Thursday, December 31, 2009

Panthers-Saints thoughts

Sunday will mark the end of the 2009 season for the Carolina Panthers, win, lose or draw. There will be no nail-biting moments of "what can they do to get into the playoffs," or anything like that. It's a football game, and then clear out your locker.

That in mind, I am going with the home team to win.

I have never been more impressed by an 8-win football team, than I am with the Panthers. This team may not have always looked its best on the field, but in the dressing room, they are a family. A real family. They play for each other. They play for their coach. They weather the storms as best they can, and had it not been for a dreadful start, they would be a playoff team. The margin of error is just so small.

As for the Saints, they have nothing to gain by playing their starters the distance. They are also on a 2-game losing streak. Based on those factors, I see the Saints trying to win the game in the first 3 quarters, then trying to hang on in the 4th. Carolina should win this game on that fact alone, but if the Saints are out to make a point to the rest of the NFC, then hanging on in the 4th won't be an issue. The statement will be loud and clear (if it comes), and will sound something like 4 or 5 Saints touchdowns.

I don't see that happening though, based on the Panthers defense of late. They are playing tremendous football. The hits, turnovers, pressure. Wow. I also want to applaud the play of Julius Peppers, especially over the final 10 games or so. Maybe it was the Jon Beason radio call-out of Peppers, but he has been a monster since. Still not convinced he has earned the dollar amount attached to his franchise tag status, but he's been pretty good in 2009.

Pro Bowl: Beason out of the Pro Bowl, and Saints LB Jonathan Vilma in? To borrow a phrase from ESPN, "c'mon, man!"

Props to Peppers and DeAngelo Williams for their selections. Deserving with the season's they have had. Hard to imagine Thomas Davis not being there, after the season he was having. Then again, the NFC probably would have left him off in favor of someone like Wilber Marshall. And Marshall is retired.

The off-season will bring its own kind of drama and news. Pardon me as I wait for it to roll around. For now, a Happy New Year to all, and we'll see you on Sports Night tonight at 10.

Mike Solarte

Monday, December 28, 2009

Back in the Saddle

First off, a big shout out to US Airways and Northwest Airlines. Snow cancelled my return flight on Saturday, and US Air booked me and my family to a NWA flight the next day. Very accommodating, no lost luggage. Mad props to them all.

OK, another fun nugget from the trip, was the Panthers-Giants game on at my gate on Sunday. Wow, what a ballgame. Truth be told, we watched the first half having lunch at an airport restaurant, the 2nd half at the gate. Carolina took the Giants to school, opening up that big 24 point lead, and never letting up.

That leads me to this: Charlotte Observer columnist Tom Sorensen wrote in his blog that the Panthers will give Head Coach John Fox, GM Marty Hurney, and the rest of the staff, the opportunity to return next season--read, they will not be fired.

I have written here in the past that the Panthers would be foolish to clean house based on the football side, but somehow I have left out the economic side. I have said this to colleague,s but never written it (and still don't know why). The looming labor issues with the NFL lead me to think the Panthers will be doing what hey can to save their money, in case of a work stoppage in 2011. 2010 looks to be a non-salary cap year, which could lead to some teams (like Dallas and Washington), breaking the bank to sign free agents. Penalty-free spending. Carolina likely won't be among the "blank-check" teams. Not their style.

It's a tangled web of bargaining, and balancing, and dividing a billion dollar pie, something I am not nearly qualified to tackle. I will offer this, however. The nature of the discussions leads me to think that there won't be football in 2011, so prudent teams will keep their money under their mattress, rather than invest it in players they may only have for one year.

Had the chance to speak with Richard Marshall and Mackenzy Bernadeau, along with Coach Fox on Monday. We'll bring that to you throughout the day, and on Sports Night at 10, along with Bobcats highlights, and Davidson facing Pennsylvania too.

Mike Solarte

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Thoughts...the Poem version

Hello, one and all, and a Happy Holidays to you. Couple thoughts, and then some Christmas cheer.
  • Carolina Panthers placed QB Jake Delhomme on season-ending IR Thursday, after it was determined his throwing hand wouldn't be right. Delhomme admitted he broke the knuckle on his middle finger, and after a couple weeks, it hadn't come around. 2009 will be a year on the field that he'll want to forget. Here's hoping he is able to do just that.
  • A quick hit on the Panthers-Giants (as I likely won't blog again until next week). Carolina will have to bring their thievery act with them to the Meadowlands. Takeaways will be important, as the Giants have a ton of confidence after the beating they put on Washington this past Monday night. DeAngelo Williams could miss this one with an ankle injury, meaning Jonathan Stewart would be the focal point of the offense. Carolina can win this one, and if they manage to pull it off, they could take an 8-8 record with them at season's end. The way 2009 has played out, that is still a very desired goal for the players in the room, and I suspect they will pull out all the stops to reach it.
  • Charlotte Bobcats center Tyson Chandler has a stress reaction in his left foot, meaning he'll miss at least a week with the injury. The Bobcats need him to be a little more of a presence, as Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson have carried a lions share of the load. Nazr Mohammed has done good work coming off the bench, but Chandler needs to contribute a touch more. Keep in mind, he's still working his way back to being 100% after those off-season ankle and toe surgeries. Imagine how good the Bobcats could be if he gets right during the homestretch of the season.

Today is Christmas Eve, a down day in the world of sports. The fact that games are harder to find led me to dream up a little holiday prose for you. Hope you enjoy it.

'Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the land, The stands were all silent, there were no fans

The Panthers have battled, scratched and clawed, But their 6-8 record hasn't left anyone awed

The injuries have been plenty, the cheers too few, All that's left now is to figure what next to do

The engines have quieted on the NASCAR scene, At least 2 more weeks until the drivers reconvene

The Sprint Cup guys still chase the number 48, Four years in a row, he's proven to simply be great

Guys like Denny, Jeff, Mark, and Kyle will all strive, To keep Jimmie off the pace for title number 5

There are those we lost in 2009, too many to name now, but one we shall always remember is NC State's coach Kay Yow

So on Coach Brown, Coach Lutz, and Coach Aston, To the playoffs and March Madness is all fans are askin'

Not long after that, the golfers will be back at Quail Hollow, and fans are all wondering if there will be a Tiger to follow

For now, we look ahead to a holiday with family and friends, times we all wish would never end

Once they do, the games we watch will be out of sight, and we promise to deliver the best to you at 10, on Sports Night!

Merry Christmas!

Mike Solarte

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Sorry, Vikes fans, the sad truth...

The Minnesota Vikings will not win the Super Bowl this season.

No, it has nothing to do with their loss to Carolina on Sunday night. The Panthers played well, and deserved that win. The sad truth for Vikings fans is this:

Your team quit in the 4th quarter.

I don't know that I have ever said that about any team I have watched with my own eyes, but what I saw from the Vikings was something I had never seen before.

Carolina was blasting the Vikings every chance they got. Julius Peppers was on top of Brett Favre so much, he could have been part of the soon-to-be-hall-of-famer's uniform. It got so bad, Head Coach Brad Childress wanted to lift his starter for fear of him getting hurt. To Favre's credit (and yes, I have blasted Favre for his on-the-fence approach to playing or retiring), the guy hung tough and stayed in, convincing Childress he was fine, and just let him go.

Why do I say Minnesota quit? Factor this all in.

At the start of the 4th, Minnesota LED 7-6. The Panthers had the ball, and scored :11 seconds into the final 15 minutes. They couldn't convert the 2-point try, and then led 12-7. That's a 5 point game.

Over the final 14:49, the Vikings ran 11 offensive plays, and gained 94 yards. Remove the dump off to Adrian Peterson, that turned into a 63 yard gain in their final drive, and it's 31 yards on 10 plays. Hats off to the Panthers defense for their work.

The real issue is with that stout Vikings defense. Carolina, in the final 14:49, had 3 possessions (the TD in the opening minute of the 4th qtr was a continuation of a 3rd quarter drive, so I am not counting it). The numbers for drive 1: 6 plays, 77 yards, TD, 3:00 time of possession. Drive 2: 8 plays, 80 yards, TD, 5:01 time of possession. Drive 3: 4 plays, 12 yards, ballgame.

The Vikings defense was reduced to a shell of itself. The fearsome front 4 was being man-handled by, what is now, a patchwork offensive front. Geoff Schwartz replacing Jeff Otah at right tackle, Travelle Wharton shifted to left tackle a few weeks ago due to Jordan Gross' broken leg, Mackenzy Bernadeau in at left guard....didn't matter. Minnesota's Pat and Kevin Williams, Jared Allen and Ray Edwards only got minimal whiffs of Matt Moore's after shave. They were held in check, allowing Jonathan Stewart to go over 100 yards, and score a pair of td's. Moore misses 300 yards passing by just 3 feet, Steve Smith catches 9 balls, 157 yards and a td.

The body language on the Vikings defensive players was telling. Heads hanging, shoulders slumped, basically, they were beaten like drums. Again, it was a 5 point deficit with virtually the entire 4th quarter to play. Carolina slugged the Vikes in the mouth, and Minnesota wilted.

The NFC Champion will be New Orleans once the playoffs wrap up, and if Minnesota makes it to the conference final, watch for the first sign of adversity to turn the Purple People Eaters in the teh conference runners-up.

Mike Solarte

Any Given Sunday

For Panthers fans, last night was the reason why they show up to every home game. You just never know what's going to unfold on the field. Not many gave Carolina a chance against Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and the rest of the vaunted Minnesota Vikings... but that's why they play the game. Trailing by one the Panthers exploded for 20 4th quarter points and easily beat the Vikings 26-7.

It just proves, once again, that you never know in the NFL. A former colleague of mine used to say, "Nobody goes undefeated. Nobody goes winless in the NFL." And with apologies to the '72 Dolphins and '08 Lions, that's true. Carolina's win, while surprising, isn't all that shocking. To prove it, just look at the NFL schedule from week to week. Who expected the Bengals to beat the Steelers and Ravens not just once, but twice? Tampa Bay, winless at the time, shocked Green Bay in week 9? Nobody saw Tennesse's 0-6 start or Denver's 6-0 beginning. And what about Oakland? The Raiders were 2-7 after 9 games and have managed to win 3 of its last 5, beating Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the Broncos. Plus the Lions not only won a game this year, they've won two.

