C-Mac gets stuffed, Newton scatters 51 passes as Panthers drop to 0-2 with 20-14 loss

While being a “content creation person” is my bill-paying persona, there has always been a sportswriter who has to get opinions out there. The straight up question Panther fans will be asking for the next ten days is, “What is really wrong with Cam?” because he was all over the lot throwing the ball – Olsen’s grab of a pass behind him was one of several made by receivers – and while his running ability was always a major benefit, he certainly doesn’t seem willing to get hit, nor does team seem willing to ask him to run over a D-back any more.

Maybe its too personal to mention his haberdashery, but the multi-colored scarf atop his wild hairdo and granny shades at the post-game didn’t score any points either.

Cam Newton came out with the right answer for Thursday nights 20-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that fingers get pointed at an offense that doesn’t score touchdowns. That he is the most visible reason for the 0-2 record, and its his job to make plays is Part 2 to that truth, and there are already boo-birds in Charlotte regarding that play making.

Newton’s stat line was 25/51 passes for 333 yards, two rushes for zero yards. He didn’t get a yard on 4th down on the Panther’s initial drive, just before a 27-minute game delay for lightening, and he was a decoy on the final play, when Panthers needed *HALF* a yard for a first down, and barely more than ONE for a winning TD.

Is it too early to be mad or discouraged?

The question of whether its too early to be mad or discouraged is almost less important than WHY they couldn’t beat the Bucs, and whether this will be a truly LONG year. 

On Monday I had concerns about being a ‘homer’ – someone who always tries to put a happy face on events – after the season-opening 30-27 loss to LA Rams, which was a light-years difference from what came through last night. Certainly there was no “C-Mac (McCaffrey) the Mighty” cranking out yardage. He had a miserable night (37 yds. rushing, two receptions for 16 yards, no TDs), including not getting close to gaining the yard needed at the end of the game.

Was it that long ago that Newton would have handled that last bit himself, stretching his 6’5, 250 pounds over the goal line? The O-line handled the Rams, getting three short TD runs, can’t they go straight ahead two weeks in a row? Yes, Newton threw downfield a number of times in that 333, although Olsen’s big night (6 catches/110 yards, including a 41-yard gain), involved lugging the ball most of the way. Curtis Samuel had a 44-yard gain, but he had to turn around and wait vs. catching the ball in stride, zero yards after the catch.

The only Panther who had a great night was kicker Joey Slye, who was 4-4 on field goals, two of them over 50-yards, one of which clonged off the right post and through, and his kickoffs weren’t returned. (Enjoy that game check, Joe, but if you lead the league in scoring, we’ll probably have had a lousy year).

Okay, Luke Kuechly had 17 tackles, including one for a safety that got Panthers within one score, and provided a short field for their final unsuccessful drive. The Bucs suffocated C-Mac all game, and DE Shaqil Barrett had three sacks of Newton, who never looked in sync.

Olsen looked a little stiff while running (a back problem left him a game time decision), and there seemed to be enough production (Samuel- five catches/91 yards; DJ Moore- nine catches/89 yards) to spend a lot of time in Tampa’s end of the field, but an offense that’s only making field goals needs 3 to beat a TD by the other team. That’s a fact Panther fans will recognize from many games against the Seahawks, when both D’s slugged it out.

The Panthers now have road games against Phoenix and the Jaguars, and while the Cardinals Heisman-winning QB (Kyler Murray, 2018) didn’t look good for most of their 27-all tie with the Lions last week, mobile QBs always seem to torture the Panthers. Winston started 11/14 in the first half and ended up 16/25 for 208 yards and a TD, and while that was considerably better than last weeks performance, unfortunately,  the Panthers can’t say the same.

One thing that’s guaranteed – Panthers won’t give Newton a seat and play Kyle Allen, certainly not after just two games, because it just doesn’t pay to bench your top QB to see if he gets super motivated. The defense can also work on actually stopping runners (Tampa had 100 yards on the ground, the Panthers 39) vs. letting them churn for a couple more after contact.


Panthers worth watching – Sports writers, experts, Monday morning QBs mostly agree

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What the Buccaneers will be expecting from Christian McCaffrey Thursday.

In what winds up the same short week for bloggers of NFL football as everyone else, and to bring balance to what happened in the Panthers 30-27 loss to the LA Rams, “Winning cures a lot of that,” is the attitude pointed towards Thursday night against Tampa Bay.

