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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