What last night's win has fueled among Panthers fans is the feeling that this is how they should have been playing all year. For one night, at least, Carolina overcame the injuries that have plagued the defense. Matt Moore looked like the answer at quarterback and John Fox had the right game plan. The reality, the Panthers stand at 6-8 with two games to play. And even if they win both and finish the season at 8-8, it's likely they'll be changes this offseason in Panther-land. Just how much is hard to tell. For you see, as good season as Carolina had last year... you just never know what's going to happen from week-to-week, year-to-year in the NFL.

--Jason Brown

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mid-week musings

  • Carolina Panthers right tackle Jeff Otah hit the Injured Reserve list on Tuesday. He's the 10th Panther to hit the IR this season. One more, and the Panthers could have a starting unit out there. Yikes. That unit wouldn't be very balanced, though. Of the 10, only one play is a skill position player (QB Josh McCown).
  • Seems to be some chatter about this new NFL CBA, and the things that could be included in a "new NFL" once the deal is done. Things like the 18 game regular season, which we all kinda figure is coming, but there would need to be concessions made if that is the case. Couple things I have heard: expanding the rosters to carry more players, and giving teams a baseball-like injured reserve system. Basically, putting a player on IR wouldn't have to mean shutting that player down for the season under a new system. What does it all mean? Until a deal gets done between the league and players, it means zero. I can see, though, how this would benefit the players union. They would be getting 2 additional game checks for their membership, and there would be more jobs available for their union. Hard to argue against it if you are increasing the number of people you represent.
  • Panthers begin prep work on Minnesota on Wednesday. Possible storylines this week include Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, who starts for the Panthers at QB, Brett Favre, the Sunday Night game atmosphere, how does the Panthers OL respond minus Otah, and Brett Favre.
  • Charlotte Bobcats put together a nice win Tuesday over the NY Knicks, 94-87. It wasn't the fact that they won, but they came back from a 12 point hole to get the win. Games like this are the kind this team lost in years past, under Bernie Bickerstaff and Sam Vincent (moreso under Vincent). Difference now is this team is more mature, and they have guys that can finish. Stephen Jackson has been just what the doctor ordered for this Bobcats squad, Raymond Felton continues to grow, and role players are making contributions. Guys like Stephen Graham, Nazr Mohammed, and even rookies Derrick Brown and Gerald Henderson are chipping in. I have heard the Bobcats in the past say they will make the playoffs, but I never really believed they would. Barring injuries, this team will make the post-season. Book it.'
  • Have a scheduled interview with Danica Patrick Wednesday afternoon, and you will be able to see it in its entirety on Sports Night tonight at 10, and of course, on our website, Should be interesting to get her thoughts on her journey into stock cars, and more. Hope you like it!

Mike Solarte

Monday, December 14, 2009

3 to go next time by....

The Carolina Panthers have 3 games left on the 2009 schedule which no one will give them a chance to win (they will be underdogs in all of them, including the 2 home games they have left), and have only a few things left to play for. A .500 record for the season, jobs for next season, and the role of spoiler in the case of New Orleans. That, of course, is only if the Saints win their next 2, and are on the brink of a 16-0 season.

It has been a rough year. The defense fans had hoped to see is just now gelling, and it is doing so without some major parts. Depending on who the Panthers retain (or are able to retain), the defense could improve. Lots of possibilities on that side of the ball.

Offensively, there is work to be done. The QB position will likely be addressed. The 2nd receiver position will likely be addressed. Surprisingly, the offensive line depth that has been tested, has responded pretty well. No team can ever have too much depth, and the Panthers likely wouldn't mind a little help there behind the starters.

Special teams are still somewhat of an issue. John Kasay's range appears to be falling off each year--he is still string straight more often than not, however, he's not a threat for 50 yards anymore. How does the franchise transition away from the last original Panther? The classy way, which is how they have handled things in the past, would be for Kasay to call it quits on his own. Forcing him out would be ugly. I couldn't imagine the Panthers doing that to him, given what he means to the franchise as a person.

There continue to be thoughts that Coach Fox and GM Marty Hurney could be on the way out at season's end. Would that cure the ills? I don't think so. I don't think firing Fox and/or Hurney is the answer. Stability, to me, helps build consistency. This year has been anything but consistent, though. Jerry Richardson is not a knee-jerk kind of owner. He assesses, and evaluates. The thing Fox and Hurney have in their favor is Richardson's playing career. He's the only owner that actually played in the NFL. He knows what it's like to lose key players to injury early in the season. He knows how important that chemistry is.

My guess is that he's not happy with certain aspects of things on his football team, and may make changes, without gassing the leaders. I could be wrong about all this, but the big picture outweighs the short-term action/reaction.

More on this week's matchup later in the week.

On my drive down to Charlotte from Raleigh on Sunday morning, I had the chance to listen to WEEI Radio out of Boston. It was their pre-game show, leading into their NFL coverage. Studio hosts (whose names escape me), joined by former Pats TE Christian Fauria. Fauria spent part of the 2007 season with Carolina as his career was winding down.

They were doing the usual pre-game breakdown--the Pats offense v. Carolina's defense, vice-versa, and so on. I was a little surprised, and somewhat disappointed to hear Fauria describe Panthers WR Steve Smith as "a cancer," and "unstable." Now, I know he was in the Panthers dressing room, and interacted with Smith, but unstable? He went on by saying, "take the most unstable person you know, multiply that by a million, and that is Steve Smith." It makes great radio, I know, but it also is a bit of a knife to the back. Maybe the two didn't get along. Maybe Fauria just didn't like the attention Smith got in the offense. I don't know. That seemed to be a bit over the top for my taste.

It's been a frustrating season for the Panthers, so much so, that now even former one-year stopover players are getting in their shots.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quick Panthers-Patriots thoughts

The Panthers head to Gillette Stadium for the first time this weekend, facing a New England team that has lost 2 straight. Both teams eye their opponent as the right medicine at the right time (Carolina likes a struggling Patriots, the Pats like a Carolina team that has had its own issues). Some storylines...
  • Jake Delhomme missed practice again Wednesday with the broken finger on his throwing hand. Matt Moore looks to get the nod at QB, unless Jake makes a quick recovery. Moore said Wednesday that he needs to trust himself more, and go after plays. Good sign that he recognizes that. The kid wants to get better, and knows he may have left some points on the field against Tampa Bay. That can't happen over the final 4 games, given Carolina meets the Pats, Minnesota, NY Giants and New Orleans.
  • Staying with the injury front, RB DeAngelo Williams returned to practice Wednesday--good sign there, meaning Carolina should have both "Double," and "Trouble" for the Pats. Williams missed last week with an ankle injury, and told me on the sidelines being in street clothes "sucks."
  • Defensively, Carolina faces a big-play threat every time Tom Brady takes the snap. Randy Moos and Wes Welker pose big problems. DT Damione Lewis told me on Wednesday that they try not to give up the big play, but if they do, bending is better than breaking. Give them 3, not 6 is the mentality. Carolina had five interceptions against the Bucs, and will need another day like that to neutralize the Pats offense.
  • It's expected to be cold in Foxboro, with the possibility of snow. QB Moore says he's played in the snow "when I was 10, so I'm prepared for that." Funny, but no doubt the game changes when the elements show up. The team that minimizes mistakes (read turnovers), generally ends up getting the "W."

In speaking to some of my media colleagues on Wednesday, we came to the conclusion that this Panthers team could go 0-4 over the final month, or even 4-0. Schizophrenic as they can be, you can never count out a John Fox coached team. They have done more in seemingly worse situations.

I'm not sure they can pull that feat this weekend in New England, however. The Pats are wounded, and fairly unhappy. A grumpy team loaded with talent generally makes for a long day for their opponent. Given the season the Panthers have had, though, they should be a little grumpy, too.

Grumpiest team wins.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Be still, my beating heart...

It's finally gonna happen. Danica Patrick is going to sign with JR Motorsports, and run a select number of Nationwide Series races over the next 2 years (at least).

Which ones are not know, but she'll take part in an ARCA series test in Daytona a few days before Christmas this year.

You can feel the excitement in the air.

OK, if you don't think I am PILING ON the sarcasm, I should warn you I am.

This "I'm coming to NASCAR but, nothing is set yet," dance Patrick has had the motorsports world on is tiresome, and annoying. It's the gnat at the picnic that seems to buzz in your eyes right when you get ready to take a bite of your sandwich.

What is the NASCAR world waiting for, anyway? Patrick's IRL numbers, according to one NASCAR team member: 82 starts, 1 win (in Japan), 16 top-5's, 42 top-10's. 110 laps led.

110 laps led in 82 starts? Kyle Busch leads that many in 1 start. And Kyle hasn't won a championship yet (but his day will come).

Not knowing HOW this deal came together, it's hard to pick at JR Motorsports, and I'm truly not picking at them. They feel this is the best decision for their company, and I'm cool with that. It's the hyped nature of this thing. Danica is a woman. She's attractive. She can line up sponsors for miles.

Can she win?

If she can't win, she's the Anna Kournikova of racing. Period.

Tuesday's press conference is in Phoenix, just 3 days after NASCAR celebrated it's 2009 season with the end-of-year banquet. In Las Vegas. All the media that was out there (and there were plenty of the series garage-heads out there), went back home either Saturday or Sunday. Wouldn't you want the folks that cover NASCAR to be there when it is made official that the Great Danica is planning on beginning her stock car career?

Personally, I'm not rooting against her, I would just prefer she back up all the hype with some success on the track. Jacques Villeneuve couldn't do it. Sam Hornish, Jr. has struggled, but has improved. Patrick Carpentier couldn't do it. The only open-wheel racers to be successful in NASCAR (recently) are Tony Stewart (who can drive anything, and I mean ANYTHING), and Robby Gordon, although Stewart has done far more than Robby.

