going full blown Football Championship Series (think ACC/Big 12/SEC etc.), down the road. That's a tall order, in my opinion, but why not dream big? It will be fun watching this unfold, and I hope the folks with the 49ers get this thing rolling in the right direction.

- NASCAR Championship weekend in Miami brings mixed emotions for me. I love me some racin', but the last weekend means no racing until February. At the same time, no racing until February means a nice break from the left turns, and the chaos that often follows.

That aside, the news on Wednesday that Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Ganassi Racing will merge to form Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in 2009 was a bit upsetting for me. I understand it is the nature of the times we live in. Money is tight, sponsorships are hard to come by. I get it. It just makes me wonder this: Would DEI be in this kind of shape if Dale Earnhardt were still alive?

The answer, to me, is no. DEI would still be a major force (on its own), they would still be fielding 3 (if not 4) very competitive teams, they would still have Dale Jr. driving for them. They would have all of the things any team would love to have. To me, this move is the latest in Teresa Earnhardt's management failures. I said it when Dale Jr. left DEI and went to Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Sr. built DEI for his children. The kids are nowhere to be found at DEI now, only Teresa remains. Dale Jr's business manager is his sister, and he has his own company now (JR Motorsports). Sure, there are a lot of things that likely transpired behind the scenes to cause the split, and I'm probably running off at the mouth (keyboard) here, but still, the once proud DEI label is nothing more than another also-ran race outfit. Shame, too, because any race fan will tell you, Dale Sr. never woulda let that happen.

- Charlotte Bobcats are without Jason Richardson for at least one game, and maybe 2 after he underwent a knee scope on Wednesday. Richardson is by far their best player, and in my estimation, it's really a matter of time before this team becomes competitive in the NBA's Eastern Conference. DJ Augustin is rounding into form, Raymond Felton continues to progress. Gerald Wallace is still the most dynamic player on their roster (and explosive), and contributions are coming from Jared Dudley, Adam Morrison, and even others like the always steady Emeka Okafor.

Talk of Michael Jordan becoming the majority owner of this team in the future is just that-talk. Still, if there is talk, that means people are talking about it (from within). Does it happen now? Later? Who knows. Jordan's visibility this season has already surpassed his appearances in the past. Would that be better for the team? Again, who knows. Jordan as an executive is not something that folks can point to and say "good job." As an owner, it could be a different story. Have to wait and see on that one.

Hope to get a Panther preview up before Sunday's game with Detroit, and of course, the Discount Tire Friday Night Final will have all of your first round playoff action (as long as it doesn't get rained out). C'mon Weather on the One's Team!!! Hook us up!

Mike Solarte

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Panthers-Raiders fallout

The Panthers led 14-6 in the 2nd half, and I said to my wife, "Carolina is letting Oakland hang around." Her reply, "it's Carolina's game to lose." Looks like the game is rubbing off on her. Truth be told, Carolina was lucky to win 17-6 against the Raiders. Here's why:

Horrible. Simply horrible. Erase DeAngelo Williams long touchdown run, and the Panthers managed 93 rushing yards on 27 carries. Hardly the stuff Super Bowl champions are made of. Credit Williams with a dazzling game, as that long run proves, the man can play. But where, oh where, did Jake Delhomme go? This was maybe Jake's worst performance as a Panther. 7 of 27, for 72 yards and 4 INT's. A QB rating of 12.3. Mind you, 12.3 is light years away from the perfect game thrown by Randy Fasani back in the day (his QB rating of 0.0 in a game stands alone as the benchmark of epic failure). Jake did not look like "Jake." He sailed balls high. He looked uneasy in the pocket. This was not the Panther offense we saw punish another lesser team in Kansas City a few weeks back. This offense looked confused, and almost tentative. As much as I want to give them a pass coming off the bye week, I can not. If they are able to win games going forward, they may get a week off due to a first round playoff bye. If they follow up THAT bye week like they did this one, the playoffs won't last more than 60 minutes of game clock.

Tip of the cap to Mike Trgovac's bunch for the effort they gave. The D-Line I thought did a nice job of keeping Andrew Walter in check (14 of 32 for 143 yards). The Raiders ran for 147 yards, with Justin Fargas going for 89 on 22 carries, but it looked far worse for the Panther D. It did seem that Fargas was gashing the defense, but end of the day, they hold him under 100 yards, the collective unit gets to 147 (a problem, but fixable). The defense came up with two interceptions, and forced three fumbles, recovering one.Save for Jake's aerial display, the Panthers would have clearly won the turnover battle.

John Kasay proved he is human, after all. He missed a 54 yard field goal at the end of the first half, snapping his consecutive FG's made streak at 21, 1 shy of his own franchise record. He was kicking on a field that is annually voted as the worst playing surface in the league, but again, I won't make excuses. He missed, so be it. The kick was short and left. He did knock on through in the 4th quarter to make it a two-score game, which was a nice bit of insurance.

Rhys Lloyd had 4 kickoffs, and just one found the endzone-and it was still returned. Lloyd's boots went (in order) 2 yards deep in the endzone, then to the Oakland 9, 3, and 4. Lloyd was not brought in to kick it inside the 10, he was brought in to create touchbacks, something he has done consistently this season. No his best effort.

