Ricky Williams has spent the last few days responding to reports of a racial profiling incident he was recently involved in while visiting Texas for a ceremony.
Ricky Williams has spent the last few days responding to reports of a racial profiling incident he was recently involved in while visiting Texas for a ceremony.
A bummer of a game from the Charlotte Hornets, really.
Hey, it was certainly entertaining, complete with Frank Kaminsky one-man fast breaks, Tyler Hansbrough and Bismack Biyombo staredowns, and Toronto Raptors color-man Jack Armstrong referring to himself as “Joey Bagadonuts.
The Carolina Panthers’ pursuit of a 16-0 regular season fell by the wayside, but they’re still one win away from securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
But they won’t be at full strength when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers will hold Pro Bowl RB Jonathan Stewart and his bum foot out for the third consecutive week. Deep threat WR Ted Ginn Jr. is doubtful with a knee injury, and RB Fozzy Whittaker (ankle) won’t play. MVP frontrunner and Pro Bowl TE Greg Olsen may again have to shoulder much of the offensive workload and hope WRs Jerricho Cotchery, Devin Funchess and Corey Brown can contribute along with RBs Mike Tolbert and Cameron Artis-Payne.
I was wrong. I am happy to tell you I was wrong.
On May 7, 2013, I wrote a column declaring that the Carolina Panthers were going nowhere with Cam Newton and Ron Rivera.
Yep — I nailed it!
A little backstory on that column from three offseasons ago …
I have no regrets about what I wrote. Zero. Seriously. At the time of publishing, I believed every single word of it. Before penning the piece, I remember checking in with a few general managers, personnel directors, analysts and even some media types in Carolina who have the pulse of the team. That helped shape my opinion. And most especially, like everything I write or say, it was genuinely how I felt, what I observed to be backed up by fact. Rivera was a poor in-game coach. Cam was immature and not accurate with the football.
In fact, I had a very fascinating talk with my editor before I even wrote the piece. We didn’t think the subject matter would necessarily pop because the opinion was rather mainstream and Captain Obvious.
I had no idea about the proverbial hornet’s nest I was walking into. The North Carolina natives went bonkers.
I make my living giving opinions on sports via radio, television and the Internet. I usually have a pretty good sense of what the reaction to a story will be, what will work, what will sell. Trolling? True story: The first time I ever heard the expression was in the wake of my Cam/Ron column. I had to ask my radio producer what it meant!
I knew Panthers fans were amazing and passionate. But I got a new introduction that day. And that week. And month. And year. And the last two-plus years. And today. Seriously. (You don’t have to tweet me that column. I’m aware of it. I wrote it.)
And I am thrilled to be wrong.
At that time, back in May of 2013, Rivera had an established reputation as a tentative head coach. He started the 2013 campaign on the hot seat, no surprise to us, and got off to a horrendous 1-3 start that cranked up the heat even more. (Just ask my man Ian Rapoport!)
Then the legend of “Riverboat Ron” was born.
Rivera got aggressive and began to trust his gut. Carolina won 11 of its final 12 regular-season games that season — including eight in a row at one point — and took the NFC South with a sparkling 12-4 record.
Last year, the Panthers got off to another horrible start (3-8-1) but closed the season with four straight wins and another division title (albeit in an awful NFC South, but I digress). Kudos to the coach for the strong finish. Rivera held the team together.
What’s happening this year is incredible. Carolina has developed a knack for playing its best when it matters the most. Credit the coach.
I talked to Panthers star tight end Greg Olsen on my SiriusXM Radio show, “Schein on Sports,” followingthe statement win in Seattle one month ago. Olsen said that the fight the team had displayed down the stretch last season has carried over: “It’s just been the story of our team. You saw it last year, 3-8-1 and the next thing you know we were 7-8-1 and won a playoff game. I just think that culture of continuing to fight, continuing to play when things aren’t always going to go your way.”
Which leads us to Cam Newton.
I roasted Cam for his immature comments before the 2011 NFL Draft —“I see myself not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon” — and I ripped him for his out-of-touch Superman celebration in the second half of a nationally televised blowout loss to the New York Giants in 2012.
Over the last three seasons, Cam has developed the ability to thrive while facing adversity in the fourth quarter, even when he’s had an uneven game throwing the football. That’s toughness. That’s leadership. That’s maturity. That’s why he, in my opinion, currently trails only Tom Brady in the 2015 NFL MVP race.
“He’s a clutch guy. He thrives in those moments,” Olsen said. “When things aren’t going our way, he gets it done. Seattle was a perfect example. Three quarters, our passing game was kind of hot and cold. But when we needed him the most, needed the passing game the most, he’s locked in. We were locked in. He lives to play the next play.”
And I loved what longtime Panthers star Thomas Davis — the epitome of class in the NFL — told me on SiriusXM about Cam’s maturation: “As a young kid, he came in and had a lot thrown on his shoulders early. But now, he’s grown into the leader that we fully expected him to become, and his maturity level has gone up tremendously accepting that role.”