In this case of style v. substance, style laps the field. When the smoke clears, substance will speak the loudest.

Mike Solarte

Monday, December 7, 2009

On Bowl Match-Ups and What Could Have Been

I have a question to those on the Bowl Championship Series Committee. What purpose does it serve to have undefeated Boise State vs undefeated Texas Christian (TCU)? Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled both non-BCS schools are in BCS Bowls, but against each other? These programs want to prove themselves against the big boys to show they belong, just like Boise State did to Okalhoma and just like Utah did to Alabama in previous years. Wouldn't having TCU face Cincinnati and Boise State battle Florida been the perfect stage for both schools to show its worth? But I digress....

Speaking of the Bearcats, what a roller coaster weekend it was for UC. They come from behind to beat Pittsburgh and claim the Big East Championship. Then they were one second away from Nebraska beating Texas, and thus being in the BCS Championship versus Alabama. You see, according to several media reports, if Nebraska had upset Texas, Cincinnati would have leap-frogged TCU in the BCS standings. Now while no one will quibble with the championship game we have with Alabama vs Texas, it still leaves three other undefeated teams (UC, TCU and Boise St.) on the outside looking in. Not to sound like "The Godfather of Soul" James Brown, but please, please, please, can't somebody come up with a viable playoff format!? It seems to work for all the other college football divisions in the NCAA. Just ask Appalachian State.
--Jason Brown
BTW, don't follow me on Twitter since I don't Tweat.

Friday, December 4, 2009

In lieu of writing it out....

I submit to you this link, with my thoughts on Sunday's Panthers-Bucs meeting.


Jake Delhomme will not play, and DT Tank Tyler went on IR Friday, replaced on the roster by Derek Landri, recently released by Jacksonville. The attrition continues.

Enjoy the weekend!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Case of the Mondays

Boy, did the Carolina Panthers have a case of the Mondays--in fact, they may have had 2 cases.

Chronologically, as roughly 12:30 pm, Head Coach John Fox told the media that Jake Delhomme suffered a broken finger on his throwing hand. When pressed on which finger, Fox said, "right finger," but did specify that it wasn't his thumb. Media and fans have a 25% chance of figuring out which of his digits is busted. We may find out more on Wednesday, but Fox also pointed out that he didn't have to tell anyone which finger it is (per NFL rules). More on Jake in a bit.

Then, at 1:36 pm, LB Jon Beason was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges, stemming from an alleged incident on Nov. 15th, at a Charlotte strip club.

I am not about to tell anyone how they should spend their free time, or their money. You like buying cars, going on vacation, or going to strip clubs, be my guest. However, given the nature of the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, is it wise to be hanging out in places that are generally frowned upon by the league? It's not a crime, but why take the chance? That's just me. Turns out, the person that filed the complaint against Beason has had previous encounters with authorities. Based on Char-Meck records, he arrested once for passing a bad check, and on another occasion for assault on a female. Both charges were later dismissed.

Beason says he will plead not guilty in court on Jan. 11, 2010. His agent says Beason is looking forward to his day in court. I'm anxious to see how this plays out.

Back to Delhomme...the broken finger apparently happened with 2:24 left in the game. It was, as I described on my Twitter page, the "Eephus Pass," to Dwayne Jarrett. Delhomme never left the game, and continued slinging it, until his 4th and final interception. I think I know Jake, and I think the dude is pretty tough. Having seen him take some pretty big hits, he's bounced up more often than not, so to think he played with a busted finger over the final 2 minutes isn't much of a stretch.

I just wonder this: What if Carolina's record was reversed, at 7-4, and Jake had just 8 interceptions, as opposed to 18. If he finished the Jets game with a banged up hand, would starting him this week against Tampa Bay be a question? Personally, I don't think so. Of course, the reality is 4-7, 18 picks, and a busted finger. My hunch (on Tuesday), is Matt Moore gets the nod against Tampa Bay. Jake is tough, and could probably play, but the injury gives Fox a chance to sit Jake (even for just 1 week), and let him regroup. Delhomme is Fox's guy (there can be no doubt about that), and Fox will remain loyal to his guys as long as he is the Head Coach (admirable). the week off, might help, and it might not, but the injury buys the Panthers some time to determine that.

For the record, I am a Delhomme supporter, in spite of the picks. He is more than a quarterback, he's a good person who does great things for the Charlotte community. It is difficult seeing the guy struggle the way he has, and I have been critical of him when it was fair. He is not the lone reason the Panthers are 4-7. His overall play can, and should be examined, especially when the INT's outnumber the touchdowns by more than 2-1 (18 INT's-8 TD's). Laying all the blame at his feet, however, is ignorant.

Bobcats go for 5 straight as they take on the Boston Celtics, NASCAR Champions week getting cranked up out west, and much more on Sports Night at 10. Don't miss it!

Mike Solarte

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tired of Tiger Watch

I understand that because Tiger Woods has made millions upon millions in the public eye, that his late-night Thanksgiving crash is news. However, the stakeout of his secluded residence in Orlando, Florida, by ESPN and other media outlets I just find too much. I would hate to be the reporter assigned to this story.

The state highway police say charges are pending, but quickly added that alcohol did not play a factor. And just because charges are pending, doesn't mean they are forthcoming. Charges may never be filed.

Assuming that's the case, who cares why Tiger crashed into a fire hydrant and a neighbors tree at 2:25 in the morning. It's none of my business. The situation is juicy and fascinating, but at it's core it's just gossip. Frankly, something too many of us Americans take part in and I wish it would stop.

The primary theory is this crash is the result of some domestic dispute between Tiger and is wife, Elin. Having been married for nearly three years, I can appreciate the ups and downs in a marriage; however, those issues should remain private no matter who you are. Tiger does not owe me or anyone else an explanation. The only people he owes one to are his wife and family.

Celebrities personal lives are written about, scrutinized and judged in this country almost as much as health care or the war in Afghanistan. Stop for a second and ask yourself if you would want the magnifying glass examining your life.

None of us are perfect and it should come as no surprise that neither is Tiger Woods. Athletes are human beings too.

--Jason Brown

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hours before kickoff...

Couple items on the Panthers-Jets game.

  • WR Steve Smith was listed as questionable on Saturday. He hasn't been on the injury report all week, but he has sore ribs. It's an injury he suffered against Atlanta a few weeks ago. The guy is like a piece of iron--ultra tough. If he can breathe, he'll play. A little concerning, though, that he shows up on the injury report on Saturday.
  • Panthers DE Charles Johnson did not make the trip to NY, so he'll miss the game with a pectoral injury. Head Coach John Fox said earlier in the week that Julius Peppers "messed up" hand (read broken), has improved. The Panthers haven't recorded a sack in 3 weeks (their last was November 8th). That would be helpful if they can get pressure on rookie QB Mark Sanchez.
  • The Jets average nearly 164 yards per game in rushing, so stopping them on the ground is job one for the defense. Sanchez has shown, however, that he can sling the ball around. Just not often enough. A guy like Sherrod Martin could have a big afternoon, if Sanchez gets a little loose with the offense.
  • FB Brad Hoover likely returns to the lineup after missing time with a sprained ankle. The guy is the consummate professional. He does the thankless job of paving the way for the RB's, carries the rock a few times a game, gets beat up physically, and keeps coming back with a grin on his face. The Panthers missed Hoover in his absence, more so after rookie Tony Fiametta was hampered by a concussion. Hoover could be the cog that helps the Panther offense get moving as they try to make a very difficult run at a playoff spot.

Carolina's 4-6 record means, they likely have to go no worse than 5-1 to grab a wild-card spot. A tall order indeed, but they can get a win against the Jets first.

Prediction: Carolina 21-14

Mike Solarte

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks...

Lots to be thankful for in the world of sports this Thanksgiving...such as...

  • The NFL. Need I say more?
  • Jerry Richardson and the Carolina Panthers. The NFL in my backyard. One of, it not the, most respected owners in the league. In my backyard. Thank you.
  • Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya for showing us all that racing hard isn't a crime, and that if you trade paint, or spin someone out, it's part of the deal. Hard feelings may result, but in the end, drivers running hard for checkered flags makes racing worth watching.
  • Jimmie Johnson. Love him or hate, the dominance of the #48 team is something that demands your respect. He's got mine.
  • The college football season. Nothing better, or more moving, than seeing stadiums packed with students, alumni and fans. First college game I ever attended actually choked me up, as I missed out on that experience in college.
  • Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. 2 legends battling on Tobacco Road for ACC supremacy, as well as the right to wear the bullseye (usually) at season's end.
  • A perfectly struck drive off my Ping G-10. The sensation of crushing the golf ball off that club makes every round of golf feel like Turkey Day. Incidentally, no money changed hands in the writing of this line--I bought the thing, and simply mash it.
  • The Quail Hollow Championship, for bringing such stout fields to a wonderful golf course, and allowing me inside-the-ropes access. Being 20 feet from Tiger Woods, and watching him at work is some of the most scintillating stuff every golfer should enjoy at least once. Generally, I see it for 4 rounds in one week. Blessed.
  • My Chicago Blackhawks. In all the years that I have been a fan of this team (roughly 35), I have never said this about them: They have a legitimate shot of winning the Stanley Cup. Mind you, I didn't say that about them when they WENT to the Stanley Cup Finals in the early 90's (they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins).
  • The Charlotte Bobcats for showing everyone that working harder than your opponent means something in the NBA, considering many teams use their talents to "get by" in the regular season, then play hard in the playoffs. The Bobcats can't do that-they have to use their talent, and outwork opponents. Admirable to see them busting it every night. Hope it pays off at season's end with a playoff shot.
  • My tremendous co-workers that slug it out with me each and every day to bring you the best ion news, weather and sports from across the state. These are good people, solid journalists, and folks I am proud to call friends.
  • The folks that check out this blog, watch News 14 Carolina, and follow me on Twitter. Thanks so much for wanting to share your day-to-day with me. I hope you get as much out of my input as I get from yours.
  • and last, but not least, my wonderful family. My wife Tracie, daughter Shana, sons CJ and Spencer, our dogs Annie and Dot, birds Tiger and Mario, and the fish Ninja Red (the kids named the pets). It's a zoo, but it's the happiest place on earth.

