Monday, October 25, 2010

Winless no more

No, it is not time for ticker-tape parade down Tryon Street, but the fact remains, the Carolina Panthers won a football game on Sunday. A hard fought 23-20 win over a San Francisco 49er team that did all they could to not win.

They committed too many penalties, weren't as sharp offensively with backup quarterback David Carr filling in for the injured Alex Smith. Smith was playing well, but injured his shoulder when Charles Johnson sacked him. Carr was the same guy that Panthers fans loved to boo. he was timid, he was gun shy, and he was inaccurate. He is who the Panthers found out he is (paraphrasing the great rant of Dennis Green).

Carolina didn't luck into this win, mind you. They made their share of mistakes, too. For the first time, though, they weren't beaten by the bad breaks, or miscues. They overcame them. Matt Moore threw a horrendous interception, that was taken back for a touchdown. It was ugly. Then you have John Fox calling for Carolina to go for it on 4th and 9 from the 16, trailing by 7. About 5 minutes were left on the clock, and the 49ers had shown no signs of life once Carr came into the game. That was a tailor-made moment for Fox to boot the field goal, get the points, and sent the defense back out to hold Frisco (which they had been doing). Weirdness.

Full marks for the youth stepping up. Moore's return was solid. Brandon LaFell and David Gettis played bigger than big. Gettis with a pair of TD catches, LaFell with a monster catch on the game winning drive (aided by a picture-perfect throw from Moore). For once, the question of "who is gonna get it done," was answered.

Defensively, a couple of miscues led to some big plays in the first quarter, but for the most part, they did a nice job, Frank Gore got his yards, which you come to expect. Smith hit TE Vernon Davis on a long pass, and then a TD toss, but other than that, nothing much to speak of.

Panther offense can't crank up the running game the way they did last season. When DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are held under 100 yards a duo, it means one of two things. 1) The San Francisco defense is good against the run, or 2) Carolina's ground attack needs some work. Currently, San Fran is 15th against the run, allowing 106 yards per game. Carolina ran for 76 yards on 34 carries. I like the commitment to the run game, though. The Panthers need to be better in that part of the offense.

Special teams play was good, as return threat Ted Ginn averaged 8 yards per punt return, and about 23 on kickoffs. Rhys Lloyd did his job well, recording four touchbacks on his 6 attempts. Jason Baker averaged 40 yards per kick, which a bit pedestrian for him--his average is 43.6 yards. John Kasay was on his game, knocking through all of his field goal attempts from 37, 47 and a monstrous 55 yarder that would have been good from 60, based on where it hit the netting above my head.

The Panthers defense must have felt like it was on a vacation. They played, by my unofficial count, 54 snaps. Way down from the 70+ efforts they have put in during recent outings. They can thank the offense for winning the time of possession battle, 36:05 to 23:55.

In all, a win, is a win, is a win. Next up, a trip to St. Louis to meet the Rams, another team that is struggling, but dangerous. The Rams lost 18-17 to Tampa Bay on Sunday, and will be looking to get back into the win column to get back to 500. They sit 3-4 after the loss.

Quick note on NASCAR, I said in the previous blog post that the Sprint Cup Chase was "close to over," and that Denny Hamlin's team "has the chops to win a title, but (Jimmie) Johnson's bunch isn't allowing him to get close enough." Well, in Martinsville, Johnson's bunch didn't allow Hamlin to get close, Hamlin roasted the field winning for the third straight race there, and closing the points lead from 41 down to 6. Reason for the props for the 48 team, they finished 5th with a car that was off all day long. Bigger props to Hamlin and the #11 Fed Ex team. They have been getting it done all season long.

Next stop, Talladega. Buckle up.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moore in, NFL fines & NASCAR

Carolina Panthers will go with Matt Moore at quarterback on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. The move comes as a shock to some, but not me.

The Panthers may have committed to a youth movement with their roster, but that doesn't mean the coaches want to lose games in the name of gaining experience. John Fox may be in the final year of his contract, but he still wants to win, and he believes Moore gives him the better chance this weekend against the 1-5 Niners.

That's not a slap at Jimmy Clausen. The guy is a rookie, and didn't play horribly. He has ball security issues, namely taking a snap from under center. He will learn, and he will be a good NFL quarterback. It will take time, and he will get plenty of opportunity.

As for going back to Moore, it's not desperation. It's about winning games. Ultimately, that will be the mark by which this team is judged, Never mind the lack of veteran leadership on the roster. Wins and losses are all that matter in the NFL.

And since we're o the subject of John Fox, if this is indeed his final season in Carolina (and all signs point to that being the case), this season's team won't be held against him. His body of work as a n NFL Head Coach far outshines what he has been dealt this season. Yes, it is the Panthers organizational plan, but stripping a coach of most, if not all, of his veterans and filling a roster with mostly young players who have to learn as they go, is not how Fox will be viewed by the next team that hires him. He will be viewed as a guy that took a franchise from 1-15 before his arrival to an NFC Title, and Super Bowl appearance. He didn't become horrible overnight, folks.

The NFL handed out $175,000 dollars in fines on Tuesday, slapping Pittsburgh's James Harrison, New England's Brandon Merriweather, and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson with fines for hits deemed to be helmet-to-helmet, and certainly dangerous. My take, the NFL got it right on 2 of those players. Robinson did nothing wrong. He hit DeSean Jackson with his shoulder, and he hit Jackson in the chest. Video supports it. Robinson says he's appealing, and I hope it's rescinded.

