Monday, December 29, 2008

Week 17: NFC South Champs

Brethren: The last game of the regular season provided just as much drama as you would expect from a team that can't shake its "Cardiac Cats" moniker. Leading 30-10 going into the final quarter, the Carolina Panthers promptly gave up 21 straight points to a humming pass-happy New Orleans offense, and found themselves down 31-30. New Orleans' only problem was they left over 3 minutes on the clock to a team that knows how to run a two-minute offense.

Either that, or Steve Smith did his Superman bailout thing again. On the first play of the potential game-winning drive, Jake Delhomme bought time in a pocket that was quickly collapsing, and as he was about to get nailed by two defenders, heaved a jump ball downfield towards a double-teamed Smitty. Result: another amazing catch by Smitty, a clock-killing drive, and a John Kasay field goal that wrapped up a 33-31 win, the NFC South championship, and the #2 seed in the NFC for the playoffs.

I shouldn't be surprised by Steve Smith anymore, but I am. He fought over two defenders, secured the ball, and made my life a lot more happy. He's just unreal. He did this against Green Bay earlier this year, and he's done it countless times in his career as a Panther. I thank my lucky stars for Steve Smith every Sunday.

So in a game that almost quick-sanded away, the Carolina Panthers eeked one out, and established a 12-4 record on the season for just the second time in team history.

One more thing before we get to our more ramblingish thoughts: on Christmas Day, I gave myself the pleasure of re-reading the Carolina Panthers preview that the Sports Brethren wrote for Deadspin. I don't mention this to toot our own horns (because, seriously, we pretty much nailed every aspect of that preview), but just to remember where this season started. It's far from over, but it was good to reflect. As this blog has become exceedingly Panther-specific, I can't imagine a better season for us to do it.

More thoughts, desde:

Brethren (cont'd): For the final time this regular season, the patented, bulleted Brethren thoughts:

- There's no way John Fox would ever admit to this, but I kinda saw this fourth quarter lead give-away and reclamation as exactly how I would do it if I were playing a video game. After going three and out as New Orleans had made it a six point game by effortlessly scoring two passing touchdowns, wouldn't you at least entertain purposefully shanking a punt so you can give the other team a short field to work with, give them the TD, the lead, and leave enough time on the clock to make the game-winning drive? I mean, in a video game, that scenario definitely goes through my mind. Now, knowing the Silver Fox, I can guarantee this is NOT what he was thinking. But it worked out all the same, huh?

- Another fantastic day by Smash N Dash. DeAngelo set the single-season record for a Carolina Panthers running back and capped a break-out season by cranking out 178 dagger-to-the-heart yards, and several big ones on the last drive. Stewart had one ridiculous run where he was stuffed by five guys in the backfield, never went down, and bounced outside for a dozen yards -- and he had a solid touchdown run.

- The Panthers coaching staff's propensity to go conservative on offense with a lead two weeks in a rows scares the shit out of me. I will be so pissed if that's the reason our season ends in the playoffs, because at this point, it's just become so predictable.

- With that said, I love that we won and got the bye week. Should be enough time to get our big boys in the middle of our D-Line back and prepare for the first playoff game in Charlotte since 2003. Whichever meek bird we're playing, I know damn well the Queen City will be rocking.

Fuck. and. yes.

Nacho: On Saturday night the SportsCousin, aka Trey, walked up to spend the night at my place and before saying hello or anything, he asked "Do you think there should be seeded playoffs?" Sure, we hadn't seen each other in over a week, and the last time we were supposed to see one another was when Trey didn't pick me up and take me to the airport, the Pats could miss the playoffs with one less win than the Panthers, and this is a legitimate question with a great debate behind it. Should a team like the Cardinals or Chargers get to the post season over a team with a better record? Trey and I both decided that yes, the playoffs should be seeded. Trey said when he brought this up to his coworkers, their first complaint was "What if you win your division and don't get in?"

We decided that Division Champs is good for breaking tie breaks, but should not guarantee a post season berth. The more I think about it, I find it odd that I took this stance so willingly, but it's true. The NFC South was the best division in pro football this year by leaps and bounds. It speaks volumes that yesterday, when the Panthers beat the Saints, was the first time all season that the visiting team of an NFC South vs NFC South match up won. The NFC South was ridiculous and everyone finished above .500. In summation: I've got every reason to defend Division Champs = playoffs, and yet, I don't. Probably because we only lost four games this season.