All the best to you this holiday season,

Mike Solarte

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Night Blogging

OK, not as catchy as Monday Night Football, but it'll have to do. Where to begin? How's about some football.
  • Panther fans grumpy that the Cats didn't seek Michael Vick or Jay Cutler in trade should be somewhat eased by what they have seen out of both so far this season. Vick, with the exception of one big run against Chicago Sunday night, has been an afterthought, and Cutler leads the NFL in picks. Yes, Cutler, not Jake Delhomme. In fact, Cutler is 4 picks clear of Delhomme with NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez sandwiched in between. Mind you, being 3rd in the NFL in most picks is akin to being the Valedictorian of Summer School. Just a reminder that there are worse things going on in the NFL.
  • Panthers face the Sanchez-led Jets this Sunday. Both teams coming off of losses to AFC East opponents. The Panthers fell by 7 to Miami, the Jets were thumped by New England (a team Carolina meets in 3 weeks). The Jets are a complete mess (save for their running game-more on that in a second), or at least the Patriots made them look like one. Sanchez is rattled, and when rushed, he looks like a rookie--no shame in that. Sanchez has the tools to be a good one. He just needs some hep from the big uglies in the trenches. Right now, though, he i a deer in the headlights. The Panthers would do well to win the takeaway battle this week. It would greatly enhance their chance to win.
  • The Panthers are banged up. LB's Landon Johnson (knee) and Na'il Diggs (ribs) may not make it to the field this week (the official update comes on Wednesday). What's left in the cupboard? Dan Connor, newly-promoted-from-the-practice-squad Kelvin Smith, and James Anderson. As it stands tonight, the Panthers have 4 healthy linebackers, and 2 guys that are iffy (healthwise) at best. Not the ideal situation to be in as they get ready to meet a Jets team that leads the NFL in rushing yards per contest (just over 163 per game).

A question for you. Do you think the Panthers are going to fire John Fox? I will be honest, and say I just don't know. There are arguments both ways, but in the end, the decision will come from team owner Jerry Richardson. If Fox does go, others will go with him. The one thing the Panthers have tried to pride themselves on is stability, but that foundation has been rocked hard this season. Both Mark and John Richardson resigned from their posts within the team this year, and Danny Morrison was brought in as the new team President. I wasn't in Charlotte for the George Seifert era (is it really an era?), but I do recall the things being said and written about the team then. When Seifert was removed from the post, the thought conveyed about the franchise was the buzz was gone.

I'm not here to tell you the buzz is gone--this team continues to fight hard each week. They simply don't quit, when they would have every reason to. They've lost their starting DT, WLB, and LT to season-ending injuries. The backups that have stepped in have done their best, but remember they are behind the starters for a reason. This team believes they can win. They believe in their head coach. They believe in their QB, and the plan the coaches put before them.

Belief only takes you to game day. Getting it done when the game is on is what matters most. John Fox preaches that. "It's a results oriented business."

"What have you done for me lately?"

At the end of the season, 2 trips to the NFC Championship game, and a Super Bowl appearance may not be enough to keep Fox around. It's not my preference, but it may be the reality.

Mike Solarte

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Friday, November 20, 2009

The sands of the hourglass....

Time is running out on the Carolina Panthers season, thanks to their 24-17 loss to Miami on Thursday night. In front of a somewhat-national TV audience, the Panthers were unable to wrap up and tackle on defense, unable to convert touchdowns in the red zone, and as a result, drop to 4-6 overall.

Keep in mind, I see the game through the viewfinder of a TV camera, but some of what I saw...
  • The Panthers miss Thomas Davis on defense more than words can describe. All due respect to Landon Johnson (who was hurt Thursday as well), TD is TD, and the way his 2009 season was going, #58 was Pro Bowl bound. Now there is a void in the SLB that was noticeable against the Dolphins. Johnson played well while he was on the field, but the drop off is evident.
  • Staying with the defense, the question of how much heart Julius Peppers has should fade away now. The guy is playing with 1 hand, because the other is broken, and heavily wrapped. He is ineffective in that state--but he's out there, and he's trying. The matchup against the monstrous Jake Long simply wasn't a fair fight, with Peppers limited by injury.
  • 47 passes. 24 rush attempts. What happened to the balance? The 2/3 to 1/3 run v. pass? How about this....It's 3rd and 1 on a drive that the Panthers had moved it well on the ground. They throw deep to Steve Smith? Now, don't get me wrong, I like Smith coming down with the home run ball more often than not, but on a 3rd and 1, a drive Miami wasn't stopping to that point, dance with the date that brung ya. The Panthers trailed 14-3 at the half, but with the number of throws, you would think it was 100-3.

Not wanting to throw the cold water on anyone hoping the Panthers can sneak into the playoffs, but, the remaining schedule shows mild promise.

At the NY Jets. Home with Tampa Bay. At New England. Home with Minnesota. At the NY Giants. Home with New Orleans.

At 4-6, the Panthers have to go 5-1 (minimum) to reach the post-season. Given the banged up state of the roster, and the road ahead, 5 wins will be hard to come by.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The cycle never ends

Film study. Preparation. Practice. Rest.


And that's what I do. Imagine what the Panthers feel like.

Carolina has to compress all of their normal game prep into just 2 real days this week, as they host the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. While that seems bad for the Panthers, it's actually worse on the 'Phins. They have to travel in this shortened week (not all that far, but still, it's a road trip).

The Panthers are getting banged up in a big way, with LT Jordan Gross joining LB Thomas Davis and DT Maake Kemoeatu on IR. Gross getting knocked out for the year with a broken leg. The Panthers do have the depth to absorb losing Gross, sliding Travelle Wharton to the tackle spot,. and plugging in Mackenzy Bernadeau at the left guard spot. On a short week, there isn't much time to develop continuity, so they'll have to be a work in progress, but it looked OK Sunday against Atlanta.

The Dolphins announced Tuesday that RB Ronnie Brown is out for Thursday night's game. That could be a big time bonus for the Panthers, however, Ricky Williams has been a Panther problem in the past (think back to his New Orleans days). Carolina's defense will have to find a way to contain Williams, and also stop whatever "wildcat" formation Miami dreams up wit3h QB Pat White running the show. My guess is that it is unlikely Williams will offer much in that offensive set--with Brown, there was the added problem of him being able to actually throw it.

Offensively, the Panthers are improving, and they need to have a solid game Thursday if they are to get to .500 on the season. That means establish the run, protect the ball, and churn out long, time-consuming drives that keep the Dolphins offense on the sidelines. This one will be on the offense to carry the burden for the defense.

Shifting gears to other topics...

Michelle Wie won her first LPGA event last weekend, winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Initially, I was looking forward to ripping the win, saying she beat a bunch of hacks, but that wasn't the case. Ochoa was in that field, along with Catriona Matthew, and others--names that are recognizable to golf fans, not just LPGA fans. If it seems like it has taken forever for this to happen, it's because it did take forever. Wie has been one of golf's most over-hyped players, that the mere mention of her would bring people to think, "ugh, her again?" I had a laugh when the opening paragraph about her win read, "fulfilling the promise of a decade." Glad she won, but now she has to continue that. The LPGA certainly could use a player that is achieving results, and can be a good marketing angle for a tour that needs all the buzz it can generate.

I'll chime in on the Bobcats once they return home from their 3-day road trip. Needless to say, the trade between the Bobcats and Golden State had some folks shaking their heads when it went down on Monday--we'll look into it a bit closer later on.

Mike Solarte

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday notes

Spraying to all fields...
  • Carolina Panthers host Atlanta this Sunday, the start of a closing stretch of games that will have the Panthers home for 5 of their last 8. Sounds nice, but consider they will face Miami a week from TODAY....ack.
  • Panthers passing attack needs to be opened up. No secret around that. I understood them getting heavy into the run, but any further delays in allowing the offense to open things up will have a lasting effect on that unit. Sure the offensive linenmen would rather run block than pass protect, the RB's love carrying the rock, too. The WR's need their touches to make this offense balanced. Gotta make that happen.
  • Listening to Landon Johnson on Wednesday, it sounds like he will be the guy filling the void left by Thomas Davis' season-ending knee injury. BIG shoes to fill for Johnson, as Davis was having a Pro Bowl kinda year. Johnson is a veteran, though, so we'll have to see if that experience pays off, especially in a defensive scheme that allows the WLB to make plays. Davis was making plays. Johnson (or whomever fills that spot), needs to follow suit.
  • RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY! Sorry, had to get that out.
  • Charlotte Bobcats got thumped by the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. Scoring 30 points total in 2 quarters of work (the 2nd and 3rd combined), will do that to you. Bobcats have yet to win on the road, and are 3-1 on the home floor.

That's all for now. Keep your fingers crossed that the opening round of the high school football playoffs aren't hindered much by this rain!

Mike Solarte

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saints 30, Panthers 20

It's a 60 minute game, and the Carolina Panthers played terrific football for about 50 of those minutes. The New Orleans Saints clicked in much better fashion in the other 10 minutes, and that was the difference. Don't get me wrong, the Panthers did not dominate the Saints--it was a fairly even game, in spite of the quick 14-0 lead Carolina had.

Defensively, the Panthers were solid in holding the Saints under 100 yards rushing, but that passing game got clicking at just the right time, and a couple of long gainers did the Panthers in. You could feel the momentum shift, even if you were watching the game on your couch.