Davis then slammed home the turning point, as he saw it, for Cam: “When I think of the true testament and the true show of leadership is when a guy is able to step up when things are not going well and communicate it to the team. That we all need to be better — and he’ll be the first one to point out that it started with him. I think a lot of that started when we went two months last year without winning a football game. He put it on his shoulders and said he needed to play better, regardless of what we had gone through as a team. He put it on his shoulders, and that’s when you started to see the growth. That’s when you started to see the guy step up and become the leader of this football team. And he’s been going ever since.”
That’s a superb anecdote. That was the change we needed to see. I’m thrilled to be wrong, seeing Cam being capable of that.
Earlier this week, haters and critics flocked to mock and ridicule Cam for dancing after a touchdown run that sealed the deal in a hard-fought win over Tennessee. I loved it. It fit the time and score, and he earned it. Just likeJ.J. Watt when he celebrates a sack orAaron Rodgers when he does the championship-belt bit and skips around the field. They earned it. Cam earned it. Celebrate. Validate. Appreciate. If theTitans have an issue, stop him.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. These Panthers are hard to stop, to say the least. That’s a valuable lesson I’ve learned, after doubting this team — yet again — in the preseason.
You would think I would’ve learned from prior mistakes. Shame on me.
I had the 2015 Panthers buried after star receiver Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season in August. Oh, I quipped that I didn’t know if the Panthers had a receiving corps or a witness protection program.Ted Ginn Jr.? Jerricho Cotchery? What year is this? Philly Brown? Wait, what? Neophyte Devin Funchess as the No. 1?
I thought the Panthers would win six or seven games!
In related news, the O-line has been strong.
And I ripped Carolina over Newton’s offseason contract extension. A higher guaranteed-money figure than completion percentage?
Cam has proven that his value goes way beyond stats. Gettleman was right. Again.
I was wrong. Again.
You know, there was a time, back in the Mike Rucker/Jake Delhomme/John Fox days, when I was actually referred to as aPanthers homer. I used to sing “The Carolina Panthers, bringing the pain!” from the old theme song when I did videos on FOX. To this day, we still use that song on the radio show.
Carolina has earned respect. So have Cam and Riverboat Ron. They’ve changed since May 7, 2013 — and I’ve changed my tune about them.
I’m happy to have missed the boat completely on them. They are so much fun to watch.
Hopefully, you folks will allow me back in the state again.
Nicolas Batum scored 33 points and Al Jefferson added 29 as the Charlotte Hornets held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 106-94 on Sunday.
“As long as I don’t feel he’s instigating things, I don’t think there should be issues,” Rivera said Monday as the Panthers (9-0) began preparing for Washington.
Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey saw it another way a day after basically brushing it off as no big deal.
“I think that’s a little rub-it-in-your-face type of deal, and there is a little code of ethics in the NFL and not a good move,” Mularkey said.
“I think that’s a little rub-it-in-your-face type of deal and there is a little code of ethics in the NFL and not a good move.”
Titans coach Mike Mularkey
Newton skipped his normal “Superman” celebration following his 2-yard run in the fourth quarter and went with an Atlanta-based dance called the “dab.”
His dabbin’ upset Titans linebacker Avery Williamson, who got into Newton’s face. Newton provoked the situation further by dabbin’ again.
Officials rushed to separate the players before it escalated, as happened in New Orleans last season, when Newton was doing his “Superman” celebration.
Back then, Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan shoved Newton in the back. The players began jawing in each other’s faces before players from both sides got involved.
Panthers tight end Brandon Williams was ejected after throwing several punches at Jordan.
Sunday’s exchange ended quickly, as Newton ran back onto the field, grabbed the football and delivered it to a Carolina fan as he traditionally does after a touchdown.
“As hard as this game is, and as difficult as it is and as entertaining as it is, it’s all a part of the entertainment,” Rivera said.
“As hard as this game is, and as difficult as it is and as entertaining as it is, it’s all a part of the entertainment.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera
Rivera said he was all right with that “as long as it’s not overly outlandish, as long as it’s in a respectful manner, as long as he’s not taunting them.”
The Titans didn’t make a big deal about the celebration until Monday.
“I think Avery was frustrated by it, but I think there was a whole lot of people frustrated by it,” Mularkey said. “I’m proud of [Williamson] for what he did. He stood up for our team.”
Nothing was said of the dance Williamson did after making a play.
“You see it constantly,” Rivera said, not referring to Williamson’s dance. “It’s something I don’t understand, because a guy makes a tackle for a 6-yard gain and he gets up and points to the back of his jersey. I struggle with that. The guy just gained 6 yards on you.”
Rivera said social media has changed the way people look at the game.
“It’s also affected the way some of the players look at the game,” he said. “To a degree, it has become more than just the competition of the game.
“It’s become a little bit of the entertainment. Beyond the running, the tackling, the hitting, the passing and catching, it’s become about the flashiness, the ability to kind of be a showman.”
Rivera, who played for the 1985 Chicago Bears who introduced the world to the “Super Bowl Shuffle,” says he’s all right with the entertainment factor as long as it doesn’t get into taunting.
