Still plenty of room on Darnold-Panthers bandwagon, Fitterer and 11-6 a franchise reset

I *guarantee* any of the faithful watching practice tried to find shelter fast in Spartanburg. If you’ve been there, you know the deal.

Nobody seems to doubt the Panthers will have plenty of offensive firepower in 2021. The “and if” part in many projections for their season was getting a high caliber QB to run it. Fans will get more solid evidence that GM Scott Fitterer did pretty good with his first real important job, on Sunday in Indianapolis.

Sam Darnold, former NY Jet – I won’t use that term often any more, he’s the Panthers QB, no ifs, ands, or buts now – was said to look good in practice last week, so here we go! Its certainly nothing like the fanfare that accompanied #1 pick Cam Newton’s arrival in Charlotte in 2011, off a national championship at Auburn for him and a 1-15 season in Charlotte.

Former Panther coach Ron Rivera always said things became more real once the pads went on, and there you have it in a nutshell. Unloved where he was, Darnold is a talented player getting a muuuccch better second opportunity to prove his worth to us fannies will be the train to ride. He can’t nail a 300-yard night during two practices with Colts, and will probably only see a half of game action, so any attaboys! finally being uttered now, I’m sure he’ll accept them.

Any bigger picture decision about Fitterer’s genius will have to wait a little longer, https://cdtalententerprises.com/2021/04/09/panthers-take-care-of-business-gm-fitterer-lands-qb-darnold-to-get-rolling/ but $30 million in cap space has plugged quite a few holes with free agents.

Consider 11-6 season a Panthers reboot

This will be an absolute turnaround season for the franchise, and opposing defenses should buckle it on tight after a highly movitated Christian McCaffrey (C-MC, some say CeeMac) comes out of the gate with maybe 150 yds./2 TDs on the Jets. Receivers Robbie Anderson and DJ Moore were the #3 production duo in NFL, and while two of FOUR Panthers not named McCaffrey who gained over 1,000 yards from scrimmage are gone (RB M.Davis, WR C.Samuel), there will be plenty of #22 jerseys in the stands cheering his return.

Valuable Replacements

Valuable replacement for Curtis Samuel (to Washington, 3 yr/$34.5M) NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund pegged Terrance Marshall, Jr. as Top 5 pick to lead rookie receivers this year.

At 6’2″, 200 lbs., he’s the same size as Panther great Mushin Muhammad, as a #3 receiver, he’ll get 1-1 coverage because of Moore and Anderson.

For those who haven’t already forgotten Greg Olsen and his ‘ninja skills,’ suddenly appearing downfield to catch a clutch first down pass, management has signed 6’6″ Dan Arnold (Arizona) to a 2 year/$6M contract. That’s just in case Darnold can’t find a receiver anywhere else, there should a large security blanket-level target pretty much in front of his eyes.

Ask ex-Panther Jimmy Clausen why they couldn’t find a good pass-catching tight end when he was blitzed mercilessly the year before Cam Newton got a pair of stud TEs (Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen), or just accept they saw a need and took care of it.

The ‘Madden’ version of McCaffrey is redonkulous, his reality and quality equally so. Offensive lines LOVE working for someone with the ability to go house if you hold your block another fraction of a second.

Defense – Another Big Leap?

In Year Two of Phil Snow as the Panthers Defensive Coordinator, expectations for another rise in the rankings – from bottom three in all categories to 18th overall in points and total yardage in 2020 – are legitimate. It’s taken three seasons of iffy improvement to get here, and last year was still the worst defense in franchise history on 3rd down (allowed 49.2% conversion) and INTs with 7.

With #1 pick Jaycee Horn a large, very physical cornerback, getting off the field on 3rd down will be enhanced.

The all-defensive draft last year looks like gold now, especially trading up to have a second-second round pick that became Jeremy Chinn. https://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/4043169/jeremy-chinn The Panthers defense led the league in recovered fumbles (15) and scored 3 touchdowns, two by Chinn on back-back plays. As for the mere 29 total sacks, Brian Burns (9) is looking to blow up at whatever they’ll call his position – speed rusher is accurate – and is the epitome of ‘Mobile, Agile, Hostile’.

The all-defensive draft last year looks like gold now, especially trading up to have a second-second round pick that became Jeremy Chinn.