Want a bigger stat that brings a ray of light to this one? How about 5 Panthers fumbles. Chew on the one for a while. Carolina put it on the turf 5 times, and lost it 3 times. One of those recoveries going for a touchdown late to make it a 2 score game. Jake Delhomme fumbled on a sack in the 4th quarter, DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the 1 (which was returned for a TD), and Jonathan Stewart fumbled once, but Carolina got it back with a Chris Gamble interception on the ensuing drive.

I point out the turnovers as a glaring number, and they are. At the end of the day, though--Carolina outscored the Saints 10-7 off turnovers.

The Jake Hate continues (seriously?). He fumbled once, and the Saints didn't score on it. News flash: Delhomme isn't a QB that can win games on his own. He is not in the mold of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. All those that are waiting for the new QB to show up are also likely to be the ones wishing Jake was at the helm when the next guy struggles. It's the nature of the beast.

The Panthers now have a brutal road ahead if they want to make the playoffs. 3-5 at the halfway point means Carolina likely has to go 7-1 to get in. Can it be done? Certainly, but this team will have to do it by being smarter with the ball, and basically taking their game to a much higher level. The 50 minutes they played against New Orleans is that level.

But ya gotta play 60.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A look ahead

We'll be chatting to the Panthers around 2pm to get their thoughts on facing the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

What we know now:

The Panthers confidence hasn't been this high all season, and they will likely feel quite confident going into Sunday.

They will also sound very realistic , knowing they go to meet a Saints team that is undefeated, and playing some great ball.

The injury question is a biggie--S Charles Godfrey, TE Dante Rosario, and WR Muhsin Muhammad didn't play last week, FB Tony Fiametta suffered a concussion , FB Brad Hoover injured an ankle....the list goes on. Carolina could find themselves shorthanded against the Saints--not a tasty proposition.

More on this matchup later today.

Mike Solarte

Monday, November 2, 2009

One win does not a season make, BUT...

The Carolina Panthers thoroughly dominated the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, beating the birds 34-21. Last week, I said in this very blog, that Jake Delhomme could either melt or thrive under the heat of the spotlight. He did neither, and that's ok. His performance of 7-14, 90 yards and a TD looks pedestrian, but factor in the big goose egg in the INT column, and you see that Jake was just fine. Delhomme was not the reason the Panthers won the game, and he will be the first guy to point that out.

Double Trouble, the offensive line, and a foaming-at-the-mouth defense returned the upset beating. Arizona was a 10-point favorite coming into Sunday's game.

DeAngelo Williams ran for 158 yards, Carolina blasted for 270 as a team, all against the NFL's top-ranked rush defense. You heard that right, the Cardinals held the top rank in the NFL in stopping the run. In the classic case of figures lie, and liars figure, the Cardinals were the top-ranked rush defense, thanks in large part, to their offense putting opposing teams in a big deficits, and forcing them to pass.

Figures lie, liars figure.

Julius Peppers, often ripped in this blog for being transparent, was anything but on Sunday. 4 tackles, a forced fumble (which Carolina recovered), and an interception for TD. All those contributions in a game the Panthers simply had to have.

The defense had 6 takeaways against Arizona, 5 interceptions and a Kurt Warner fumble. A QB? With 6 turnovers? Man, they oughta run that clown outta town (please note the sarcasm, Cardinals fans--simply replicating the sentiments in Carolina following Jake's 6 turnover show against AZ in the playoffs). Certainly, the stage wasn't as big--week 8 of the regular season is nothing compared to the playoffs. For the Panthers, though, this game was big. Chris Harris said via his Twitter page, "revenge is a meal best served cold." The players can say what they want leading up to kickoff, but deep down, there was a NEED to win on Sunday. They filled that need.

Is the Panthers season saved? Far from it. Plenty of hurdles remain for this team that went 12-4 last season. 3-4 right now, with a road trip into New Orleans next Sunday. The Saints face Atlanta tonight, and will be on a short week for Carolina. Carolina is banged up, though, something we'll watch moving forward this week.

In NASCAR, Jamie McMurray was the winner of "Survivor: Talladega." McMurray was able to stay out front, while the junkyard was collecting behind him, and win the Amp Energy 500. Crazy race to watch--boring for 150 laps, then hold-your-breath racing for 38 laps. Drivers ripped NASCAR for the "draft-bumping" warning they got pre-race, but perhaps the loudest shot at NASCAR came from Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 US Army Chevrolet. Newman ended up on his roof, after getting airborne in a wreck. Once he got helped out of the pile of sheet metal that used to be a race car, Newman told ABC/ESPN (and I am paraphrasing here), "NASCAR puts us in this car, and then they tell us how to drive it." Basically, Newman says the COT sucks, and then telling them how to use it makes the race a disaster.

My friend and colleague Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer made a good point, saying there is no easy answer to the problems of racing at restrictor plate tracks. Drivers want safer racing, but there are fans that want to see the tightly bunched cars, where a sneeze can cause a 14 car mess. I agree that there is no easy solution. One needs to be figured out.

More on the Panthers later this week--make it a good one.

Mike Solarte

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Heading to the weekend

Quick points before we head to the weekend, which my lovely wife was kind enough to point out to me, is my last as a man that can say "thirty-something," when asked his age. Ugh.


This game, like it or not, has been circled on the Panthers calendar since the schedule was released. Every player on this team that was here in January has wanted a shot at the birds, although they would be hard pressed to say anything suitable for a thumbtack on a bulletin board," given their current state of affairs (read 2-4).

None more so than every fans favorite punching bag, Jake Delhomme.

Jake had that torturous 6 turnover showing in the playoff tilt with the eventual NFC Champion Cardinals. The talk started then. It simmered to a low boil in the off-season, but when the interceptions started in the season opener, they grew to a deafening noise. I have said all along, that up until the Buffalo game, you would be hard pressed to pin any of their losses on Jake specifically. Jake took the heat for the loss to Buffalo, and rightfully so, in my opinion. If he makes 2 good throws (one to Gary Barnidge and the other to Steve Smith), the Panthers pick up first downs, and likely score. Didn't go that way, and now Delhomme finds himself in, what is likely the biggest game of his career.

Crazy to hear that for a week 8 game, right? It's true. Jake's future with the Panthers, and perhaps in the NFL could rest on this one performance. Hard to imagine the same guy that came off the bench in 2002 at the half against Jacksonville, and started every game he could since, is now backed so far into a corner that his resume is now called into question.

Kerry Collins took Carolina to the playoffs once, and that run ended in Green Bay, when Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens looked like a pre-cursor to "Double Trouble," and LB Kevin Greene was spotted on a milk carton, listed as "missing."

Playoff appearances between Collins and Jake?

Zero. Nada. Donut. Goose egg.

QB's between Collins and Jake? 5. Steve Beuerlein, Chris Weinke, Matt Lytle, Rodney Peete and Randy Fasani. Only Beuerlein managed to get Carolina close to the playoffs and that was in 1999. Apparently, missing the playoffs didn't sit well with his offensive line the following year. Beuerlein was treated like a tackling dummy in 2000, being sacked 62 times.

Bottom line is, Jake is the best option at quarterback for this team. All due respect to Matt Moore and A.J. Feeley, this is Jake's team. Sink or swim. Delhomme is the same guy that took the Panthers to the playoffs 3 times, 2 NFC Championship games, and a Super Bowl. He's had a horrible start in 2009. The team is 2-4. It looks bleak.

These are the moments where #17 thrives, and survives. When the chips are down, Delhomme has been there for this team.

On Sunday, we could be watching one of the greatest redemption stories in Panthers history, or we could be witnessing the beginning-of-the-end of the Delhomme era in Charlotte.

Personally, I prefer triumph over tragedy.

Panthers 20
Cardinals 17

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's a fan to do?

In the wake of the Panthers latest loss, it begs the question what is the Charlotte sports fan to do? The Panthers season looks to be a lost cause and changes aren't likely to come until January. Meaning Panthers fans have nothing to look forward to until the NFL Draft in April.

I guess Charlotteans could turn to the NBA and the Bobcats; but, and I hate to dash any one's hopes before the season officially tips off, does anyone really think this team is going to make the playoffs? And even if they do, is the 8th seed with a losing record really something to crow about?

My guess is most fans in the area will now focus on college football and then basketball, but last I checked, Charlotte didn't have an ACC or SEC team.

You see it's my contention the fans in this area aren't die-hard hometown fans. Many of us, including myself, came from somewhere else and still hold strong loyalties to our previous hometown team.

So I'm sure many of you will still go to the Panthers games, but you'll leave at halftime or after the 3rd quarter. Heck, that happened last year WHEN the team was winning. Plus, I'm sure folks will venture out to Time Warner Cable Arena (cheap plug) to check out the Bobcats; but are a majority of you living and dying with each win or loss? Each personnel move? Each coaches' decision? I don't believe so.

If I'm off the mark, tell me. But my sense is fans around here don't always root, root, root for the home team.

--Jason Brown

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thoughts at 2-4

Touching on some things positive and negative from the 20-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

  • Hats off to the defense. Another solid outing, in spite of being put in bad spots due to turnovers. LB Thomas Davis did not play, but those that did covered his absence. Had he played, the Bills may have had 9 first half yards, instead of the 39 they ended up with. Julius Peppers was active again, recording another sack. Some coverage issues on a couple plays by the secondary, but overall, the defense did its job well.
  • Steve Smith proved he is, in fact, an asset to the Panthers. He did not score a touchdown, but he did connect on a deep pass, and ended up just south of 100 yards receiving. He also played hard (like he does every Sunday), and inspired after the passing of his junior college coach last week. Smith began to cry during his post-game comments when talking about Robert Taylor. Taylor was Smith's (and Chad OchoCinco's) coach at Santa Monica College, and he passed away last Thursday. A tough day for #89, and he did his coach proud with his play, no doubt.

That about covers the positives.

It was a game the Panthers were supposed to win--and don't feed me the line "every game is tough," blah blah blah. The Panthers are a more talented team than Buffalo. This was a game the Panthers had to have, and they didn't take it.

When the always dependable John Kasay misses 2 field goals, you know it's not your day.