Jason Baker had 9 punts for an average of 41.3 yards, and a net average of 39.4. Good work by him (although more distance would be a little better), and especially nice work by the coverage units. Not a big margin in the kick and then the net average, so well done there.

Mark Jones made the return game fun on Sunday. He returned 7 punts for a 17.6 yard average (not bad), and his lone kickoff return went 59 yards. Jones is finding some comfort with the Panthers, even though he's been with the team all season. Seems like he's settling in, and perhaps showing some of the reasons the staff thought highly of him to bring him in. Personally, I think his stride is a little goofy to look at, but if he gets up the field, who cares.

So, a scathing blog after a 17-6 win over Oakland, eh? Yep. This team is BETTER than that. This team should have blown Oakland off the field. The Raiders are as dysfunctional as .... well, anything that is dysfunctional. They have an owner in Al Davis whose time has long since past, and as a result, they have a team that is an utter joke. Carolina is not that way, but Sunday, they reverted back to the long-standing Panther tradition--playing down to the level of their opponent. That can not happen, especially if you have designs on playing in the post-season.

During the game, the Fox broadcast crew popped up a stat that teams starting the season 7-2 have gone to the playoffs 90% of the time. One of the broadcasters then pointed out that Head Coach John Fox is "thinking about the other 10%." The way his team played on Sunday, he should be.

Mike Solarte

Monday, November 3, 2008

Monday...back after it

OK, the bye week is over, and the Panthers are back in game mode, as they prepare for the west coast trip to Oakland to face the Raiders. I'll look at that game a little more later in the week, but for now, thoughts from the weekend.

- Those that know me, know that I spent the first 2 years of my career in Lubbock, Texas, home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. I was a bit conflicted Saturday night watching tech against Texas. Seeing Jones Stadium (home of the Raiders) filled, with a sea of black made me a little choked up, as it reminded me of the early days of my job. Going to games, watching tech play, and often times, come up short in games they needed to win in order to improve their bowl hopes. Watching them take the lead, surrender it, and then come back to win it was thrilling. The conflict I had was watching Mack Brown's Longhorns lose. I covered Brown's Tar Heels when I first arrived in Raleigh. There were some hard feelings when Mack left for Austin, but I understood at the time. I understood why he had to leave. He's won a national championship with Texas--and he would have been hard pressed to win one while with Carolina (back then). Who knows how good his Heels could have become had he stayed. Anyway, Tech and Alabama lead the BCS standings now, so we'll have to see how this all plays out. Good for Tech, though. Big win for them.

- Upon further review, the Dallas Cowboys are a joke. Maybe that's a bit harsh. They are what the Panthers were last year. High hopes, but lose your quarterback, and you're toast. Brad Johnson of 2008 = David Carr of 2007. The Cowboys go into their bye after getting throttled by the New York Giants in week 9, and I would think Tony Romo will be in uniform when Dallas meets Philadelphia. The Cowboys are beat up (Romo, Felix Jones, Jason Witten and others) with injuries, so the week off comes at a good time for them. I don't see Dallas as a contender any longer, though. Hope I am right.

The Giants appear legit. And props to Justin Tuck for giving grief to the field reporter, Pam Oliver, when she mentioned the Cowboys were "depleted." Missing your QB does not make you depleted, especially when Marion Barber, Terrell Owens, Witten, Patrick Crayton and others are playing on the offensive side of the ball. They were down Romo. That's it. The Giants won a big game, and appear to be the class of the NFC East, if not the NFC as a whole. Week 16 is looking like a battle for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, provided by the Giants and Panthers hold serve until then.

- Also in the Giants-Cowboys game, one of the absolute worst calls I have ever seen was the roughing-the-passer flag thrown on Tuck, when he hit Brooks Bollinger (replaced Brad Johnson). Tuck made contact with Bollinger as the ball was being released on a pass. What could Tuck have done to avoid tackling the QB? Absolutely nothing. It's a garbage rule. Players that have spoken up about it are 100% correct. The QB is a vital position, and I understand why the NFL wants to protect them, but at some point, we have to remember that the game is football. People get hit, and even tackled. If you are on the field, and in a uniform, you are just as likely to get hit as anyone else. The fact that there are specialty rules in place for QB's is fine, but let's not go overboard. It's football, not ballroom dancing.

- Carl Edwards won't go away. He's won back-to-back races in the Chase, and has actually made this Sprint Cup chase interesting. He went from being 183 points down to 106 in one race, and now with 2 to go, anything can happen. I still think Jimmie Johnson is the man to beat, but at least it should go to Homestead with the issue left to be decided.

- Charlotte Bobcats on the floor tonight against Detroit, on the heels of the Pistons trying to (or already finished depending on who you talk to), land Allen Iverson from the Denver Nuggets for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess. Don't think Iverson will be in uniform tonight (if the deal is finalized), but that could be big for both sides. We'll have to wait and see.

Hope you have a great Monday, and we'll talk again through the week.

Mike Solarte

Friday, October 31, 2008

The View from the Press Box-Friday

Happy Halloween to all of you out there in Blogville. Hope you find all the treats you like in your pumpkin tonight. Here's a few nuggets heading into the weekend.

1-The Philadelphia Phillies are baseball's champions, and I salute them. Well done. Also a tip of the cap to the Tampa Bay Rays, who won 97 regular season games, but couldn't find the magic (or the offense) against the Phils. While the Phils and Rays made for a "new faces" Series, it didn't ultimately matter, because the games began so late, and thus ended even later.