Starting with the most obvious thought: Noowwwww how are you liking those ten pounds of new, useful, and still 4.4 fast, muscles McCaffrey is sporting?  Watching replays, and what plenty of game stats seem to show, is numerous factors WILL win a bunch of ball games for the Panthers this year. Still,  his working through tackles for 23, 18 yard gains on that last nine-play, 69 yard drive? That’s Big Boy stuff.

As important as C-Mac proved to be  last year, Panther fans anticipate cheering their faces off for him after this first effort – that *was* supposed to be a pretty good Rams defense. Based on production,  that offensive line should be feeling positive – the difference between the Rams and Panthers offense (349-343) was a half-dozen yards.

19 carries, 128 yards, two TDs, plus ten catches for 81 yards for C-Mac.

Why do I get a vision of Cap’n America, with the dukes up, that “I can go like this all day” line just a statement of fact?

Two bigger questions about the season, defense and lacking Graham Gano’s crucial field goal kicking, were answered adequately. Although the Rams did dominate ball time by seven-plus minutes, holding Todd Gurley to a 14 carries, 97 yards and no TD day should be considered holding a stud runner in check. Both teams had three rushing TDs.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff was a mild 23/38 for 186 yards, one each on TD-INTs, so this was not a high-powered trampling. Yes, the difference seemed to be specific Panther let downs, but not defensive inadequacies. Shaq Thompson and Tre Boston both had 7 solo tackles, Shaq’s mobility in the 3-4 defense being the first dividend Panthers were expecting.

The Panthers Joe Slye hit two-of-three field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder, and while its only one game, yay! for Gano’s replacement. Kickers can lose at least as many games as they win, just ask last years kicker for the Bears how that works out.

Without whining, I might have been “balled out” after gorging on major college games all Labor Day weekend, so I was actually on the Catawba tubing for five hours Sunday, but what I watched on the replay, yes, Newton (25/38 for 239 yards and a pick) has to make “those throws.”

Newton only tried one throw over twenty yards, and I haven’t read or heard anything recently about a supposed new motion. Everyone says there are no physical problems, just “rusty,” which is the alternative to minimal ‘live’ playing during preseason. The interception, when he had Olsen clear and didn’t deliver, was a timing difference that should be clear now.

There were actually a lot of offensive contributions: Olsen, 4/36 yards; Samuel, 3/32; Jarius Wright, 1/14. DJ Moore had an overall  seven catch -76 yard day, but was involved in a pair of miscues – especially a first drive fumble, and a tipped pass that wound up being ruled a lateral – recovered on the Panthers ten.

Tale of two games

One doesn’t have to be a total ‘Homer’ to be positive about the Panthers first effort, and  there’s no need to overthink the loss on this short week, just be glad it’s the Bucs on Thursday. They were rawhided by San Fran 31-7, with Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston a pedestrian 20/36, 194 yards with three interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns – three sacks, and an overall 8.6 QBR.

There’s an old, obvious cliché about not beating good teams – especially when you make a number of turnovers in crucial situations – and in any year not following last season, this would be the godsend for a short week. Twelve years with no playoffs for the Buccaneers is not a coincidence.

The wheels would have to come off (like in Miami, where the Dolphins were humiliated 59-10 by the Ravens) for the Panthers to be 0-2 on Friday morning. We’d all like to see Newton throw a 55-yard rainbow or a touch pass in the red zone, McCaffrey – just keep telling people its all about the O-line…

Panthers season – like ‘Murica itself – will face a challenge going 9-7 (ish) in 2019

Grilling cheeseburgers is an essence of Labor Day

As a storm of epic proportions sloooowly approaches the US coast, most of life continued in the Carolinas, something you can’t imagine saying about the devastating pictures we’ve seen from the Abacos Islands. To the ex-Canadian PM who suggested the hurricane find Mar-a-Lago and force Trump to see a Cat-5 up close for a whole day like those islands did, Nature didn’t lay that thought or any bigly global warming rhythms on him.

After flipping a quantity of very satisfying ‘bigger’ cheeseburgers for a local men’s shelter on Friday, I book-ended my weekend by enjoying one myself late Sunday, while taking in live music and a considerable amount of people-watching at the White Water Center. Yes, America, that “huge hunk of meat” was as delightful as Jimmy Buffett always painted it, and I accept it as an exclamation point to a hot and exciting summer.