I have been a strong supporter of Jake Delhomme this season, and I can honestly say, Sunday's loss is on him more than anyone. He throws 3 picks, 2 which set up Buffalo touchdowns. These weren't tipped passes off of receivers hands on well thrown balls. Both of these picks were overthrows. Credit Steve Smith for getting a hand on the one ball, but 2 good throws (the first one to Gary Barnidge sailed well over his head), lead to receptions rather than picks.

The Panthers marched the ball up and down the field, yet could only muster one touchdown. Why? Failure to execute in the red-zone. The Panthers had their moments. I applaud the notion of going for it on the 4th and 1 play. I like a bold play call, but you have to send in a play that can work. When Buffalo is loading up 7, 8 or even 9 guys on the line, they are EXPECTING you to run the ball. If you intend to run, fine. Take DeAngelo Williams out to the edge, where there are fewer bodies to contend with. I admit, I am at field level and cannot fully see the way the plays develop, but I noticed the Bills were looking run, and loaded up for it. If a guy that is shooting video tape of the game sees this, how do the coaches not?

The season is all but over, as based on their schedule, getting to 9 wins (that means winning 7 of their last 10) will be a monumental accomplishment. What do they do from here? No clue. Do I want to see changes? Not in personnel. I want to see the personnel they currently have perform better.

One other thing. If you attend a Panthers game and you are wearing the team's colors, maybe cheer for that team, rather than get completely drunk and shout obscenities from the seats. Makes you look like a dope, and it also sends a bad message to the fans of the visiting team. It lets them enjoy themselves much more knowing you are that angry by your team's performance. Oh, and to the drunk guy wearing the sunglasses (when it was dark??) in the #69 jersey that booed Jake all afternoon long, yet high-fived his buddy when Jake hit the downfield pass to Smith, I'm talking to you.

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wesley suspended

Reported it on air last night, but not here. Panthers CB Dante Wesley got a one game suspension from the NFL on Monday for his hit on Clifton Smith. Smith was fielding a punt (at least in position to), when Wesley unloaded on him. Wesley left his feet to make the hit, Smith suffered a concussion.

The suspension means Wesley will lose a little more than $36,000 (his game check).

The Panthers also acquired DT Tank Tyler from the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday for a reported 5th round draft pick. The deal beats the NFL trade deadline by a day--the deadline is today.

Mike Solarte

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Panthers win, but....

There is no joy in Pantherville following their 28-21 win over Tampa Bay. OK, there is some joy. Sifting through it...

The ground game was off the chain. The Panthers rolled up 267 yard on the ground, the 2nd highest game total in team history. 48 carries helped the Panthers wear down the Bucs defense.

The defense had some takeaways as well, another good sign that they are starting to feeling more comfortable in Ron Meeks' defense.

The special teams continue to disappoint. A 97 yard kickoff return for touchdown helped spark the Bucs comeback in the 2nd half.

The Panthers passing game was anemic. Jake Delhomme was unable to do much in the air. He had 2 INT's , one of which was run back for a touchdown--that tied the game at 21. The Jake Haters will be back in force this week, calling for a change at the QB spot. I will not be among them.

The Panthers have to find a way to get Steve Smith involved. After Sunday's win, Smith told reporters he is no longer an asset to his team. Yikes. That's not something the team believes, I am sure, but if Smitty is stewing about that, the best medicine is to get him the rock. he is a powder keg, ready to blow up on the field. He has been held in check, thanks to bracket coverages, and the like. Jeff Davidson has to figure out how to use that against the defense, and get #89 the ball.

As for Dante Wesley's hit on the punt return, I really don't know what to say. I can't imagine what he was thinking, and given his experience as a special teamer, the mistake was inexcusable. The league will have something more to say about it this week, no doubt. I wouldn't be surprised and a fine, suspension or both. It was pretty brutal. Hopefully we'll hear from Wesley on this during the week. Just seemed odd that he would just launch into the return man with the ball still in the air.

More during the week, including a look ahead at the next Jimmie Johnson win on the Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wow, what a week...

First off, let me say that I am not complaining at all, but man this has been a busy week! Gonna touch on some things and then put the blog to bed for the weekend.

Bobcats Head Coach Larry Brown was smacked with a $60,000 fine by the NBA on Wednesday. The league also fined the Bobcats $60,000 as well. Brown was ejected in the 3rd quarter of the Bobcats game against Atlanta on Monday night, and he failed to leave the court in a timely fashion.

Brown said on Tuesday that he likely deserved to be ejected. He also sent Assistant Coach Dave Hanners out to talk to the media Monday night after the game.

This fine is flat out wrong. Period. If the NBA wants to get its house in order, then get a deal done with the referees that have been policing the game for years. I know there are labor issues to be hammered out, but if the replacement refs start the season, you will have more players, coaches and ultimately fans unhappy with your product. In a world where entertainment dollars are tougher to spend, do you want thee ticket-buying public thinking of another option?

Carolina Panthers head to Tampa Bay this weekend, looking for their 2nd win of the season. I'm thinking it will happen. Confidence is contagious. A rising tide lifts all ships. Insert your own cliche here. The Panthers gleaned so much confidence with their win over Washington, it will be shocking to see them fall flat Sunday against the winless Bucs. Carolina still wants to get the ground game established, but something that escaped me Wednesday was that their ground attack was slow out of the gate in 2008, as well. Maybe there's a pattern.

Had a wonderful visit in studio with Panthers kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd on Wednesday night. He also brought along his wife, Tina. Both are heavily involved in the Twitterverse, and both are tremendous people. I hope to have that interview posted on our website by the end of the day.

NASCAR gets a home game this weekend, running the NASCAR Banking 500 (the race formerly known as the Bank of America 500). Qualifying set for Thursday night (weather permitting), with the race running Saturday night.

Continuing on the NASCAR theme, the inaugural class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame was announced Wednesday. Bill France, Sr., Bill France, Jr., Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson will be enshrined May 23, 2010. Hard to get angry at the first class--the list of 25 was as impressive as it gets--but both France's? I agree with many that David Pearson being left out was a bit strange. 105 wins, 2nd most of all-time? Well, you can't please everybody, and NASCAR is likely happy that they, and their new Hall of Fame, is getting scrutinized like the Baseball Hall, and Football Hall. A good debate about who got in and who got snubbed never hurt anyone. Should be a neat induction ceremony next year.

OK, I am off to Lowe's Motor Speedway for a long day at the track. I'll be live out there for Sports Night, then Friday it's the doubleheader. Sports Night at 10, and the Discount Tire Friday Night Final at 11. Saturday, back to the track for live post-race coverage of the NASCAR Banking 500.

Sunday, I might sleep. A lot.

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Panthers will win Super Bowl

And now that I have your attention, no, I'm not making that prediction. When the span between victories is 287 days, it's bound to give some folks an over-inflated sense of what a football team can do.

I'm not ruling the Panthers as a dead fish, either.

Sunday's 20-17 win over the Washington Redskins was, in the end, the expected outcome. The Panthers were supposed to beat Washington. The Redskins were banged up coming in, and they weren't the best team in the league--far from it. Their 2 wins came over St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Combine their records, and you get a perfect 10. Not a Bo Derek "10." 10 as in 10 losses, and no wins.

So what does it say about the Panthers? Well, considering the Skins held a 17-2 lead in the game, it says the Panthers never stopped fighting. The Redskins were doing everything they could to hold that lead. Carolina wouldn't let them hold it. Call the muffed punt a fluke if you like, but that's the way the Panthers are coached--the downfield coverage players (Quinton Teal in this case), are coached to drive the blocker backwards into the punt returner. It's a completely legal play (this season--we'll see if that changes going forward), and Teal executed perfectly.

If you were at the game on Sunday, did it feel like the Panthers were still in control even when down by 15 points? It did to me. Washington hadn't done anything of note to get that lead. Yes, they forced a fumble on the first play of the game. Forcing DeAngelo Williams to cough up the ball isn't an easy thing. They had a short field, and scored. They get the deflected pass for the interception to the Panthers 1 yard line. Clinton Portis goes all Superman by flying over the pile, and bang. 6 more on the board. 14 of their 17 points came from drives that totalled 14 yards on all of 3 plays. Again, they had done nothing.

I also wondered where the Jake Haters were during the game. Where were you guys? I figure you were calling for Matt Moore during the 1st half when the Panthers weren't scoring. Never mind that he had helped Carolina out-gain the Redskins by 31 yards in the half, with 105 of the yards coming through the air. The Panthers didn't even try stretching the field with the home run pass against Washington. Not once. Tough to throw into DB's like Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall. They put that play away for a week.

Bigger than his passing numbers (16-25, 181 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), all you have to look at is the 9 yard run he converted for a first down to ice the game. I can't run, and I have an outside shot at beating Delhomme in a footrace. Throw in a Pro Bowl corner like Hall to have to stiff arm and gain 6 of the 9 yards after contact, and I have no shot at all. Delhomme showed grit, toughness, and a will to win that is often overlooked by people wanting a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in their lineup. I've said it all season long (going back to training camp), Jake is the guy for the Panthers. Anyone seen how well Michael Vick is doing in Philly? I didn't think so.

Carolina will be favored in their next game, and likely 2. They must do to Tampa Bay this week, and Buffalo the next, what they did to Washington. Dismantle what they want to do, and impose their will.

It would certainly be better for fans, however, if they don't spot the Bucs a 15 point lead in the process.

Mike Solarte


Monday, October 12, 2009

Being Clutch is everything in October

Clutch. When used as an adjective it means
1. Being or occurring in a tense or critical situation: won the championship by sinking a clutch putt.
2. Tending to be successful in tense or critical situations: The coach relied on her clutch pitcher.

At this time of year in the sports world, being clutch is everything.

Take the Panthers Quarterback Jake Delhomme. He made plays when he had to, including a QB keeper for a critical 1st down late in the fourth quarter to seal the Panthers first win. What better way to weave your way back into the good graces of Panthers fans.