Anyway, the Cats continue building momentum and are playing the best ball they have been all year. It's been a helluva season, and one I won't soon forget. I've loved the highs and lows, and I'm still kind of flabbergasted that DeAngelo broke our rushing record in a platooned backfield.

I trust the Silver Fox won't let these fellers rest on their haunches and I look forward to facing a worthy opponent in two weeks.
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Week 16: Will this be our "Patriots loss"?

Brethren: That's about the only thing I'm clinging to this morning. Last year, the NY Giants infamously took a 16-0 Patriots team down to the wire in a Week 17 loss, giving them the confidence that they could play with the best team in the league. They then went on a 4-game road win streak to win the Super Bowl. Could this overtime, "should have won but didn't" loss in the Meadowlands be the same kind of propulsion the Panthers need to take home their own Super Bowl title this year?

Like I said, it's all I've got.

We got beat at our own game: power football. We had control through the fourth quarter -- a few things bounce differently for us and that's a huge road win. Instead, we probably got too conservative on our last few drives, pining for a field goal and defensive stop that never materialized.

It was a heart-wrenching loss in that I know we could and should have won that game. Four beastly touchdowns from DeAngelo; a beastly performance by Steve Smith (why do we ever stop giving him the ball); some jarring big hits on defense; and it was all for naught. The silver lining is that this is just a regular season game -- it counts as much as the Tampa debacle, the Atlanta loss, or the Week 3 Vikings loss.

More musings desde

Brethren: Oh! I found one more silver lining: now the Silver Fox is forced to play our starters and get that win next week. If we can go on the road and beat an NFC South opponent (something no one in the division has done this year), we'll take home the #2 seed and division title. Lose, and we're a road wild card team. Given our 8-0 success at home this year, I really really want that home January game and the bye week.

Foxey: we need a W this week. Then shit gets real.

Nacho: The SportsParents put the kabbash on me watching last night's game in a bar, so I ended up in our quaint living room, surrounded by some family friends in a cocktail party setting. The compromise was that I was allowed to behave in my usual manner (read: every other word out of my mouth is fuck; this affliction was named "Situational Tourrettes") The game happened, the fridge has a dent in it, and my fist hurts today. To dull the throbbing pain, I went down to Bank of America Stadium and bought over one hundred dollars in Panthers paraphernalia. Retail therapy rocks, but---

Oh my god....Oh my god....Is that Will Clegg's music?? IS THAT WILL CLEGG'S MUSIC?!?!

Ladies and gentleman, a Panther fan who actually attended last night's game. The one, the only, Will Clegg:

I have attended many a Panthers game in my time, but never in the other team's house until the epic battle for the number one seed on Sunday night. The Clegg bretheren made the short trek to East Rutherford, NJ, and here my non-patented, random thoughts, as they actually occurred:

7:15pm Why did we get here an hour early? It is cold as hell. This italian sausage sandwich is terrible. I can't believe... Oh shit! Steve Smith is yelling at Antonio Pierce! That's why I came early. TELL 'EM SMITTY!

1st Quarter- DeAngelo scores. Panthers are awesome. I am so cold.

2nd Quarter - DeAngelo scores again. This time I got a picture of the touchdown dive. I can't feel my toes. I pray that Brandon Jacobs continues to limp around the sideline.

2nd Quarter - Jacobs is back. God hates me after all.

Still 2nd Quarter - OMFG we are leading 21-10! This is amazing, I'm here in the Meadowlands with my brother, watching my team win, I'm so happy and - OW THAT ICE BALL THAT JUST HIT ME IN THE BACK OF THE NECK REALLY HURT!

3rd Quarter - We are not scoring. Steve Smith is not touching the ball. I can feel my toes again, but this is bad because they hurt so much.

4th Quarter - We are winning 28-20. FINISH THE @#$!^$#&ING GAME! Derrick Ward is a dick!

4th Quarter - Field goal is good! Oh, no wait, no it's not. Oh god. I am uncomfortable with the old man pointing in my face right now.

Overtime - We lost the coin toss. If my tear ducts were not frozen, I would cry right now.

Game Over. Derrick Ward is a super huge dick. At least it won't be an hour and half before I get home.