I know it's a tired old argument, but seriously, a first pitch for a baseball game after 8:30pm? Baseball is a slow game on its own, then add in those meaty commercial breaks between half-innings, and you have the ingredients for a broadcast that will run (generously) 3.5 hours. Do the math. That game is over after midnight.

The number of kids playing baseball is dwindling. The same kids that were playing baseball have moved on to other sports: basketball, football, golf, etc. Why? Well, for starters, they can watch the pros play it while they are awake. There are NBA games that start at 7. Kids can watch them, or even afternoon college games on weekends. Same with golf, football. Watchable while the sun is up.

The bigger joke of the Series was the fact game 5 took 3 days to play, due to weather. Game 5 began after 8:30. If they had begun the game at, say 7:30, game 5 would have completed (likely) on Monday night. Commissioner Bud Selig made a comment in the aftermath, saying something like "if I had any say in the matter...." WHAT? YOU ARE THE COMMISSIONER OF BASEBALL!!!! You are supposed to have ultimate power. Truth is, Selig is a shill for the owners, and only has their interests in mind. The guy is still part of the owners, even though the Brewers are listed as his daughter's team (right).

I love baseball, grew up playing it as a kid. I hate the state the game is in. There has to be a better way to return the national pastime to relevance. That won't happen under Selig's watch.

2-The Panthers are off until Monday, and won't really practice again until next Wednesday. 6-2 at the bye week, enjoying Halloween and the time away. I have to tell ya, I said in my last post this team is legit, and I still believe that. they may be more than that. Here's their remaining 8 games:
@ Oakland
v. Detroit
@ Atlanta
@ Green Bay
v. Tampa Bay (Monday Night)
v. Denver
@ NY Giants
@ New Orleans

Looking at those opponents, I see 3 legitimately tough games. Home with Tampa, and the final 2 on the road. The other 5 are quite winnable. I'm not saying it will be a cakewalk, as we all know it won't be. The Panthers have never done things the easy way, however, OAK & DET are wins, ATL will be tough, but should be a win. GB will be a challenge, but the Panthers have more weapons, and frankly have a better unit. TB will be a dynamite game, DEN has some offense, but can't stop Independence, the Giants are legit, and NO will be better at home by season's end. If it all shakes out, the Panthers could find themselves home for the holidays--but still working. Could be a couple home playoff games in their future, and how cool would an NFC Championship game at B of A Stadium be? If you dream it, it could come.

3-Mallard Creek High School's punishment is a harsh one, and personally, I hope they win the appeal. I don't know all the particulars, but Mallard Creek is such a young school, I find it hard to believe they willingly and knowingly committed an infraction, having one of their players breaking the 8 semester rule.

I never knew such a rule existed. Apparently, the player in question played in another state, then went to another NC school, before landing at Mallard Creek. Why a kid moves around so much--I don't know. Frankly, I don't care. If he was eligible in the district he lived, and played at that school, so be it. This one is a tough pill for the Mavericks to swallow, as they hadn't lost a game, and now they are 1-9, having had to forfeit 9 of their 10 wins. I do hope they win their appeal, although I know such things are long shots.

4-The Bobcats opened their season in impressive fashion, trailing by 17 at the half to Cleveland, cutting the deficit to 5 points, before allowing the Cavs to slam the door on them, 96-79. Yes, Larry Brown is in his first year with the Bobcats, and yes the Bobcats have deficiencies all over the court. I was one of the folks that got a full cup of the kool-aid when Brown was hired, but nothing I have seen from the Bobcats so far leads me to believe they will contend for a playoff spot this year in the NBA East. A rather sobering thought one game into the schedule, huh? I would love for them to prove me wrong, but until they prove they can hit shots, and defend, they will be another pretender, rather than a contender.

That's all for now, have a great weekend, and remember to brush those teeth after your Halloween haul!

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 27, 2008

Something funny happened on the way to 6-2...

The Carolina Panthers are legit.

There, I've said it.

8 weeks into the NFL season, the Panthers have shown themselves to be a better than average football team. They are NOT the best team in the league, but they are in the conversation. You have to look at them and put them in the mix of teams like the Giants, Steelers, Tampa Bay, and maybe Dallas. Dallas did beat Tampa, but something about the Cowboys strikes me as "car-wreck waiting to happen."

Carolina has 2 losses, both on the road, to Minnesota and Tampa. The loss to the Vikings was based on one play--the sack, fumble, recovery for TD just before the half. That gave Minnesota all the momentum, and they rolled in the 2nd half. The loss to the Bucs was horrifying--Carolina was nowhere near the word "good" that day.

In their 6 wins, they have come from behind in 3 of them (San Diego, Chicago, and Arizona), and were dominant against Atlanta, New Orleans and Kansas City. The nay-sayers will look at their 6 wins and say there is maybe 1 playoff team in the bunch (that being the Cardinals who could win the NFC West by default). I say, this is a Panther team that wins games, no matter the opponent.

Couple things from Sunday's game:

Steve Smith is ultra-motivated. His play has become the benchmark for this team. When he is going, the Panthers are going. I'm not talking about his big plays, I mean his quick hits where he throws out the stiff-arm and scoops up 3-5 more yards. He is a competitor, and he LOVES to play. Such a joy to watch.