Top factors to assess 2021 defense will be sacks, and turnovers will be emphasized. A couple times off the field with a stop on 3rd down becoming more opportunities for a potent offense will obviously make a difference. Turnovers always follow aggressive play calling, and adding a number of free agents (DT DaQuan Jones, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Haason Reddick) with that element is a real boost.

Reddick had 12.5 sacks for Arizona last year, plus 16 QB hits, 6 forced fumbles, 15 tackles for loss, and THAT will get a defense off the field sooner. He’ll play the opposite side from Burns, and Phil Snow must be licking his chops to have such a major upgrade. Jones played all 16 games 5 of 6 years for the Titans, and if not a big sack guy, Perryman is a documented run stuffer, and his range is clearly better than Tahir Whitehead, even if nobody will be going sideline-sideline like Luuuuuke!

DIVISION – NFC South

That Tom Brady took the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory in his first year away from New England isn’t lost on anyone in the division, where Panthers will see The GOAT twice a year. Drew Brees is gone, and while fans have waited a long time to see ‘Swiss Army Knife’ QB Taysom Hill – who has done everything for the Saints while Brees continued amazing – “we’ll see” is legitimate. If there’s a QB battle with Jameis Winston, something is wrong in the Dome.

Atlanta remains an arch-rival, and they picked up another stud receiver (TE Kyle Pitts, Florida), whose 4 yr./$32.9M contract is fully guaranteed. Matt Ryan is still slinging it there, and all division games count extra, so whether the secondary is good enough to hold up while the D-line goes after him will be the key, he’s never been called elusive.

There probably isn’t a defensive scheme Brady hasn’t seen, Ryan still has skills and blazing fast receivers, but any post-Brees letdown in New Orleans would be appreciated.

Wrap it up, we’ll take it

While Robbie Anderson isn’t a fan of the new turf in BOA stadium (‘its fake’), the stadium allows far too many other events to keep regular grass viable, so while it will be very different here, its not a totally strange surface either. Expecting someone like McCaffrey and Moore, who can turn on a dime, to take advantage of always good footing is not to be underestimated.

Joey Slye had a 120 point season (29 FGs, 33 PATs), his only drawback being 1-6 from over 50 yards.

Everyone loved Jeremy Chinn‘s contributions last year, switching between OLB and safety. Adding Denzel Perryman will probably allow Snow to keep Chinn at safety, but there will certainly be sneak attacks from the versatile Chinn to keep Ryan and Brady aware of his presence. (The rest of the NFL will learn about it too.)

There was an idea that Panthers would lose a couple shootouts in 2020, that possibility has gone down with an improved QB and a strong off-season of plugging holes with free agency as a result of $30 million in cap space.

Panthers play the NFC East and most of AFC East (total 8 games), with Eagles, Vikes, Pats, and Washington at home, the Bills and Miami on the road, and finish the season with Bucs-Saints-Bucs. They should be in contention for winning the conference all the way to the end – their strength of schedule is rated as 26th (of 32 teams, 5th easiest), which helps me stick with an 11-6 prediction.

Panthers ugly 2019 ends with questions on broken D, head coach, Olsen, Cam

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There won’t be any pilgrimages to Wofford in 2020, but the fans will still be faithful.

Here in “The Buckle on the Bible Belt,” its quite possible that more than a couple fans put some time into praying that Christian McCaffrey didn’t get hurt, especially during the eight loss spiral that ended in a soggy 42-10 whipping by the Saints at BOA Stadium.

Color commentators often opine that defensive backs best assets are speed and having a short memory about negative plays, and if a belated Christmas or Hanukkah gift could be given out to end the year, may Charlotte be so blessed memory-wise.

There was a whole lot of ugly going on after Kyle Allen started throwing INTs and the defense showed they couldn’t stop anyone, and not replaying it all is legitimate. Yes, it was smile-worthy that McCaffrey became only the third player in NFL history to post 1,000 yards-plus rushing and receiving, and Moore seems to have arrived as a premier receiver in only his second year ranked 9th, with 87 catches, 1,175 yards and four TDs.

As a two-time Coach of the Year, Ron Rivera will probably find another job in the NFL (Redskins?), although except for the 15-1 regular season the Panthers posted in their 2015 Super Bowl season, he wouldn’t be the franchise’s career leader in victories at 76-63-1.

Rivera arrived the same year as Cam Newton, and defensive bulwark Luke Kuechly became an instant star at middle linebacker the next year, but good luck to him working any instant magic for the 3-13 ‘Skins owner Daniel Snyder.

