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