Primarily, though, being clutch in October refers to the baseball diamond. See the Dodgers, Angels and Yankees. Why did they sweep their respective division series? Because they came through in the clutch. For instance, the Dodgers outscored St. Louis 8-1 with runners on and 2 out. That's clutch. Ditto the Angels in the way they beat the Red Sox in games 2 & 3. Each time rallying to push across the go-ahead run with 2 out. It goes without saying how the Yankees rose to the occasion in games 2 & 3 as well. New York doing it with the long-ball and a flare for the dramatic.

This is what October baseball is all about. Hopefully the League Championship Series will be more competitive than the LDS. We''ll just have to wait and see. However, I do know one thing, whichever team hoists the World Series Trophy--it'll be because they came through in the clutch.

--Jason Brown

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

OK, so I took the bye week too...

Apologies to the loyal blog followers out there, but I needed a break. Mentally refreshed, I look ahead at week 5 for the Carolina Panthers, and other items.

The Panthers will break into the win column this week when they host the Washington Redskins.

They have to.

It's just that simple. The Panthers need to beat a team that they should beat, and they need to do it in convincing fashion. Washington serves up just that recipe.

The Skins are struggling. Forget their win last weekend against Tampa Bay. It could be argued that the people that have left comments for this blog could get together, practice for a week, and beat the Bucs. They are THAT bad. The Skins were the ones that ended the NFL's longest futility streak, allowing the Detroit Lions to snap a 19 game skid, dating back to 2007. A win over the Bucs is not a "right the ship" kinda thing. It's what you're supposed to do.

The Panthers are not only hungry, but they are rested, and looking likely to have, at long last, all of their defensive starters available at the same time. Save for Maake Kemoeatu, who is lost for the year, the Panthers have yet to play a game this season with all of their returning players. Na'il Diggs did not play against Dallas--he said Monday he hopes to be ready. Chris Harris hasn't played a down in the regular season (a noticeable absence), and he is optimistic about playing this week. LB Thomas Davis pronounced Harris and Diggs ready to go, but of course, it's not his call to make. If Harris can go, and Diggs returns from his rib injury, the Panther defense will be at full strength.

Notice I left out the Julius Peppers crack....and it's just sitting there, too. Discipline.

Offensively, I want to see the Panthers grind the football on the ground. Pound it every chance they get. They have to do that away from Albert Haynesworth. He was listed on the injury report last week as "probable" with a glute injury (perhaps he landed on his wallet?), but he did play. Allow DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to work their magic on the outside, in space. Set up the pass with the run. It's fundamental, but it has worked for this team in the pass. Don't abandon the run, until the game gets out of hand (which it won't).

More on this game later in the week.

Charlotte Bobcats open the pre-season Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. I'll say it again: EXHIBITION ANYTHING RESULTS ARE MEANINGLESS. Don't get caught up in wins and losses in the pre-season. Guard Raja Bell summed it up nicely on Monday, saying they don't want to lose, but in the fake season, improvements are what you look for. We'll see how they progress during their 8 faux games.

Finally, the Charlotte Knights look like they will continue to play in Fort Mill, SC for at least the next 4 years. The team and local legislators have to hammer out the details, but it looks likely that they will remain. I am glad and sad by this news, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fine folks in Fort Mill.

Truth be told, the Knights should be out of there, and moving into a nice, new Uptown Charlotte ballpark. That isn't happening, and may never happen, thanks to Charlotte attorney Jerry Reese. Reese filed lawsuit upon lawsuit, which delayed the project to the point that it is virtually dead. The economy going south didn't help matters. All along, Reese claimed he wanted to block the ballpark, in the hopes of luring a Major League Baseball team to Charlotte.

Why? Well, who knows. What bothered me most about this whole thing, was Reese seemed to be propping himself up as the voice of the people against this ballpark, and against the Knights moving in.

I can say this: Jerry Reese didn't speak for me. He didn't speak for a lot of people, yet he was able to derail this project.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, at this same meeting on Monday where the York County Council agreed in principle with the Knights deal, Reese and other investors proposed up to $150 million dollars in private investments to update Knights Stadium. Included in that was a new minor league hockey arena, a mall, and new housing.


So is Reese speaking for the citizens of Charlotte by blocking the construction of a new Uptown ballpark proposing this deal to the York County Council in South Carolina? What would the new park he blocked have done for Charlotte? How about employ workers to build it. Perhaps entice new businesses around the stadium to spring up, like bars and restaurants. Generate more revenue for the city, based on more fans attending games (and visiting those bars and restuarants before and/or after games). An Uptown park almost guarantees a box office boost.

I can see how all those things are huge negatives.

From an outsider point of view, this looks like Reese has some vendetta against the Knights ballclub, and has no interest in trying to improve the city where he works, and makes a living as an attorney.

I'm no lawyer, don't claim to be one. I do know that the opinions expressed in this blogpost are mine and mine alone, and do not reflect the views of News 14 Carolina management, Time Warner Cable or any of its advertisers.

Maybe one day, Reese will offer up the truth behind his motives. It would certainly clear up a lot of my questions.

Mike Solarte


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Observations of a 21-7 loss

Things I noticed during the Panthers loss to Dallas on Monday night.
  • Jake Delhomme is Carolina's best option at QB. Despite what you may read elsewhere, Delhomme gives the Panthers a chance to win. Yes, I saw that he committed 3 turnovers. I also saw that, on the first interception, Muhsin Muhammad either didn't think the ball was coming to him, or wondered why the ball was coming to him, rather than going up and trying to get the ball that was coming to him. The interception for TD was also not on Jake, as WR Steve Smith admitted he busted the route. His reason--trying to make a play. He was trying to make a play, but he didn't tell Jake that was his intention before the ball came out. The fumble at the end....on Jake or not, Carolina was down 14, and Dallas was bringing the pressure.
  • The Dallas Cowboys are in deeper trouble than even I envisioned. If they run the ball like they have the past 2 weeks, they will be tough to beat. However, saying you ran the ball well against Carolina is like saying you make great cereal. It's not hard to do.
  • Speaking of the Panthers defense, anyone seen Julius Peppers? I'll tell you what, $1 million dollars per game doesn't get you what it used to. Against Atlanta, 2 tackles. Against Dallas, 1 solo, 1 assist. At this point, Panthers fans aren't looking for Peppers to record sacks, they are looking for him to record a stat. A hurry. A pass break up. Heck, if they lined him up at fullback, they could credit him with a block. ANYTHING. I understand that Ron Meeks asks him to do several things in this defense, so I'll get off Peppers for a second, and slip this nugget to Meeks. Peppers is a pass rushing athlete. Turn him loose, and you might...just might...see him do something other than pocket a 7-figure check each week. Then again, Peppers has to want to turn it loose.
  • Coaching staff isn't immune to this diatribe. The Panthers offensive strength is running the ball. If the mix of pass play to run plays is balanced in favor of the pass, you are not who you think you are. Last night: 33 pass plays. 16 run plays. This was not 38-10 against Philadelphia. This was still a winnable game. At 13-7, running the ball was prudent. Had it worked? At times, yes. Abandoning it and leaving 2 of their weapons (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) holstered made them one-dimensional, and ultimately, predictable.
  • Is this season lost? Considering only 5 teams have started a season 0-3 and made the playoffs, it likely is. The Panthers have a bye week, then they face the Washington Redskins. Forget about soul searching. Forget about looking for answers that aren't there. Forget about changing the quarterback. What the Panthers need is to get away from football, and each other for a few days. This team needs to flush calendar 2009 (to date) out of their heads, and focus on the remaining weeks of the year. That's all they have left at this point.

Mike Solarte

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When will it stop?

Spraying to all fields....

The Panthers injury woes continued with the loss of DT Louis Leonard to a fractured ankle. He was hurt Sunday, and the team placed him on IR on Tuesday. That ends his season, and that's a shame. He was a nice acquisition, looked like he was fitting in well with the scheme in such a short amount of time. Panthers signed DT Antwon Butler on Tuesday. He's a little heavier than Leonard, but he's green in this defense.

Tough assignment for Butler this week (if he plays, which I think he will). Dallas holds the NFL total rushing lead in the NFL, but if Marion barber plays, or is even limited, that should help a bit. Not totally overlooking Tashard Choice or Felix Jones, but those 2 are not Barber. Barber runs with bad intentions, making him a beast to stop.

I was pleased with the Panthers offense against Atlanta. Only 1 INT from Jake Delhomme, and that was a nice bit of coverage from the Falcons on that play. RB's need to do a better job of securing the ball, which is a rarity when you look at DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Both have been reliable in that aspect in the past.

My friend and colleague Darin Gantt of the Rock Hill Herald wrote a piece about what is missing from the 2008 team, and I'll go him one better. Go back to the Super Bowl team of 2003. That team, defensively, was filthy. To borrow a line from "Back to School," a movie starring Rodney Dangerfield..."those guys aren't that tough. The football team from my high school, they were tough. After they sacked the quarterback, they went after his family." There in lies the rub. This defense has good players at many spots. DE Julius Peppers, DT Damione Lewis, LB's Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, CB Richard Marshall, Chris Gamble, S Chris Harris, among others. What they lack is a snarl. Half of the battle in football is intimidation. The Panthers of 2003 were somewhat intimidating to opposing offenses. Nothing like the 1985 Chicago Bears, who I think actually did go after the families of opposing QB's. There is an attitude missing, and it's likely due to the new system being implemented by Defensive Coordinator Ron Meeks. It's not a blame, it's a reality. The players are still reading, then reacting as opposed to just reacting. That will come in time, but after an 0-2 start, time is becoming more of a liability than an asset.

Heading into Dallas this week, the Panthers are up against the wall. They need a win for a number of reasons. First of all, their record, but second, they have a bye in week 4. This is a room that can not afford to sit out week 4, steaming over what would be their 8th straight defeat in calendar 2009.

