Monday, October 24, 2011

The first step?

The Carolina Panthers have a record of 2-5, with win number two coming Sunday over Washington. Head Coach Ron Rivera has been preaching for weeks that when his team breaks through and finishes games, it's going to be special.

Without getting too far ahead of things, I would have to say he's right.

The Panthers overcame their worst enemy on Sunday, themselves, and handed the Redskins their worst loss of the season. The Panthers tried to boot his one away in the first half, by committing nine penalties, costing them 70 yards in field position. For the game, Carolina was flagged 13 times for 105 total yards, something that has to be addressed.

Other than that, it was all pretty good. The Panthers may have caught a break when RB Tim Hightower went down with a knee injury. He was on his way to a 100 yard effort on the ground, which is becoming a pattern for opposing running backs (creeping up on 100 yard games), but Carolina was able to weather their own mistakes and get a win.

Next up, Minnesota, a team that looked dead in the water until two weeks ago. They have become competitive in that short span, now that they have turned to rookie QB Christian Ponder. He hasn't cured all of their ills, but he took the Vikings to a six point loss to Green Bay on Sunday. Adrian Peterson ran wild on the Packers for 175 yards on 24 carries. Carolina's main focus on defense is limiting Peterson as best they can.

Yeah, I know. Cam Newton.

Folks, we are running out of adjectives to describe Newton. He played very well, once again, this time racking up a TD run, TD pass, and QB rating of over 127...his best so far. Biggest number found in his statline was "0." As in zero turnovers. A huge boost in helping a team avoid beating itself.

The one thing I truly admire about Newton isn't his running ability, or his arm, or even his poise. It's the FUN he is having between the lines. Even when the Panthers are trailing in a game, he's slinging it, he's running, and in all of it, he's smiling. Watch the way he runs out of the pre-game tunnel. Touchdown celebrations are generally a joyous moment, but with Newton, the eruption is so genuine, it's contagious. Even though the Panthers have just two wins, it is safe to say that Newton is the guy that will help in the team's resurgence over time.

In other sports news, the World Series is tied 2-2 after Texas evened things up with St. Louis on Sunday night. I had to go back to game two, however, for the post-game bashing Albert Pujols was taking for not coming up with a throw from right field in the 9th inning. Just to reset it, the Cards led 1-0 in the top of the 9th, Texas would get a runner on first (who then stole second), and then the next batter rips a single to right. A ball hit too sharply to score the runner from second, the throw into the infield got away from Pujols, allowing the batter to advance to second. A pair of sacrifice flies later, and teh Rangers had the lead, and then the game.

Maybe it was just me thinking this, but it seemed like a lot of folks couldn't wait to get into the batter's box to take their cuts at Pujols for not coming up with the throw in from right. Could he have made a better effort on it? Sure. There is also this. The pitcher could have made a better pitch, and the right fielder could have made a better throw in. The first baseman's job on a throw into home is to act as an aiming point for the outfielder, as well as the cut-off man. If the throw will be late, the catcher directs the cut-off man to intercept the trow and make a play to another base (if a play is there to be made). Pujols didn't come up with the throw, moving the eventual game winning run into scoring position.

Pujols was then unavailable for comment following that game, and got ripped for that, too. If I am Pujols, I am ready to see what teams out there would want my services. It's pretty clear that one of, if not the best players in the game over the past decade has run his course in one of America's best baseball cities. There is no appreciation left for him, even after he belted three (yes, three) homers in game 3 in Texas.

Where he ends up is anybody's guess, but given his on-field resume, and his charitable work off of it, Pujols would be a welcome addition in ANY major league town.

Mike Solarte

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