I plead guilty to unknowing concern at the devastation in the Bahamas, am stunned by a lack of coordinated response, though not by Prez who defends playing “18 quick holes” during a colossal disaster. The juxtaposition of my cheeseburger to how dramatic two entire days of what 180 mph churn would do to any “Why me?” perspective a survivor would have to have, is humbling.

As a sports writer, my current concern is –

How the local Panthers will look against a Rams team that lost in the Super Bowl, and an almost unblockable Aaron Donald on defense this Sunday. That’s a home opener where Panthers should suck every bit of motivation from the crowd possible, a team that needs to show it – and its leader, Cam Newton – is markedly better than what their finishing 7-9, with a seven-game losing streak the second half of 2018, looked.

The Carolina Panthers and I both start our 25th year in Charlotte, and like many, I’m still happy to root for them. Being from upstate NY, I was never a Giants or Jets (ugh!) fan after suffering with regional double-headers in college.  My first Panther memory was a COLD game at Clemson, catching a great image of Sam Mills about to meet Steve Young on a goal line sneak.

As a blogger last year, the changes seem legitimate, as is 9-7

I’m going to agree with “new guy” on Observer staff, Matt Stephens, about Panthers showing me they actually have an offense and defense that’s markedly better than last year. Matt feels optimistic, has worries that maybe he’s just not beaten down yet. I think 50 blogs gave me a grip on things, and there’s no problem with his thinking last year is fixable.

There wasn’t a lot of pre-season viewing of Olsen, Newton, Kuechly, but what Rivera and D-Coach Eric Washington saw in speed rushers – Brian Burns (FSU) and another year with Marquis Haynes – have made the switch to 3-4 as base defense more reasonable. Shaq Thompson figures to be coming off the wing more regularly now, while playing behind Thomas Davis for years, his possibilities always seemed greater.

OLB is kind of the glory spot in 3-4 defense, and Burns looks like a beast there, Shaq *should* be. If Kuechly doesn’t have to patrol all the way to sidelines, his All-Pro nose for plays directly in front could be maximized. Yes, there will always be a concern about his concussion history. Yes, 33 sacks was a pitiful statement for the 2018 defense, and that will be regarded as an aberration by mid- season.

Welcome to Gerald McCoy, thank you for your long service, Mr. Peppers.

All interior D-line starters have been All-Pros, especially McCoy, who always gave Newton fits when he was with the Buccaneers (8 years). Kwann Short can still take up blocks, and even with Kuechly patrolling less territory with four backers, he’ll be off the leash with recognition of plays and going downhill after them. Last year, the Panthers defense was absolutely torched by, well, about everybody. If the Saints hadn’t already clinched the division, Brees could have set some personal records in final game last season, and Panthers would already have an eight-game loss skein coming in against loaded LA.

You rarely get that lucky against divisional people.

Dontari Poe didn’t play himself into the hearts of fans in 2018, with opposing running backs frequently getting the yardage they needed – plus a couple more – to keep drives alive. Frankly, “run-stuffer” means actual tackling at point of attack.

A primary question, especially regarding Newton’s fixed-again shoulder, is whether he, with a modified motion, and other key players (Olsen – back as a regular target after two fractured foot seasons; Kuechly – concussions; McCaffrey – because he gets all those touches) will all be good for 16 games. Sportswriting history shows winning big almost always includes having less bad injuries to key personnel, so “Lucky Breaks” is probably a toss-up.

Green Bay won a memorable title (vs. Steelers) while starters were dropping like flies, but over the long grind, people won’t always be available. Curtis Samuel, in his third season after a pair of injuries delayed his new role as a primary receiver, and seeing how dangerous he could be last season – especially the after catch elusiveness he and DJ Moore have shown as a runners  – is encouraging.

With a steady diet of “even a little bigger than last year, still pretty fast” McCaffrey, the Panthers shouldn’t be lacking offensively.

If Turner’s offense uses other backs this year, will they be as effective as using C-MC as a decoy?  The O-LINE seemed to gel coming into last season, and one certainly can’t put down a crew that sprung C-MC (McCaffrey) so regularly. The Panthers have always had linemen that switched all over the place, and the biggest change is who Newton gets the ball from. After eight years of Ryan Kalil, who retired (and then signed with the Jets), the Panthers replaced him at center with former Bronco Matt Paradis.