Props to the Panther defense, but my question is this--why were the DB's playing off the receivers at the line? It's no wonder Kurt Warner had a big day (381 yards passing), when he was able to hit his targets when the corners are playing 7 yards off at the snap. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are very good receivers--no need to give them so much cushion. I guess it was part of the philosophy of not giving up anything down the field, but that, to me, was too much respect.

I have a request for all you Panther fans that were at the game Sunday, and will go in the future. When the score is tight, like it was Sunday (24-23 in the 4th quarter), PLEASE DO NOT START THE WAVE!!!! Are you kidding me? Your team is in a dogfight, and you guys are doing the stinking wave? Arguably the most ridiculous fan thing ever invented. 1 point game. 4th quarter. Rather than get up when it's your turn to "keep the wave a-rollin'," get up and pay attention to the game! When I see Charlotte rated as a poor sports city by publications, I point to these exact instances as to why.

You have until November 16th to get that wave thing out of your system. Please, for nothing more than my personal sanity, exorcise that demon. Thanks.

You friend,
Mike Solarte

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The weekend is underway

Saturday morning has arrived, college games will begin in about an hour, and then the beauty that is week 8 in the NFL commences on Sunday. A break down of the Panthers and Cardinals for your reading pleasure.

They are no longer the joke of the NFL (that title belongs to the Detroit Lions), as they sit 4-2 and lead the NFC West. Mind you, leading the NFC West (with Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis) is akin to being Valedictorian of Summer School, but hey, first place is still first place. The Cards have gotten Kurt Warner to look like he did back in his Rams days (with maybe as much receiver talent), but they don't have that Marshall Faulk runner. Arizona will want to throw it all day long, but Carolina must, at least at first, pay attention to the Cards desires to run it occasionally. The Panther defense has been quit good against the run so far, and I would imagine that will continue Sunday. The pressure this week falls on the Panthers secondary. Larry Fitzgerald is a monster, and Anquan Boldin will be back for the first time since September 28th. Boldin will likely be back in a limited role, but he'll be on the field, which makes him very dangerous.

Defensively, the Cardinals are middle of the road. 14th overall, 11th against the run, 20th against the pass. By the numbers, Carolina should have success throwing it more than running it. Don't look for that balance to take place. Carolina will try to pound the ball on the ground, in spite of missing Jeff Otah and Ryan Kalil for the 3rd straight game. Jeremy Bridges and Geoff Hangartner will likely get the starting nods at RG and C respectively (barring a miracle healing by Otah and Kalil in the next 36 hours). The offensive line has had their starting 5 o-linemen on the field for some ridiculously low number (I want to say it is 41, but don't hold me to that) this season. Yet they are 5-2, with a running game that has been slightly better than average (against the league numbers). The Panthers will face a young Arizona secondary that is active and can make plays. Jake Delhomme has done a nice job of managing the football, and not making overly dangerous throws. Expect more of that this weekend.

This is an all important week for the Panthers. A win over Arizona gets them to 6-2 on the season, and they head into their bye week (a perfect time--squarely in the middle of the schedule). In the time I have covered this team, the Panthers are 4-2 in the game before the bye week, and 3-3 in the game after the bye week. Twice (in 2003 and 2005) did the Panthers win both games, and once (2002) they lost both games. What are the connections? 2003 the Panthers went to the Super Bowl and in 2005, they went to the NFC Championship game (and were so banged up against Seattle, they had little chance). Not that the bye week is all that important in the standings--but in the minds of the players, winning before the bye gives them a good week mentally away from the game.

I like Carolina's chances this week, and I know it sounds homer-ish, but seriously, the Panthers are perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the NFL. At 5-2, very few national media types are even thinking of the Panthers, for a number of reasons. The Cowboys are imploding, Tom Brady has an infected leg, there is talk of Peyton Manning's formerly infected leg, a report that 10-15 (or more) players failed substance tests, Kellen Winslow Jr. being suspended by the Browns, and so on. So many off the field issues are preventing folks from talking football.

That likely suits the Panthers just fine. To am man, they would likely say that if no on noticed them until Super Bowl Sunday, that would be quite alright.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mid-Week Mental Floss

- College hoop season is approaching like a runaway freight train. It'll be here before you know it, and I stumbled upon this little nugget from the desert, regarding Arizona State hoops.


It's basically the affirmation of an opinion I held when Herb Sendek was Head Coach at NC State. Give it a read. The author nails it. Herb is a class guy, runs a clean program, and wins games. He fields competitive teams. NC State was foolish to run him out of Raleigh. Sidney Lowe has been a nice replacement, but he has struggled at times (and in fairness, so did Sendek). However, I would think that had Sendek stayed, the Wolfpack would be farther along than they are. I'm not dogging Lowe. He has done a very commendable job, and is still early enough in his contract (in my view), that he deserves more time to field a top tier team. Will he? Time will tell, but the Pack might just be closer (if not there already) with Herbie at the helm. Sendek was shown the door because he didn't beat the right teams often enough. Had Herb never lost to UNC and Duke, he'd still be in the Triangle.

