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.