Elsewhere, Bobcats guard Raymond Felton has inked a 1 year, $5.5 million dollar qualifying offer from the Bobcats. That's the good news. The bad news is that Felton becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season. To Felton's credit, he signed the deal to remove the distraction of "what's next for Felton," before camp starts next week. The Bobcats apparently don't feel that Felton will blossom into an elite point guard. My question is this: how far off were they in the offer?

What has Felton done to not deserve a long term deal? He shows up every day, practices hard, plays hard, and I think he improved under Larry Brown last season. Now, Felton is a year into Brown's system, and style. Do people really think Felton has plateaued? I hope they don't think that, because I don't believe he has. Hopefully, the two sides will continue to talk about a long term deal for beyond 2009-2010 (if NBA rules even permit those discussions-I honestly don't know).

NASCAR has not lifted the testing ban for 2010--no teams can test at sanctioned tracks that host national touring series next season, just like 2009, but they have allowed teams to run tests at sanctioned tracks that host regional series. That means that teams, if they can afford it, will be allowed to gather data at smaller tracks. It's good and bad. No testing somewhat leveled the playing field, so the smaller operations were at less of a disadvantage. Now the big boys with the big sponsor dollars gain that edge back. In the grand scheme of things, it's a win for the teams, and fans, as the data gathered will hopefully help teams improve the racing on the track.

Tim Baier has the anchor chair this evening, as I try and recuperate from a long day Sunday in Atlanta. We'll visit with Jim Courier as the Breezeplay Championships at the Palisades get underway this week, and also, for you darts aficionados, the 2009 World Cup of Darts is taking place at the Blake Hotel in Charlotte. I wonder if the British announcer that calls the action from the TV broadcasts will be there, barking out the scoring totals. That dude sounds like he's on a 2 pack a day habit, and chasing the smoke down with pints of Guinness. It's actually really cool.

Mike Solarte

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Is the ACC back?

The answer is probably a conditional yes. While the first week of the college football season saw the ACC turn in a 6-6 record which included losses to Baylor, William & Mary and Richmond, the second week showed more promise. The league ended up 9-2 in week 2, a much better showing. Of course that included nail-biters over UConn and James Madison.

The biggest reason the ACC seems to be gaining ground might be the return of the old guard. A great game between Florida State and Miami gave fans a glimpse into what the ACC used to be. And then Miami followed that up with a stellar performance against a strong Paul Johnson coached Georgia Tech squad. SEC fans have complained for years that their conference beats up on each other eliminating a number of teams from National Championship contention. I'm not saying the ACC is in that conversation yet, but the beating up on each other has begun.

East Carolina vs. UNC

North Carolina is one of the 4 ACC teams ranked in the AP Top 25, but they still have some growing room on the offensive side of the ball, especially coming off a 12 point game against UConn. The last time these two teams met was 2003 and Carolina walked away with a 28-17 win, but that was a down year for both teams. The Tar Heels traveled to Greenville for a battle of 0-5 teams, 6 years later it is a much different story. Skip Holtz' teams always seem to play up to their competition. (see Virginia Tech and West Virginia in 2008) Carolina's defense should be too much this weekend though, Heels pull away and win 17-7.

Duke vs. Kansas

This will be the first time these two programs have met on the field and Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing might have a soft spot for the Blue Devils in his heart. Duke was the only other school to offer him a scholarship, but now he's leading the 22nd ranked Jayhawks to one of their best starts in a long while. These two teams have similar numbers through the air, but on the ground Kansas averages nearly 5 times more yards. The mock quarterback contraversy that boiled up when Thad Lewis was sat last week for redshirt freshmen Sean Renfree, has seemed to taken a backseat now that Coach Cutcliffe declared Lewis his QB. His analogy relating the situation to a baseball game where Renfree can act as a reliever made sense, and isn't something coaches often talk about, but Lewis is mature enough that this could all work out. Unfortunately though Blue Devils won't have enough in Lawrence, KS and the Jayhawks win 39-24.

Gardner Webb vs. NC State

Coming off a drubbing of Murray State, the Wolfpack may make the mistake of overlooking this tough Steve Patton coached Bulldog team. Gardner Webb is 2-0 this season, their last win coming against Western Carolina 27-20. This will be the first meeting between these two programs and Gardner Webb's second chance to take on the ACC. (the last time was a hard fought battle with Georgia Tech who had to block a last second field goal to preserve a 10-7 win) The Wolfpack scored on their first 10 possesions of the game last week and they'll need a similar performance from the offense to put this Bulldog team away. While it will be tougher than last week, NC State pulls out the win 24-10 over GWU.

Elon vs. Wake Forest

This one wins the award for shortest road trip, the Phoenix will drive down I-40 to look to go 3-0 for the fist time since 1999. These two teams have met 9 times before, but none of the players or much less the coaches were alive the last time they met in 1939. The series sits at 8-0-1, the lone tie coming in a scoreless game Oct. 1, 1927. (talk about defense!) Elon is currently ranked 11th in the FCS, but the Demon Deacons are coming off an impressive come from behind win over Stanford. If Wake Forest plays all 4 quarters the Phoenix will be in trouble. Wake wins this one 35-17.

The weekend that will be

So much to do on a Friday, so let's get after it.

*** Carolina Panthers will win Sunday against Atlanta. It won't be a rout, but I think it will result in a Panthers victory. Atlanta is having issues in the secondary, and while the Panthers had issues at the QB spot last week, this shapes up well for the Panthers. I believe Jake Delhomme will live up to his promise. He's madder than a hornet about his play in his past 2 outings--he won't show it with the cameras rolling, but after spending some time around this cat, I think his blood is boiling.

To me, there is a difference in losing a playoff game, and having 8 months to wait before playing again compared to the week-to-week that is the regular season. The way Jake and company exited the post-season in January didn't sting as much last Sunday as it did the day after the loss to Arizona. The Arizona loss was ancient history before they even kicked off with Philadelphia. Fresh in their minds, though, is the loss to Philly just a week ago. If the Panthers are flat Sunday, I will be shocked.

One other note for Sunday's game, the Falcons will be wearing throwback uniforms, which should mean, red jerseys with red helmets (circa the Steve Bartkowski era). I love throwback uniforms in any sport--and yes, I even dug those ridiculous Philadelphia Eagle things that were yellow and light blue. Should be neat seeing that look in person (I will be on the field Sunday), and I know Panther fans are hoping the Falcons play like those old school Atlanta teams that, well, weren't so good in those older uniforms.

*** Drag racing fans have the weekend to enjoy the Carolina's Nationals at the ZMax Dragway in Concord. Plenty of storylines coming into this, with the start of the NHRA's version of the Chase beginning. The "Countdown to One" starts this week, and if the weather holds, the speeds should be quick. Of course, rains holding off would be helpful.

Some of teams employ, for lack of a better work, weathermen. They let the crews know the upcoming conditions, and how that can affect the racing surface. Cooler temps with humidity are prime ingredients for great speeds in drag racing. Something to keep in mind.

*** Some high school football was played in Charlotte on Thursday night, rather than the normal Friday. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools moved all CMS home games up a day, to avoid conflicts with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana. More games to come Friday, and you can see the best of them on the Discount Tire Friday Night final at 11pm tonight. If you miss the 11pm show, check out the encore presentation, Saturday morning at 11am. "Encore presentation sounds better than re-run, right?

Have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can we move on, please?

Couple of notes from the world of sports, with a similar theme.
  • Everyone should have taken their pot-shots at Panthers QB Jake Delhomme by now. Give it a rest. The guy didn't become Jeff Lewis overnight (and yeah, I know he's played like it in his last 2 outings). Give credit where it's due. The Eagles did things on defense that surprised Head Coach John Fox. Fairly bold statement there, because he basically said they didn't prepare for everything. Jake is not without blame, but laying it all at his feet is unfair. Jake is on the hook for his share of things that went wrong, but there were others that are on the guilty list.
  • Should also point out (again), that a missed penalty might have changed the outcome. I say might, because there was so much time on the clock. Still, if the officials make the correct call on the block in the back during DeSean Jackson's punt return, it's a completely different ballgame. I am not blaming the refs for the loss--just pointing out that if they get the call right, it's still a 10-7 game, the Eagles get the ball at their own 20, and we move from there. Find me another team that doesn't panic when the opposition posts 14 points in under 3 minutes. I'll take the advice of the blog title, and move on from this....

We should also move on from these nuggets....

Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech is getting broken down, and analyzed, and ultimately ripped. Huh? When MJ was a player, fans couldn't get enough of what he had to say. He didn't stray outside the lines of basketball much, but when he spoke people listened. That was a knock on MJ in Chicago during his career. He didn't speak out against things, using his massive influence to help make changes. While I understood those wanting MJ to help make a difference, I also understood his choice not to. So, he goes to the Hall, and pokes at everyone in his life that offered him a challenge. From Buzz Peterson, to the coach at Laney H.S. in Wilmington, to Dean Smith, to Bryan Russell. MJ hit everyone. Heck he even poked at his sister for pushing him. Why are we surprised by this? Because MJ wasn't nice. That's right, he wasn't very nice in what he said.

Again. Huh?

MJ, the image, was a polished, corporate America goldmine. He could sell ice to the good people of Canada. That MJ is a nice guy.

The player was a cold-blooded killer. Not only did he want to beat you, he wanted you to know how badly he beat you. He was (and still is) a competitor. Last Friday night, MJ showed us where those fires began to burn, and now, nearly a week later, people are ripping him for it. I loved a lot of what he said, but only because we finally got to see him with his guard down a bit.

And finally, the US Open ended on Monday, but not before 2 of the games biggest names had some verbal meltdowns. Serena Williams blew up at a lines official, dropping f-bombs and allegedly threatening her. Then Roger Federer, in a discussion with the chair umpire, used some choice language in expressing his displeasure at a ruling.

Was watching some of these things play out on TV with my boss on Tuesday, and he summed it up with this beauty. "Why are people surprised when they see people who make millions of dollars as athletes, suddenly show they are competitive and don't like to lose?"

Spot on.

Mike Solarte