-Speaking of Arizona, the Panthers host the Cardinals this Sunday at the big ATM. At the start of the season, there likely weren't many people that thought this would be a fairly large game for both teams. Truth is, it is big for both. Carolina will try and go 6-2 heading into their bye week, and keep pace with (or even leave behind), Tampa Bay. We'll chat with the Panthers on Wednesday getting their thoughts on the match-up, but quick hits on it:

1-Anquan Boldin could play this weekend. He's been out since late September after a vicious hit suffered against the Jets.
2-Kurt Warner continues to sip from the Fountain of Middle Age. Warner has been very good, guiding the birds offense (and it's mostly an air attack with Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald as his normal primary targets).
3-The Cards are coming off their bye week, and should be well rested. They went into the bye with a win over Dallas (just at the start of the Cowboys meltdown).

Much more on this for you on Sports Night at 10.

-Bobcats lost another one, his time to the LA Lakers. 0-7 are Larry Brown's kittens, and just one more fake game before they actually start to count. The Lakers again on Thursday. I repeat the mantra-"Exhibition anything is meaningless," but you have to think the losses are weighing on the players minds. Beat writer Rick Bonnell at the Observer had a good line about the Bobcats so far, trying too hard to impress the new boss. At some point, the REAL Bobcats have to show up (the ones that played hard, with reckless abandon, gave effort and didn't overthink things), and when they do, under Brown's guidance, they should be fine. You can't fault the players for over-thinking things. Brown's system demands comprehension of what hes trying to accomplish. He's thrown the playbook at them, and has been on them since day 1. It's a lot to absorb, I am sure.

-App State and East Carolina will face each other in football to start the 2009 season. That's awesome. First meeting between the schools since 1979 (maybe both will be allowed turn back the clock uniforms, huh?), but certainly both programs are in much better places. The 'Neers are 3-time national champs (perhaps 4 when they face the Bucs), ECU is enjoying a resurgence under Skip Holtz. That is a game I may actually try and scoot to Greenville to see. Props to both schools for making this happen, and no question Dowdy Ficklen will be rocking that day.

-World Series begins tonight. Scott Kazmir against Cole Hamels (Rays v. Phillies). This is a great series for baseball. It's bad for TV, but great for the game. Young, vibrant talent for both teams, Rays skipper Joe Maddon wearing the mohawk hair cut (and he's not a young guy by the way), some former Durham Bulls in the Rays lineup (Evan Longoria for one). All that good mojo in Tampa won't amount to much, I'm afraid. I love the way the Phillies have played in the post-season. They have gotten big at bats when needed, their pitching has been good, and besides, I can't stand Tampa for ending the season of the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox. No, I'm not over it.

Prediction: Phillies in 6.

Mike Solarte

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A late night hit (or early morning depending on your read time)

Well, a game I thought would be close wasn't close at all. Congrats to the Panthers for truly proving me wrong about the outcome. Yes, I predicted a 24-21 Carolina win. The 30-7 shelling they handed the Saints was not what I expected.

I thought the Panthers would be able to run the ball effectively, which they did (145 total on 37 carries). What I didn't anticipate was the passing game being so darn good. Jake Delhomme was money, as were Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, and Dwayne Jarrett. Smitty was nails, making big catches, Moose snaring just about anything that was catchable, and Jarrett, while not big in numbers, made a nice catch on a 3rd down conversion to keep a drive going.

The O-line deserves a ton of credit--Jake sacked just once in the game, and the work opening gaps for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. There was one noticeable absence in this game from the O-Line perspective--dumb penalties. False starts were a non-factor. In fact, penalties were few and far between for both teams. Not that penalties weren't committed--they were, they just weren't called. A group of us sideline photographers chat throughout the game, and at one point we counted (without the benefit of replay) 3 holding penalties that should have been flagged on the New Orleans offensive line. If you watched the game at home, you probably saw more. (Sorry about the rant there). Anyway, props to the Panthers offensively for getting things done.

Defensively, wow. Flying to the football, good pressure on Drew Brees, and for the most part, they did a good job of keeping the Saints from getting too frisky with the ball. Reggie Bush is amazing (he had 55 yards on 5 carries, before injuring his knee with what has been reported as a torn meniscus), but the Panther special teams answered the call on Sunday. Proof positive was the play made by Na'il Diggs in punt coverage, doing his Superman imitation with his flying tackle of Bush. All that was missing was a cape. Julius Peppers has officially returned. This is the kind of disruptive force Panther fans have known throughout his career. He's playing with reckless abandon, and making life miserable for the opposition. He recorded a sack, pass break-up, and a forced fumble...all in the first half. He's a beast, and he's playing like his old self, a nice bonus through 7 games of the season.

Hard to believe that Carolina is nearly halfway through the season, but at 5-2, I guess time sure flies when you are having fun!

Not all is well, though. The secondary will likely spend some additional time in front of the JUGGS machine in practice this week. I can't say for sure, but the DB's may have had more drops than the receiving corps. And don't think for a second the receivers will let them slide on that little nugget, as they head into this week's meeting with Arizona.

Other notes on this (now) Sunday morning:
Credit Tampa Bay for beating Seattle Sunday night, but shame on them for basically being an embarrassment. Nice way to honor Mike Alstott with his induction into the Ring of Honor (or whatever they call it there), but if you are going to do that, the least you can do is spell his name correctly on the framed jerseys you gave him! He was given a large frame containing 2 #40 jerseys for his time with the Bucs. The dark red one they now wear, and the orange one the team used to wear (which I personally love, by the way). The red jersey had the name right, the orange was wrong. A-L-S-O-T-T. C'mon people, even this blog has a spellcheck feature. Travesty. Utter travesty.