BIG QUESTION of JOE SLYE vs. (no) Gano – Why the Panther’s $4 million kicker didn’t get himself fixed after last season, who knows, but this change is going to be a factor to discuss until it isn’t. While they use the word ‘mythical’ regarding Gano’s game-winning poke against the Giants, you don’t usually give a new guy like Slye the benefit of doubt until he makes a couple clutch ones.

I fear the New Orleans Saints the most, because they’ve been jobbed out of final games the last two years, and if *I* was on Drew Brees’ team, playing with a GOAT quarterback, being on a mission to get another ring with him would be incredible. ATL – I don’t care about them except as rivals. The Bucs, who I watched for three years when living in Tampa – we called them the Suckaneers – have a new sheriff in town with Bruce Ariens. As a writer, I had easy access to players – Doug Williams was a class guy, I doubt Jameis Winston is.

Season splits with the Saints and Falcons would be fine overall going into the season, and yes, playing the NFC West this year means renewing things with the Seahawks, in Charlotte. If you have to have a standard, the ‘Hawks and Falcons are undeniably ours. Seeing what they cook up in Phoenix this year, we shall indeed see. That opener against the Rams will be rough, because outscoring them (Rams 32.9 ppg, Panthers 23.5 ppg in 2018) won’t come easily, nor does going on 14-15 play drives if Aaron Donald is drawing breath.

As for Panthers SECONDARY, outside of Donte Jackson and James Bradberry, its good to have a safety of Eric Reid’s quality, and congrats to Panthers owner David Tepper for making a business decision on the former All-Pro. Reid will benefit from a full preseason to get into mix versus being added mid-season. Safety-nickel guy Gaulden, like several second year players, is being counted on to fill necessary roles in the secondary.

Forget about any spillover from MSL talk about Tepper, even if does look like he’s moved Charlotte up in pecking order there. This Panther organization has made multiple changes in barely over a year. As of Year 25, the Panthers have a first-rate indoor practice bubble, and what figures to be a substantial Rock Hill complex vs. those wicked Spartanburg camps – both solid, necessary decisions. Charlotte has added another outstanding citizen in Mr. Tepper, not “just another Yankee.”

“A year that needs to be”

Yes, this looks like “A Year that Needs to Be” for all the reasons everybody probably understands, including Tepper and Rivera and the Big 2-5. FYI – Rivera is only a few games from becoming the winning-est coach in Carolina history (currently 71, John Fox has 73).

Yes, physically this is Newton’s team, although the expectation is he’d gladly offer whatever chunk McCaffrey demands while tearing yardage out of the league in his Year 3 development. Yes, “that nice young man” has put on even more muscles. Since the extra five last year worked so well, apparently another ten pounds.  That and a tweak or two better than 362 touches – is a fine standard to go forward from.

Trust Norv Turner’s offense – Its put people in the Hall of Fame, and CMC is nothing but a Classic Worker-Achiever. How many yards short of 1,000-1,000 was he in 2018? Remember that number, he will.

How often Newton goes long to Moore and Samuel – or Mr. Third Down, Jarius Wright – and two tight-end sets with Greg Olsen-Ian Thomas to spread the love and make defenses pay for loading up to stop McCaffrey, should keep the sticks moving like he did early last year.

With Kyle Allen and Will Grier (#3 pick, Maryland) at QB, the cupboard is sort of stocked in case Newton’s arm falls off. Neither was astonishing in pre-season, Grier threw some terrible picks.

While its doubtful Charlotte fans will consider a 9-7 season any real triumph, and where such a record leaves playoff considerations (or Rivera’s future), is a long time to think about situation for Mr. Tepper.

Calling it an improved team starting this week, sure, that’s legit – even if I’ll go with chalk and consider the Rams the team to beat. Along with their new 3-4 defense, would the Panthers sporting a 5-2 record after the game in London (Bucs), an off week, and then in San Fran vs. 49ers be okay? I’ll say yes.

If McCaffrey gets less but close to 100 yards this week against Rams, can we still be optimistic? Sure. For both football watching and the political grind, it seems like 9-7 is at least above water, and we’ll see what that brings.

We’re not expecting any hurricane’s taking a left to be here for the weekend, so stay for the whole game. Your friends who don’t have tickets should understand.