I must say that overall, Giants fans were pretty pleasant. They seemed to recognize that the Panthers came to play and were pretty good, and some even showed genuine concern for our game next week. Many commented on what a great game it was. But to the one who hit me in neck with an ice-ball: we will be back in January. And you will take an ice-ball to the nuts when the Cats win the NFC.

photo courtesy of Will Clegg
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Week 15: The Homes Stretch

Nacho: For the second time in the team's history, the Carolina Panthers finished the season 8-0. The other time we did that, we got beat by the Packers in the NFC Champioship. Not that anybody's counting...

The Cats looked textbook strong against the Broncos. The O-line made mincemeat out of a formidable Broncos D. Smithy got his. Fox continues to make the adjustments he needs to within the game with remarkable awareness. Denver has no run defense? Denver has no rushing game? Sweet!

It was also good to see a cameo from the man himself, Jerry Richardson. Always good to see old Jerry rockin' out, and staying warm.

The rest of the season's no cakewalk for the Panthers. Coming up they've got the Giants; a quirk in the universe has turned the 2008 Panthers into the 2007 Giants, where we're playing our best ball at the end of the season. Should be interesting to see if the Giants can continue their self-implosion.

Brethren's thoughts and various other sundries lie beyond...

Brethren waits in the tall grass...

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Week 14: A Historically Good Night

Brethren: Who did what to the what now? The Carolina Panthers rushed for nearly 300 yards and 4 touchdowns against a run defense that had previously given up 1 rushing touchdown over the entire 2008 season? These little, old, barely-beating-the-Lions-and-Raiders Carolina Panthers? The ones no one at Sports Illustrated thought could hold the jock strap of the mighty and fierce Tampa Bay Bucaqueers? Surely you jest -- it simply cannot be!

I jest motherfucking not.

On the biggest stage in football, under the brightest lights a young swash-buckling town like Charlotte could produce, the Carolina Panthers pulled away from their most hated rival in complete and utterly dominating fashion, winning Monday night 38-23, behind a historically good running game. First place in the toughest division in football? For now. First place in all the NFC? Could be.

Monday night was a night that allowed Panthers fans to dream big, as big as a NFL fan can dream. It had everything you'd come to expect from a crushing Panther victory: sacks and big plays by Peppers and Beason; plays that make you curse and love Jake Delhomme; big catches for first downs and touchdowns by Smitty; and now, an absolutely dominant run game. We'll breakdown more desde:

Brethren (cont'd): Some patented bulleted Brethren thoughts:

- If the NFC Pro Bowl team doesn't contain someone off this Carolina Panthers offensive line, it would be a sore oversight. My vote right now would be for LG Travelle Wharton -- that man has been playing great football. Last week in the Green Bay game, beyond his blocking, he hustled and recovered the Stewart fumble 40 yards past the line of scrimmage. This week, it seemed like every big DeAngelo and Stewart run (which happened, oh, every other rushing play) was one where Big T was pulling left or right. Here's a guy who was the starting left tackle last year -- the premiere position on the O-Line -- and he moved inside to left guard during the offseason as Silver Fox and Hurney revamped the starting five to be as mammoth as possible. Wharton didn't see it as a demotion or anything like that -- he embraced it and now is playing as noticeably good as a left guard can play.

- The big knock on the Panthers offense is that it's always too one-dimensional. Who do they have beyond Steve Smith? And if we run the ball well, it's well, that's just what John Fox likes to do. Please: this offense is plenty explosive, but strives for a balanced, dagger-esque identity. Last night, that's exactly how they played.

- Seeing the run game dominate like this made me realize the Silver Fox is just trying to not have to rely solely on Jake to win a game. It can and has been done -- but we're much better off not having to have Jake force things, like he did several times Monday night. Great games by Smitty and Moose though.

- The pass defense still seems too vulnerable to the big play, but I think that's the nature of the aggressive, blitz-heavy Carolina D. We have faith to put the corners on an island, and last night, that almost bit us too many times. But ultimately, the superior pass rush and pressure won out.

- One more home game, next week against the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos. Get that win, go 8-0 at home, and start prepping for D-day against the Super Bowl champs on the road for a real test of character. Let's keep this motherfucking train going.

Nacho: Shortly after the Panthers dispatched of the Bucs our mom texted me to say "Peter whoever eat shit!!!" It was her use of coarse language, not to mention three exclamation points, that tipped me off that she was fired up. Smitty's third quarter foot-draggin' TD was made right in front of her. It felt good knowing a family member was getting to witness this remarkable night in person.