Another tip of the cap to the Tampa Bay Rays for winning the American League pennant, first in team history. And credit the Boston Red Sox for making it a series when all was thought to be lost. Great drama. Hard to pick against the Rays going into the Fall Classic, but I am going to, but only because of my blind loyalty to my beloved Chicago White Sox, 2005 World Series champs. Phillies in 6.

Oh, and can we ditch the swim goggles for the locker-room celebrations? You guys look foolish.

Mike Solarte

Heading out for the Panthers and Saints

Couple quick notes as I head out to the big ATM on Mint Street:

New Orleans getting back Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey is not a good thing for the Panthers. The Saints have gotten by at 3-3 without these two, and their return ads weapons to Drew Brees. While both are going to get their opportunities, the addition shouldn't be enough to decide the game. You would have to figure on both having a certain degree of rust. Shockey is a better pass catcher, than blocker in my opinion. Task for the Panther defense will be to keep them in check as best they can. The home run threat is still Reggie Bush, and he remains priority one, but adding Colston and Shockey means the defense has more to watch out for.

Carolina's rushing attack facing the 14th ranked defense against the run. Problem there is they Panthers will go in (likely, as I haven't heard officially), without Jeff Otah and Ryan Kalil. Geoff Hangartner and Jeremy Bridges have done good work in their absence, and will have to do more of the same. In this "Fox Ball" offense (run, run, run), getting yards on the ground is imperative. I do think there will be added incentive for the Panthers to move it on the ground this week, considering their 40 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay last weekend. The Panthers can not win without a solid ground game, so if the Panthers can move it via the rush, they give themselves a great chance to win.

Reggie Bush. Not only is he the home run threat on offense, but on special teams as well. He has run back punts better than anyone else in the league this season, going nearly 27 yards per return. That's a bad sign, considering the Panthers have trouble in punt coverage. I don't foresee New Orleans going after Jason Baker as other teams have--they have a better chance of scoring by setting up a return. Baker needs booming kicks that have some enormous hangtime in order to keep Bush from taking it to the house.

Overall, this game will come down to how badly the Panthers want to win it. To me, the Panthers are clearly the better overall team, it's a matter of them showing up to get it done. I think they will, but as mentioned before, you may need to keep your cardiologist's phone number handy.

Prediction: Carolina 24 Saints 21

Make sure you check out Coach Fox's post game comments live on news 14 about 10 minutes after the game ends!

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday, the Day After

If you're a Panthers fan, you can laugh or cry, so you may as well laugh. The Panthers got smoked Sunday in Tampa Bay, and now there's a 3-way tie for the lead in the NFC South. Time to panic? Well, no, but it IS time to be concerned about the Panthers and special teams play.

In recent years, the Panthers punt and kick returns have been abysmal. For example:

The Panthers haven't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2003, when Rod Smart (He Hate Me) did it against New Orleans. The last regular season Panther punt return for a score came in 2003. That was Steve Smith against the New York Giants. Opponents returned a punt against Carolina for a TD last season in Green Bay. The last kickoff taken to the house was by Tim Dwight in 1998. Basically, the Panthers can tackle people on kicks fairly well, but haven't blocked them up to get those game changing scores.

The flipside of the special teams play is punt blocks. I've been with News 14 since 2002, and I don't think the Panthers have had 3 blocked punts since I arrived here. They've had 3 blocked this season. Prior to 2008, the last time the Panthers had one blocked was 2006, by Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison. 2006.

Monday, Head Coach John Fox addressed the punt blocks, by saying it was a communication problem, and he would not name the names of the guys who goofed it. That's fine. Ultimately, something has to give with this team and this portion of the kicking game. Punter Jason Baker is responsible for one of the 3 blocks. He dropped the snap. First time I have ever seen him do that, so I am ok with a guy being human. There are 2 other kicks that need to be accounted for, and incidentally, those 2 are the ones that were blocked and resulted in touchdowns for the opposition.

Great teams don't have recurring problems like this. They just don't. Full marks to Tampa Bay for running the Panthers into the ground. They played well, and forced Carolina to play poorly. The Panthers want to be among the NFL's elite, but they won't get there until they clean up the little things that make them give points away. Elite teams simply don't do that.

More on the Panthers as the week moves along. New Orleans comes to Charlotte this weekend, and Carolina needs to be ready, or they go from a tie for first, to likely last in the NFC South.

Weighing in on college football, the UNC Tar Heels suffered a damaging blow, as Brandon Tate is out for the season with a knee injury. Can Carolina adsorb this one, and still win? I think so, but that means a guy like Hakeem Nicks may be asked to do more.

Clemson gassed Tommy Bowden on Monday....errrr...Bowden stepped down (whatever). 10 years, 75 wins, 8 bowl appearances. Seriously?

No, before the Clemson faithful start calling me names, let me say this: I get the notion of wanting your team to be a top 5 team in the polls, and playing for national championships. The last Clemson national title came WAY before the BCS (another joke) was concocted. It came when the final poll determined it, and not the mess we have today.

Let's also keep in mind, the ACC is not the football conference everyone (including Clemson fans) wants it to be. The best ACC team is maybe middle of the pack in the SEC. Basically, being dominant in the ACC is akin to being valedictorian of summer school. Just not a lot of respect that goes with it.