Do NOT expect many of the Panthers coaching staff to remain in Charlotte. While owner David Tepper gave Rivera an above average amount of rope during a second straight year of defensive under-achieving, he’s not going to let that become the sort of malaise that infects Detroit, Cleveland, or Cincinnati. How Cam Newton’s status looks after a bad shoulder (2018) and foot (missed all but first two games of 2019) injuries is an especially big question for fans this winter, and Allen’s turnover woes (16 INTs, 13 fumbles) don’t come across as the answer in the QB arena.

Is it really the thought that counts this time of year?

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Having given a brother several bags of mulch and some pea gravel – along with a promise to render his front garden area more presentable – and the roof of his house being done just before Christmas, the analogy of the back yard being a mess *right now* is a legitimate one for the Panthers.

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the worst at anything, although the 470 (29.4 ppg) points they surrendered was ahead of only the Dolphins (494, 30.9 ppg). The 143.5 average they were gouged for on the ground beat only Cleveland (144.7), Washington, and Cincinnati’s (2-14) bottom of the list 148.9. That made their 3,696 (231 yds. per game) by air look comparatively lofty, with 19 teams – including 12-4 division winner New Orleans (3,868) – behind them.

While that only proves numbers aren’t always the whole story, especially in a pass-happy league, the Panthers were pushed around plenty, with runners consistently picking up necessary first down yardage. McCaffrey was third in rushing with 1,387 yards and 15 TDs (287 carries) plus 1,005 receiving (4 TDs); Derrick Henry (TN) won the rushing title with 1,540 (16 TDs, 303 carries).

Although many fans, especially in the Carolinas, would consider C-MC’s efforts worthy of MVP consideration, his exploits the second half of the year were almost a curiosity to the rest of the country, though his 116 receptions and productivity were crucial to fantasy owners. Nobody doubted he gave his best effort every week, even when defenses were often stacked to stop his contributions along the way.

Mr. Tepper isn’t Yoda, but fix things he must

The Panthers boss man not only put his considerable $$$ where his mouth is while buying the Panthers at the beginning of 2018, he’s also added an indoor practice facility and a major league soccer franchise ($325 million), while targeting a rejuvenation of the former Eastland Mall area off Central Avenue with a practice facility and team offices for the soccer franchise. That goes beyond good thoughts, but fixing a great many lagging factors before their 26th season is uppermost on Panthers fans minds.

Recently released lesser performers like Gruden (Redskins), Kitchens (Browns), Shurmer (NYG) and the like will probably not be of interest to Tepper as a head coach, but former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy’s success makes him a possibility, along with a list of high profile college coaches. McCarthy apparently also wanted the GM role when he was considered for the Browns job, but Marty Hurney has done a good job on that front.

While the Panthers have always had a reputation for promoting from within, two years of negatives will probably call for new, pedigreed blood.

Whether a “defensive minded” head coach will get the call – based on the last two years of getting undressed regularly – as a deciding factor is iffy, although a strong defensive coordinator to replace Eric Washington is a 99% certainty. Sticking with the 3-4 or going back to the 4-3 is not the #1 question right now, with a small thanks for not being as pitiful on the pass rush as last year.

College coaches don’t have a great track record in the pros, Pete Carroll of the Seahawks being an obvious exception, and Chip Kelly, who nearly wrecked the Eagles before Doug Pederson took the reins and led them to a Super Bowl win, being the more normal result.

 2020 will be turn the page time

Charlotte was thrilled when its first professional sports franchise, the Hornets, came to town because it proved the city was major league. They bought PSLs (personal seating licenses) to build the football stadium when they gained an NFL franchise in 1993, the first time that route was utilized in the sports world, and gladly (??) chipped in major tax dollars to help refurbish it a couple years ago.

Charlotte now has about every pro sport covered, with the Knights (baseball), Checkers (AHL champs in 2018 season), Hornets, and Panthers. There’s also the historic enthusiasm for the college programs, which now includes the UNCC 49ers (7-6) after the first trip to a bowl game and taking their lumps as a newbie D-1 entrant for five years. The Tobacco Road hoops schools, Wake Forest, South Carolina’s Gamecocks, and of course, Clemson football, all have a dedicated following.

