Monday, December 12, 2011

Another lead up in smoke for Panthers

The 4-9 Carolina Panthers continue to drop games, even after holding a lead through the first half, and sometimes behind. The latest example, coming Sunday against Atlanta. Carolina held a 23-7 lead at halftime, only to surrender 24 unanswered points in the final 30 minutes and lost 31-23.

All season long we've watched this team do so many good things through the course of a game, only to see the end result come up in defeat. There is a common thread in the losses, and that would be turnovers. In all 9 losses, Carolina has committed at least one turnover. In the 4 wins, the Panthers committed none.

The turnovers, in my opinion, were not the root cause of the loss to Atlanta, although they certainly didn't help. This loss comes down to coaching. Sure, the players play, but Carolina got worked in the coaching department, especially in the second half.

Head Coach Ron Rivera preaches that his team needs to 'find that killer instinct,' and 'find a way to put teams away in the second half.' Earlier this year, he recalled a story about former teammate Dan Hampton, who said once the Chicago Bears had a team in a hole, that it was "time to grab them by the collared shirt, and drag them through the gravel." Sunday was a PRIME opportunity to do that, and Carolina let the Falcons spread their wings, instead of clipping them.

Why do I say that? Well, it is simple. Carolina got the football back late in the first half, and when facing a 3rd down and 2 situation, Carolina chose to run a play that looked more like a first down call. The Panthers had a dynamic force in Cam Newton. This guy can gain two yards on his own in a variety of ways. Yet, the Panthers went conservative. The play call, a run off the left side of the line, went nowhere (in fact, it went backwards for a loss of one), and led to a punt.

That play may not have meant much in the big picture, statistically, but the fact the "go for the throat" Panthers decided it was best to hold the lead, rather than try to press the Falcons was a bad message to a young team trying to find its identity.

In the second half, the Panthers defense was worked over as Atlanta went no-huddle for most of the half. The Panthers could not get proper personnel groups on the field, and with that Falcons offense, they were going to have success. It fell on the shoulders of the offense to do their part to play keep-away from Atlanta's offense, and with three 3-and-outs, and two interceptions, it wasn't getting done. Certainly credit is due to Atlanta for making adjustments, but the Panthers seemed to make none.

Still, this is another lesson learned for all involved. Newton knows not to try and make ill-advised, left-handed, underhanded desperation tosses in the future. He will learn control of that howitzer attached to his shoulder (the 2nd pick was a sailed pass over a receivers head). The defense will learn learn better coverage schemes, and most of all, the coaches will learn that football is much like a chess match: you have to think 2-3 moves ahead. You have to be ready for whatever the opposition is going the throw at you, and be ready with a couple of counter-punches. It will come, but if blame is going to be assessed, this one falls on coaching. Yes, there were players at fault for missing a tackle, or blowing an assignment, but overall, this is a coaching loss.

Hats off to Steve Smith on his 6 catch, 125 yard effort in the. Smith became the 35th receiver in NFL history to reach the 10,000 yards mark in career receiving. He gave credit to the QB's that have thrown him passes in his career, as well as his receiving corps mentors. For a guy that has had his share of greatness on the field, and as he admitted, some bonehead issues off of it, he remains the same guy. There is something to be said for that.

Want to send a shout out to Connell Maynor and the Winston-Salem State Rams football team, that came up 7 points short of reaching a national title game in football. According to coach Maynor, his team was disrespected by many folks, and all they did was roll to a final 13-1 record. His team was good enough. His team played fast, and physical, and were entertaining to watch. Most of all, he got his kids to give max effort on every play. Sadly for the Rams, I am not sure how long they will have him there, as good coaches find their way through the ranks. I am not saying he is leaving right now, but I would recommend that Rams fans enjoy him while they have him.

Finally, congratulations to the Charlotte 49er men's soccer team for their wonderful run through the NCAA tournament. From what I saw of the match, which admittedly was the 2nd half, Charlotte dominated UNC. The Heels had, in my estimation, two legit scoring chances, and cashed in on one. They had a cross that was headed across the face of the net, and then the only goal of the game, a slick top-spin shot that was, in a word, perfect. The ball is stopped if it is kicked with less pace, and sails high if it carries too much pace.

Still, the 49ers came in unheralded, and most of all, unappreciated in the college soccer community. Head Coach Jeremy Gunn and his players did a terrific job of putting the program on the national map. Again, major hat-tip to them. It was a fun ride.

Mike Solarte

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