There is a difference between dangerous play, and playing hard. Dangerous play involves headhunting. Plain and simple. The onus is on he defenders. Tackling is just that-tackling. Not trying to deliver punishment with a major collision. That is hitting. Tackling involves wrapping the offensive play up, and bringing them to the ground. Tackling is a lost art in the NFL, but tackling doesn't sell tickets these days. Collisions do.

I applaud the NFL for this. Players need to respect each other on the field, which can be done, while still trying to win the game and playing hard, tough football. I'm glad they stepped in before someone gets seriously injured. Or worse.

NASCAR off to Martinsville this weekend, and things are still up in the air. Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin, and both of these guys race the heck out of Martinsville. Should be a great weekend. I told Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Utter I would declare the Chase over had Johnson won in Charlotte. He didn't win, and I didn't have to say it.

I sure do think it's close to over. If, and it's a big if, Johnson gets through Talladega with the lead, only bad luck will keep Johnson from a 5th title. The 48 team saw their driver spin out on lap 34, drop to 35th place, and yet they worked him through the field, and into contention before it was all said and done. Face facts: This was Johnson's Chase to lose. Either he was going to runaway with it, or someone has to step up and beat him. Hamlin's team has the chops to do it, but Johnson's bunch isn't allowing him to get close enough. It's great drama to watch, and the next 5 races will be too.

Mike Solarte

UPDATE--Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo to all the clubs regarding player safety, and playing within the rules. See it here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Bye Week

Normally, I don't like the week 6 bye week, but for the Carolina Panthers, it comes at a good time. The Panthers are a lost bunch, no offensive direction, a defense that is wearing down faster than it should, and a fan base that is perilously close to folding the tents and going on its way.

The 23-6 loss to Chicago in week 5 was a bad loss, no doubt. Offensively, Carolina isn't even able to be one-dimensional. Their vaunted run game barely gets a shot to get out of neutral, because the opposition puts points on the board, taking a lead, forcing the Panthers into a passing mode.

For all of the work the Panthers put in on just the passing game in pre-season (and in training camp, as well as OTA's before that), the results just aren't there. True, five games is a somewhat small sample size, but still, the results in those five games has been consistent, and that hasn't been good. That also begs the question, was it really all Jake Delhomme last season?

What is the fix? At this point, that's anybody's guess. The reality is that Carolina has 11 games in which to try and salvage the season. The playoffs are a dream right now, as it will take Carolina going, at worst, 9-2 over their final 11 to have a chance, and even then, that may not be enough.

Hats off to the defense. They have had to play more snaps than any unit I can remember watching, and they do it well. The tank runs empty when you constantly hit the gas, and that is no different for the defense. I joked with LB James Anderson on Monday night saying the defense could sue the offense for lack of support, to which he simply smiled. He won't throw his teammates under the bus, and to me, that's a good sign. These guys are still in this thing together, no finger-pointing, no splinters in the locker room. How long it stays that way is something to watch.

Elsewhere, we saw the end of the Bobby Cox era with the Atlanta Braves Monday night. Atlanta was knocked out of the playoffs by San Francisco, and after the game, the old skipper took his bows at Turner Field. He came out of the dugout, saluting the fans, tipping his cap and waving. Tremendous moment by the Giants on the field, as they stopped their celebrating to turn to the Braves side of the field, and applaud Cox. You don't have to be a genius to recognize Cox will go down as one of baseball's all-time great managers, and it was nice that the players on both sides too a moment to recognize it as well.

NASCAR Hall of Fame selections coming on Wednesday, Be shocked if David Pearson is left off of this 2nd class of inductees. He should have gone in with the 2009 Class, but if he is left out of this one, you may have to call the Hall into question on their selection process. I won't begin to take a stab at the other 4 potential inductees, but considering 20 of the 25 names on this ballot were listed on last year's ballot, it is safe to say that this class will be just as deserving as the first.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dwayne Jarrett Released

It's a day that Panther fans have been calling for over the past 2 years. They got their wish on Tuesday, but for all the wrong reasons.

Mind you, I have been wondering what Jarrett had done to earn the chance at a roster spot, as his potential has gone horribly unrealized. My reasons were simply football reasons. He wasn't doing enough in practice to merit a jersey on game day. Pretty telling stuff that, in his 4th season, being the 2nd tenured WR on the roster, Jarrett was inactive in week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. That move signified the beginning of the end of his time with the Panthers.

His release however, does not come easily.

The Panthers have cut loose a guy that set a Pac-10 record for touchdown catches (41), and was a 2nd round draft choice. Many will affix the label "bust" to him, and when it comes to football, it would fit. The bigger worry for me, is the young man's future.

Jarrett being nabbed twice for DWI by the age of 24, is a warning sign. Jarrett may need some serious help. This is not a good thing for any person that age, not just football players. Maybe the pressures of the NFL were too much for him. Maybe he's not cut out for the NFL. Who knows. What we do know is this: Dwayne Jarrett struggled as an NFL receiver, both on and off the field.

In the game football, Jarrett's time may be up. In the game of life, he'll need to get back on track before something worse than being cut by an NFL team happens.

Mike Solarte