If the program keeps winning, keeps going to bowl games, keeps getting on TV, and keeps out of the papers for rules violations and the like, the program continues to be profitable--meaning more money comes in than goes out. Sorry, guys, but in the end, it's about the money. The fact that Bowden is gone after 10 years of success (you determine its level), tells me that Clemson still feels that they should be a national title contender. Fact is, that train left the station long ago, and that is not Clemson's fault. It's simply the way it is.

Mike Solarte

Friday, October 10, 2008

Working for the weekend

Who am I kidding, there's no such thing as a weekend in the fall! Surfing the landscape for what is on tap beginning on Friday:

The Discount Tire Friday Night Final! Loads of high school football action from across the state, with plenty of highlights and scores from Charlotte to the Coast. If you haven't watched it, I question your sanity. Ok, I'm kidding. If you are a fan of high school football, this show is for you. It all starts at 11pm. Of course, your normal 10pm Sports Night is on track as well. It's opening night for the Carolina Hurricanes, we'll have Panthers, NASCAR activities from Lowe's Motor Speedway, a look around the A-C-C, and much more. Friday's are a bear, but we knock it out with relative ease. Operative word--relative.

In addition to a ton of college football, it's race day at the speedway. The Bank of America 500 goes green at the track. Sports Night is live from the speedway following the race with highlights, post-race reaction and analysis.

Leading into Saturday's race, the big story is the garage shoving match between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. I didn't see it, but after hearing witnesses talk about it, I am trying to determine who is at fault. Harvick turned to remove himself from the situation, and (according to witnesses), Edwards grabbed Harvick and spun him around. It all stems from Harvick's post-crash comments during Sunday's race at Talladega. Harvick called Edwards a "pansy" during the interview, to which Edwards left a facetious "thank you " note for Harvick.

Should Edwards have been upset about what Harvick said? Maybe. Should he have grabbed Harvick Thursday in the garage? No. Edwards caused the wreck, and he has admitted as much. Sure, go talk to Harvick about popping off on TV, but talk it out. Grabbing him makes for great headlines, but it makes you look like an idiot, especially when he intentionally turned away to avoid a physical confrontation. Should be interesting to see how these 2 behave during Saturday's race.

Sunday, it's NFL time. Panthers visit Tampa Bay. Sounds like the Panthers are getting healthy again. Jeff Otah and Jordan Gross practiced on Thursday. Getting them back will help against a tough opponent. Ryan Kalil may not go, which means Geoff Hangartner would start at center. Dwayne Jarrett is just about a lock to play this week with D.J. Hackett's knee banged up. Would be nice for him to have a solid contribution. I like the way this one is shaping up for Carolina, but this is a rivalry game--one that both sides agree is the most intense for their respective team. The games are always a battle, but generally respectful. They'll try to knock each other's teeth out for 4 quarters, and then will look the other in the eye as they shake hands afterwards. I love games like that. Should be a dandy. Pick: Carolina 27-Tampa 21

That's all I have for now. Have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Looking ahead to Thursday

1-Horrifying debut for the Bobcats under Larry Brown. Dusted by 30+ at Orlando. I will stand by my mantra of "exhibition anything is meaningless," but come on, guys. Either Orlando will win the East, or the Bobcats have regressed. I'll go right in the middle of all that. Orlando is better, and Charlotte isn't that bad. 7 more fake one's before it kicks off against Cleveland. Let's hope it gets better, and not worse.

2-Speedweek will kick off at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Thursday, however, it appears Mother Nature isn't cooperating. If the forecast holds (and this is one of the rare times I actually root against the Weather on the One's Gang), qualifying is looking more like a set the field on points day, rather than a speed day. We'll see, but Sports Night will be live at the track Thursday night for all the days happenings. Rain or shine.

3-Panthers may be minus some offensive linemen this week against Tampa Bay. Injuries kept OT's Jeff Otah and Jordan Gross, along with C Ryan Kalil on the sidelines during Wednesday's practice. It's a situation we'll watch thru the week, and if nothing improves, it will likely be the same 5 that finished the game against Kansas City starting against Tampa Bay. From left tackle to right: Frank Omiyale, Travelle Wharton, Geoff Hangartner, Keydrick Vincent and Jeremy Bridges. On Monday, Head Coach John Fox praised that unit, but cautioned there were things they needed to improve on. Going into Tampa, that group has to be as perfect as they can. The Bucs are light years better than Kansas City.

Also looks like Dwayne Jarrett will get a jersey this week. D.J. Hackett has a knee injury, and it could be something that keeps him sidelined for a couple weeks (although the Panthers won't declare his status until later in the week). Jarrett has worked hard in practice , earning the "Scout Team Player of the Week," award from the team last week. Now, he'll (likely) get the chance to be in the gameplan, something which hasn't happened since week 2, the final week of the Steve Smith suspension.

And (to steal a phrase from my pal Jason Spells), BIG UPS to the Panthers for signing WR Kenneth Moore. The former Butler H.S. Bulldog, turned Wake Forest Demon Deacon gets that rare chance to play bigtime football in his native city. Moore is a nice young man, and a solid player (he was the MVP of the 2007 Meineke Car Care Bowl at Bank of America Stadium last December). Here's to what I hope is a long, and successful stay with the Panthers for Kenny.