Keep wearing your Olsen, Newton, Kuechly, and McCaffrey jerseys proudly, even if Olsen decides he’s had enough after 2019. Cleveland (6-10) made only marginal progress in two years with Baker Mayfield despite a lot of talking, but count on Mr. Tepper not taking a back seat to anyone on getting results. He’s not Santa Claus, but he’ll deliver sooner than that merry old gent.

And if you want to keep working the beads for McCaffrey’s good health, that’s not a problem either.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Thoughts for Panthers 2019 are a mixed bag for ‘fruitcake’ 5-9

Would Christian McCaffrey tell you, “Honestly, this ugly sweater is going right to the bottom of any drawer I can find space,” if you’d gifted him so? Doubtful, but there’s no reason to believe he’s doing anything less than giving each game his best effort. As a team, there’s also no reason to believe otherwise, even if the defense was sliced and diced by Seattle, dropping the Panthers to 5-9.

Fruitcake season? Just because you hear someone say “It’s not that bad” doesn’t mean you want any more of it. (Gonna have to use that one again…)

Everyone will point to McCaffrey as a bright point in a sub-par season, but holy moley! DJ Moore has 86 catches for 1,174 (4 TD) in his second year. Nobody is “happy” with six straight losses, and yes, eyes goes naturally to Kyle Allen’s 15 INTs (and 3,027) yards as a replacement for Cam Newton after two games .

It wouldn’t be any glaring sign of giving up if 3rd round pick Will Grier got a chance at QB the last two games.

Its pretty certain the Panthers have had a look at Allen after twelve games. Rookie name of Gardner Minshaw II did fine in Jax’ville, its not like they’re clearing the bench to give everyone a couple plays to consider over the winter, but a time when Panther fans will hear about LOTS of changes.

KEY PLAYERS

Doesn’t everyone have a favorite nephew, whose exploits you like to remind others about? McCaffrey is obviously as productive as anyone you can think of, and if he gets 186 yards receiving the next two games, “The Legend-Weapon that is Cee Mac” will be firmly anchored.

Like the kid who demands Santa’s “sled” in the commercial, Dad saying, “He was pretty good this year,” is very legitimate. C-Mac needs those 186 yards to hit 1,000/1,000 level, so I hope that item gets wrapped up real nice and arrives, FedEx or whatever. You’ve heard only two guys have done that, so expect some serious effort to deny him.

Speaking of favorites, congratulations to Drew Brees, a GOAT of GOATS. *That* is a team needing one LESS maximum negative a play in the clutch at some point, but they’ll play an extra inspirational bit harder for that/Drew’s championship this year. Topper on the tree stuff.

Most would agree the O-line has done its bit. Despite constant churn at positions with injuries, McCaffrey doesn’t get all those yards himself. Allen does hold onto the ball at times, so while the line has given up quite a few sacks, eliminating throwing errors (one hopes), although his mistakes, including fumbles, have clearly hurt offensive production.

Curtis Samuel got some different looks in the Seattle game, and using him as a runner like they do with Moore is always intriguing, because he’s a bolt coming at defenders. If he continues to learn how to evade, he could become a devastating slot receiver. Whether Ian Thomas is able to take the tight end job after an Olsen retirement is open to question.

Joey Slye has made seven 50-yard plus field goals this year, but he also missed some kicks that cost games. Overall, do you return cheap gifts and maybe stick with a higher priced version, like a $17 million kicker? Ahhhh! Something has gotten into the egg nog…

The Newton question is the big package hidden in the closet. He may have everyone’s good thoughts for recovery, the question is whether his injury and style – as a passer, all he has is a fastball – and price tag work for 2020.

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Panther fans won’t be sure what they’re getting for 2020, but ‘D’ will need to look less undressed.

The Turner offense certainly put certain players (Moore, McCaffrey) on a very strong path, just like it was designed to, and with a relative newbie at the controls to boot. Newton was +10 pts. over his career passing percentage last year before the shoulder really crimped his production, is he really-really going to be “okay” (you know the commercial) when games count again?

If someone doesn’t pay for Allen to attend some serious camp committed to cutting down his turnovers (13 fumbles), its because he’s getting that proverbial hunk of coal on the way out.

Yes, there needs to be something small but appreciable in the “Running back, besides Christian M.” under the tree for Panther fans to rest assured he won’t be toast in two more years.