This was the game our entire season had been leading up to. Steve Smith said in the locker room after the game that he'd like to keep things the way they are. He meant this in relation to the way the media views this Carolina squad. As Brethren pointed out, no one in the sports media feels necessarily moved by the Cats, and refuse to give them the time of day. If there's one through line sentiment that connects the Super Bowl 2003 squad and this one, it's the enormous chip on both's shoulders. Both's? Boths? Weird.

Last night was magical, it was cathartic, and most of all, it was impressive. Now it's time to move on. The Giants game doesn't exist yet. There is only one thing that should be on everybody's mind right now:

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Week 13: The Power Of Inevitability

Nacho: Perhaps the most unique thing about Sunday's come-from-behind victory for the Carolina Panthers was how routine it was. By the time the Packers had marched down to their own 30 yard line on their second-to-last drive, I was outwardly rooting for the Cats to just let them score so we could make our own go at the end zone. A defense that had seemed befuddled by Aaron Rodgers's ability to pick apart their schemes, however, did not concur. Instead our boys did what they seem to do about every other week this season. Put up a goal line stand.

They did. Coach McCarthy, whom I'm pretty sure wore the motion capture suit for the humans in Wall-E, opted for a field goal and when that happened I looked to my left at the gaggle of Green Bayers and smiled.

"Game over."

Had I been a man of chance, I'd say what we had was a sure thing.

My eloquent conclusion, and Brethren's unique trapped-in-airport bulleted thoughts, after..

The graphic came up on the screen announcing that Jake Delhomme had 17 4th quarter comebacks in his career. I solemnly sat down and explained to Doug and the other Packer fans that this is simply what we do. We race out to early leads, we squander said leads, we give home teams a ray of hope (see also: Diego, San) and then we rip your heart out in front your fanbase. It's a dick move, but it's our bread and butter. Well, that, and throwing to Smitty.

this is Doug.

It was a game of momentum, with pendulous swings for both teams. Jake did another turn as Zelig, playing just well enough to beat the opposing team. He even pulled a Brett Farve on that last pass to Smitty, heaving it off his back foot. No one else coulda caught that thing. Tampa Bay's defense has been their core this year, but their offense hung 27 on us last time around. Our D's gotta show up a helluva lot better than they did Sunday if we want to win.

Brethren showed me how ol' Patty Y over at thinks the statistics for home teams in the NFC South favor a Panther victory, come Monday.

I sure as hell hope so.

Brethren: I was in the midst of my nightmarish post-Thanksgiving travel itinenary during this weekend's game, so the only quarter I caught on TV was the fourth. I spent the first half in a car on my way to the Norfolk airport, with 3 women more interested in counting up the amount of "good proteins and calories" in their week of eating than football. I was vainly trying to listen to the play-by-play of the Bucs-Saints game for updates on the Panthers. Needlesstosay, I was ready to get to the airport's sports bar to finally watch my Cats play on the Frozen Tundra.

Once I arrived at the quaint Norfolk airport, I immediately found out my flight back to New York had been canceled. I was then stuck trying to decide whether I should tend to getting a new flight or watching the suddenly close 21-21 game. I settled on just calling Delta instead of waiting in the 300+ person line, and sat on hold as I watched the Panthers fight it to the death in Green Bay.

Therefore, much of my lamenting, cursing, and celebrating came as I was also talking to a Delta representative on the other end of the line. Here are some bulleted thoughts, representative of that odd phone call/viewing of a dramatic Panthers win:

- Even if Smitty is all we have, he may just be enough. Yes, DeWilliams is 'Dash'ing it up and scoring at will recently, but the Carolina Panthers are not that dynamic without Smitty. But with him, they possess just a whole 'nother gear.

- Loved the late hit by Pep, and his explanation of it after the game. He said he saw Rodgers fake going out of bounds the play before and ended up with 6 more yards. He was not going to let that happen, fifteen yard penalty be damned. Loved it.

- Really enjoyed the flea flicker to Moose to start the game. All week, to Fox's chagrin, some players reported that the team had been practicing a little harder to try to correct the recent habit of starting slow. It was good to see that play-call; we just need to see Moose not fumble the ball.

- Moose said after the game that we may look back and see this game as a huge win, as a win that gave this team the backbone to go compete in the NFL Playoffs. Let's see it -- big MNF game coming up.

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