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

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