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 , 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