DEFENSE WAS LIT UP LIKE CHRISTMAS TREE

If Mr. Tepper keeps Eric Washington as Defensive Coordinator after the way the front was repeatedly gouged for yardage all year, it would be a massive surprise. While the sack total is back up to historical levels, and Kuechly is #3 in the league with 131 tackles (17 against Seattle), Chris Carson went for 133 yards and 2 TDs last week.

Stats: The Panthers have given up 386 points (27.6 ppg) thus far, ahead of only Miami20181223_220242 (29.6 ppg). Pitiful Cincinnati (325, 23.2) was #22: Cleveland and Indy were middle of the pack (311 pts/22.2 ppg); New England (157, 11.2 ppg leads the league).

In 2018, the Panthers started giving up 100 yard rushers regularly, and it hasn’t stopped. It was suggested that opposing QBs didn’t mind throwing against their secondary either, and an improved rush didn’t lessen effectiveness going long. Whether the 3-4 alignment or standard 4-3 is better will require examining the potential of 2nd, 3rd year players like Brian Burns and Marquis Haynes.

Eric Reed was every bit the hitter they wanted at safety and run support, but a lot of people (not just Falcons, Saints; Jax had a receiver get 2-60 yard gains out of 383 total v. Panthers) seemed to be running free far too often. Give Dante Jackson credit for “make up speed” and no lack of confidence, but even when he gets there, people are still making catches. With expectations that he will blossom into the A-1 cover guy Panthers obviously need in 2020, lets hope the Big Boy pants under the tree fit right, or he acquires ‘sticky’ vs. anything figgy by next season.

Shaq Thompson is the speed linebacker many expected him to be with more playing time, but Dontari Poe doesn’t appear to  be a run stopper by any $9 million definition, and I didn’t hear Butler’s name often, that probably can’t stand either. Mario Addison might be trade bait after another decline in sacks.

While Fewell got the nod for interim coach, as the coach of secondary, he might not be around for New Years either.

If some Panther stockings are still hung by the chimney with care after New Year’s, look for when “Bonus $$ for on roster – (X date)” about decision time. James Bradbury’s stocking has something in it, hopefully a situation he can share with Ross Cockrell, who had a quietly good year after a broken leg kept him out all of 2018. Most probably its just a thank you for keeping things respectable with most receivers.

Nobody wants to see Greg Olsen ride off into the sunset (with or without a Man of Year award), it will be up to him and family to decide whether 2019 was enough.

Philosophically and realistically speaking, its going to be an uncomfortable winter for Panther fans. Mr. Tepper has big plans for his soccer franchise, but his NFL franchise will need considerable tending too.

 

Almost-Great finale in Green Bay sets the flag for rest of Panthers season

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Can the Panthers O-line keep McCaffrey rolling and the Falcon rush off Allen better than Saints did for Brees? Will the defense get off the field instead of giving up chunks of yardage?

Here’s betting that Greg VanRoten attempting to sling McCaffrey across the goal-line, swirling snow and frozen tundra overtones to the max, becomes a tee shirt that sells millions. ‘Almost-Great’ in a 24-16 loss kind of covers it, moral victories don’t move the possibility needle on getting into the playoffs.

Kyle Allen earned his spurs (28/43, 307 yds., TD/INT), slinging it as much as necessary, including that 18-yard throw to Olsen in the snowstorm. That counts for experience, especially knowing Cam won’t be back this year.

One pick and his fumble aside, Allen’s distribution is still what the Norv Turner offense is supposed to look like. Color commentator Troy Aikman said that was the focus 25 years ago when he was at the controls in Dallas, its still the standard for Allen. Yes, that’s the DJ Moore that is becoming a difference maker (9 catches/120 yds.) from anywhere on the field, and does anybody else frown when announcers in other games state, “He’s the best running back in the league right now,” and it’s not Cee Mack juking someone bad?

The naysayers will see a 5-4 record for the Panthers,  Rivera will still go with playing them one at a time, even if he admits they got great effort from everyone. Yes, after missing an earlier two-point conversion, the Panthers needed to get that last yard from McCaffrey AND a two-pointer to even tie and go to overtime.  He’s going to get more chances, so will the Panthers. There’s still room on the wagon for believers.

The offensive line continues to be interchangeable and effective, both in pass blocking and giving McCaffrey seams to work through. They’ve given up 20 sacks (seven against 49ers), but Allen doesn’t seem fazed by three against the Packers. He’s an NFL starting QB, he knows what a top-flight pass rush looks like, but we’ve seen him throw well with people all around him. He looks ready to come out of the “game managing” category.