That's about all for now. I'll see you from the track, and I certainly hope to be dry!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Couple items on a Tuesday

1- Congrats to Garinger High School for snapping a football losing streak that dates back to October 11, 2002. True, they were credited with wins when schools were deemed ineligible (after the fact), still, I would guess every player and coach since that Oct. 11 win over Myers Park would have preferred their emotions last night over the, "hey, you guys didn't go winless last season--here's 4 forfeits." The Wildcats beat West Mecklenburg 31-12, after trailing 12-0 at the half.

2-The Charlotte Bobcats wrap up their Wilmington trip and head off to Orlando to begin the pre-season this week. The Bobcats seemed to have a productive camp at UNC-Wilmington, and now it's time to see if Larry Brown's vision for this team will take shape over the course of the season. I certainly hope so, as it would make the post-NFL season a bit more fun if the Bobcats are actually competitive, and contending for a playoff spot.

3-Carolina Panthers taking Tuesday off, and get back to practice on Wednesday. Cats enjoying the view atop the NFC South a bit more, thanks to Minnesota's Monday Night Football win over New Orleans. The Vikings should send a fruit basket to Martin Grammatica. The former all-world kicker for Tampa Bay, is now nothing more than an after thought. He hit 2 FG's, one from 35 (one he should always make), and then pounded on through from beyond 50 yards (52 I believe), but then snapped one left from 45 yards that would have given the Saints the win (or at least the lead) in the final 2 minutes. Grammatica hasn't been the same since the Panthers basically punked him while with the Bucs. Think back to the 2003 season, when the Panthers won a tight game, thanks to a blocked extra point. Seems after that, he was never the consistent kicker he was when he first started in the NFL.

4-NASCAR comes back to Lowe's Motor Speedway this week for the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night. I love race weeks. Sure, it's a grind, but the end result is very satisfying (in terms of what we put out on TV). We have a great crew lined up, and we'll have all the race activity for you on Sports Night, live from the track on Thursday after qualifying, and then live at the track immediately following the race on Saturday night. We'll be out of the loop on the Nationwide Series race on Friday, due to high school football coverage and the Discount Tire Friday Night Final.

5-It is with a mixture of sadness and joy that I bid farewell to my personal interest in baseball for the season. My guys, the Chicago White Sox, were shown the door on Monday by the Tampa Bay Rays in game 4 of the ALDS. It was fitting that the Chicago crowd was dressed, primarily, in black. They were ready for the season funeral that took place in front of them. I give full marks to the Rays for winning (through gritted teeth), and look forward to the potential changes the Sox make this off-season. Their bats failed them at the worst possible time. It's one thing to lead the majors in home runs during the regular season. When the lumber goes quiet in the playoffs, you find yourself watching, rather than playing. *Sigh*

Couple Sports Night notes for this week: Wednesday, I'll visit with driver Jeff Gordon, to talk about his foundation and go-kart racing, plus Jim Connors will visit with Carolina Hurricanes winger Scott Walker in studio. Lots of great stuff happening at 10pm, so don't be late!

Mike Solarte

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Panthers-Chiefs Fallout

If you liked watching the Carolina Panthers beat an opponent into submission, then Sunday was for you.

Carolina, for the first time since 2006, faced a lesser opponent, and dominated them. You would have to go back to the home game with St. Louis, when Carolina blanked the Rams 15-0. Even in that game, Carolina wasn't as good as they were against KC.

The Panther offense worked efficiently, in spite of a slow down in the 3rd quarter. DeAngelo Williams had a nice break out game (and now, hopefully people will stop questioning if Jonathan Stewart should start--does it really matter?). Jake Delhomme was given good protection by a patchwork offensive line (nice work from Frank Omiyale and Jeremy Bridges replacing Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah who were down with injuries). Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad were very good as well.

And that is just half the story.

The Panther defense was superb. Loads of pressure on Damon Huard, locking up receivers, good push by the D-line, the linebackers were everywhere. Oh, and this little nugget. Larry Johnson. 7 carries, 2 yards. It was a performance that deserved the shutout they pitched.

More than the on-field performances, though, was the attitude. The Panthers showed they had a killer instinct against the Chiefs (not hard to do considering KC was about as bad as they could be). Still, the Panthers have shown the knack of playing to the level of the competition. Playing down to bad teams, and rising up to meet good ones. Sunday, Carolina showed themselves to be the dominant team, and never let KC up for air. That is the kind of game the Panthers should play all the time.

Again, KC is horrendous, but still, Carolina took one of the elite runners in the game, and didn't just shut him down. They turned him off. That's the 5th straight elite back the Panthers have faced, and the 5th one they held under 100 yards. Plus they got the 3 takeaways (2 INT's and the fumble recovery). This is a defense that is flat out nasty.

So what does that get them? Well, a 4-1 record, and a date with Tampa Bay on the road next week. The Bucs lost to Denver, so Carolina owns a lead in the NFC South, and a favorable schedule after the Bucs. They will have home games with New Orleans, and Arizona, hit the bye week, then go out to Oakland, home with Detroit, and then on the road to meet Atlanta and Green Bay. That's getting down the road a bit, but if the Panthers continue their current pace of play, Panther fans had better make sure their Sunday's are flexible--the Panthers could find themselves on national TV once flex scheduling takes hold.

Mike Solarte