Nobody is saying the Panthers offensive or defensive lines blinked at Green Bay’s power. Gerald McCoy busting through that last play of the first half with the Packers a yard from scoring at the end of a LONG drive, that was a character stand. Yes, some gashing up to that point, but zero points in the clutch, it wasn’t a mistake. That Panthers pushed it 82 and 88 yards on last two drives, that’s not just luck.

Okay, Troy Aikman kept reminding everyone that, except for the pass rush, the Panthers defense has been getting gashed by *everyone* this year.

Rodgers was 17/29 for 233 yards and no touchdowns. How many defensive coordinators would take that line against Green Bay? Despite his 7/118 yard game receiving, DeVonte Adams didn’t score either. When we keep seeing the sort of runs that make long drives possible, like Aaron Jones 13/93 and 3 TDS, and Adams seemingly going wherever he wanted to, that is some cause for Panther concern. The Falcons have some pass catchers this coming week, and Drew Brees, despite a sub-par return game, has some personnel in New Orleans to throw to after that.

There were an awful lot of single tackle stats from the front seven, even Luke Kuechly, to say anyone should think things are okay though. Alvin Kamara is waiting in the Superdome, getting him on the ground will be an important factor. Reid has been good about coming up to make tackles from safety, Ross Cockrell and Tre Boston are steady, Donte Jackson has make up speed, and he’s needed it more than he should in catching people.

This is what being a fan is about, right?

Even with the knowledge Cam’s season is over after being put on injured reserve, there is more than just a good attitude among the Panther faithful after this game. The team was 6-2 this time last year, and of course, there was that seven game skid after the Steelers debacle. While McCaffrey had a statistically great year, going from 11-5 to 7-9 tested everyone’s concern.

Without being a Homer in cheering for losses, the next two weeks will be division games against the Falcons and Saints. Matt Ryan isn’t usually the QB who beats you running around (last year, oh my!), so lets see how tough the Panthers pass rush is at home. Games in the Superdome with Brees are always tough, but half the division games are at the other guys place.  Panthers lost to Saints three times last year, its time to do better.

For those watching the 1,000/1,000 stats on McCaffrey, its 165 carries for 881 yards and 10 TDs rushing.  For all the checkdown passes he caught last year (107 overall), its possible that Allen finding receivers downfield – Olsen was 8/98 yards, Curtis Samuel 4/35 and a TD, Jarius Wright, 1/21 yards – are probably affecting his total of 48/396 yards, three touchdowns in 2019.

We all got to watch a game that was worth talking about at work today. Right now, take the loss – and very definitely the experience – and move on.

McCaffrey goes long on 84-yarder v. Jags, Panthers defense stops hot Minshaw at end

This is the same view Jaguars got of C-MC (cee-mack) on Panthers team record 84-yard run. Even Mr. Modesty checked himself on the big scoreboard.

While my keyboard time usually involves more content creation and long-form informational blogging recently, I’m still a sportswriter-fan who is thrilled at how the local Panthers are handling matters. Quarterback Kyle Allen has gone 3-0 since Cam Newton’s foot injury turned out to be more of a real problem, and the 34-27 win over Jacksonville was nothing but positive on many fronts.

Hey, you all had the TV on by the time McCaffrey flipped over two Jacksonville defenders into the end zone for a TD at the end of Panthers first drive, right? And you *KNEW* the linebacker who wound up on him in the slot was toast as soon as McCaffrey planted to cut inside, and scored on an 18-yard reception, right?

On an afternoon when McCaffrey crushed the concept of running back (‘weapon’ works, might be un-PC though), and looked *Good!* holding his form all the way on an 84-yard lightening bolt  run – even Mr. Modesty looked at the big board – it was a gratifying, all around good team win.

At some point in the future, the Panthers are going to want to put a statue of Christian McCaffrey on the stadium grounds, just don’t expect him to pose for it.  Clearly not the man’s style, although he’s the High Achiever type, and recognition comes with that.

Along that line, congratulations to the four gentlemen inducted into the Hall of Honor: Tight end Wesley Walls,  offensive tackle Jordon Gross, the quarterback that took the Panthers to their first Super Bowl, Jake Delhomme, and the epitome of effort,  wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr.

Smaller congrats to Coach Ron Rivera, whose 74 victories with the Panthers makes him the franchise’s winning-est coach.

Charlotte fans still in the upper decks to witness it

Without getting wild ‘n crazy over 3-2, it was a satisfying victory over the Jaguars, who came into the NFL in 1995, same as the Panthers. Watching the entire game, on an optimal Carolina afternoon without massive heat, the Panthers always seemed to be in control, although Jag QB Gardner Minchaw II and a couple other Jags had pretty strong days too.

If you appreciate what Kyle Allen has done in managing the team to three victories, imagine how they feel in Jacksonville with Nick Foles going down. Minchaw hung a 26/34 (76%), 374 yards, two touchdown day on the board against what had been Panthers #1 ranked defense against the pass (Panthers had two sacks). He also hit DJ Chark (8/164 yards, 2 TD) for three gainers of over 30 yards, had six scrambles for 66 yards, and there was still a possibility – because Joey Slye missed a PAT – for the Jaguars until the chaos of three ‘final’ plays.

Kuechly batting the ball down was the end of a long afternoon for the Panthers, although I’d be willing to acknowledge Minchaw’s pyrotechnics on his ability to evade a strong pass rush than any lack of effort up front.

On that item, I’m willing to forget 2018, when Eric Washington’s front seven simply didn’t get to QBs, and the defense was repeatedly torched along the way. The rush had an excellent game against the Texans Deshaun Watson (which he took out on Atlanta 53-32). Rookie LB Brian Burns had an outstanding strip-sack/touchdown run Sunday, and Ross Cockrell, who didn’t play last year after a broken leg in training camp, is showing up regularly (6 tackles) in the secondary.

Let’s admit that McCaffrey’s shot-from-a-cannon 84-yarder looked faster for longer than Fornette’s 49-yarder, but seeing Fornette outrun Luke Keuchly’s angle to the edge and then motor away, that’s what 4.4 speed looks like. For those who still worry about Cee-Mack getting worn out/overused, the way he grinds out 3-4 yard carries is why those extra ten pounds of muscle this year count, and he sure didn’t LOOK any slower, did he?

Olsen didn’t draw any throws, and that’s never really acceptable in my book. Olsen has always been a favorite receiver for Newton, and Allen did find him twice in that first four touchdown game though. The best explanation is that Olsen is part of that core leadership (Thomas Davis out, Gerald McCoy in) the Panthers benefit from. He’s all about TEAM, and if extra blocking against the Jags pretty good defensive rush was necessary to keep #7 clean, he knows his number isn’t being called for a reason.

It has never seemed like without Newton all was lost, like last year.

This coming Sunday the Panthers play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, UK, then have a bye week before going to San Francisco, with a chance to be 6-2 again at mid-point of the season if they beat the Titans to begin November. A win vs. Bucs might not seal them in cellar, because Atlanta isn’t doing so hot. The Saints? Ten wins? Newton ready after the bye?

“Believing” already isn’t how things roll in Charlotte

There have been up-down years in Charlotte, even two Super Bowl trips, but for 25 years as a franchise here in “The Buckle on the Bible Belt,” every good year has been followed by misery for the Panthers. There’s a collective holding back that only disappears at times like that Thanksgiving game against Dallas to go 11-0 in 2015. That’s when a lot of people voiced the same thing, about finally believing it was okay to think they could be THAT good.

I’m of the belief that this is 25th anniversary version is actually much better than the 2018 team, and not just pickin’ at hearts early and then going belly-up, like those seven losses in a row after 6-2 start.

The offensive line looks to be righteous – the Panthers had 285 yards rushing, and when your boy leads the league, that’s something to hang your hat on. Reggie Bonnafon’s five carries for 80 yards, including a 59-yard TD run, meant there was no need to bring McCaffrey back into the game after a minor injury in the 4th quarter.

Even if Allen has now been sacked just under three times a game, yes, eat the ball young man! (still 0 INTs this year).  507 yards of Jaguar’s offense aside, every aspect is MUCH better than Panthers 2018, certainly the pass rush has a restored sense of pride.

If the question comes up about what HASN’T McCaffrey done for this team, he doesn’t sell popcorn at halftime as they sometimes say, and he failed to convert a pair of short 4th down runs – one of which might have won the Bucs game.

Very few people will remember that, but for Mr. McCaffrey, that’s the extra bit of fire you might not see along with those great guns of his. Figuring out how much further to a 1,000-1,000 rushing/receiving season is legit.