“But let’s be smart about it, and let’s make sure we’re not taunting,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s his intent at all — ever.”
The Carolina Panthers are not doing it with style points. The reality is this team just continues to log victories without any need for the catch-stat performances the current aberration of the game greatly favors.
The Panthers are 7-0 and are just good at football.
As the Packers come off a surprisingly poor performance against the Broncos that Cheeseheads everywhere hope was a mirage, they collide with that one team in the NFL that wins much more on collective rather than star performance. Somehow, someway the Panthers are the fourth-highest scoring team in the NFL. Yet one of the safest bets in non-Carolina markets around the country is asking someone to name all the offensive contributors for the Panthers.
Nevertheless, they are still a huge threat to a Packers team looking to keep a speed bump from decomposing into a slide.
It can’t be smoke and mirrors — the NFL has no endorsement deal for either of those things. So how does this Panthers offense get it done?
Cam Newton is the unquestioned star of the Panthers offense, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get 400-yard passing games with barrels of touchdown passes. His reputation for wildly athletic scrambles from the pocket and big, downfield throws after escaping pressure are well-earned and still a serious threat. Containing Newton in the pocket and not allowing him to run wild for big gains on pass plays is an obvious key for n defense, and will be no different for the Packers.
But the more important development to understand for a defense preparing for the 2015 Panthers offense is that Cam isn’t just Cam the running quarterback — he’s a bonafide running back option for Carolina.
“But wait . . . aren’t those basically one and the same?” Not exactly.
Skillful scrambling quarterbacks are one thing in the NFL — there are several of those. But quarterbacks who audible and call their own numbers as direct-snap ball-carriers are an entirely different animal because it significantly changes the blockers a defensive front has to account for to have proper fits and not get gashed.
The following example shows arithmetic on the defense’s right that would normally close off that side as a run option. But with Newton at quarterback, that side is actually still very alive because the running backs are simply used as lead blockers — often without any read-option element (below).
What this means in live action is if the Packers aren’t able to hold Newton to modest gains on these kinds of plays (three yards or less, essentially) they’ll need to go to eight-man boxes to make sure they aren’t short a gap in their run front.
This Panthers pass offense isn’t one that sits back and picks a defense apart with 45 throws a game, but if they can induce a defense into eight-man boxes through these unusual running scheme plays, the passing game and those wide receivers whose names you barely know fast become open for business.
NO EDGE, NO CHANCE
This is a relatively simple theme that shows up for many teams in the NFL, but it’s particularly important against Carolina because of the collection of dynamic runners they have in their backfield. Running back Jonathan Stewart can run with power, but time and again throughout this season he’s surprised an edge defender responsible for “setting the edge” of the defense with his bounce-out ability (see below).
Green Bay has good symmetry and athleticism on the edges of their defense with outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Nick Perry, but so do many teams. The big trap teams fall into against the Panthers offense is getting “nosy” — playing against the Carolina edge blockers too tight so that defenders don’t really have leverage on either Stewart or Newton when they take off to the outside with their surprising burst.
Securing the edges of both the passing pocket and the run-blocking front are something that the Packers have to mind every snap throughout the game. The Panthers have a quirky habit of hitting their head against the wall to no avail for several snaps until somebody gets nosy on the edge and then blasting off a game-breaking run.
ICE THE BLITZ
The Packers are one of those teams that loves to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks with creative rush schemes. One of the biggest aspects of Cam’s game that’s grown in 2015 is his ability to stay calm under pressure and either deliver a quality ball or scorch that pressure with his feet. It’s probably illegal to admit as much, but Newton is far better at this critical aspect of big-time quarterbacking than the Wilsons and Lucks of the world.
If the Packers want to rely heavily on the blitz against Newton, they’re playing with fire. Because of his rare size and cannon arm, he shows great patience when the rush comes, willing to take the hit and still throw a strike under duress (below).
Newton’s pre- and post-snap diagnosis of pressure schemes is miles ahead of where it was just a couple years ago. He’s still apt to make a mistake, but are plenty of examples on tape of him doing so without a thinned secondary due to a pressure scheme. Especially since his receiving targets aren’t world-beaters, the decision to put less people where he’ll be throwing the ball is the kind of decision that gets you beat against this particular team.
OVERLOAD WITH OLSEN
Because the Panthers are so insistent on winning on the ground, a super-skilled tight end that can block and catch is the perfect compliment. Greg Olsen is one of those rare players who never comes off the field and really excels in all aspects of his job. He’s not a glass-eater in run-game blocking like Rob Gronkowski, but he’s proficient enough that his location in the formation is no key on the direction of the play. The Panthers are more than willing to put the point of attack in the run game right behind him.
Because he’s a significant player in the run game, jamming him in the passing game becomes more problematic for linebackers because they have to honor their line and backfield keys and not get caught chasing Olsen — who may be blocking.
The Panthers offense clicks at its highest level when Olsen gets involved in the passing game, both as a vertical seam threat and as a sticks player on third downs. The example below shows Olsen’s ability to threaten the deep part of the field through the seam and simple out jump defensive backs for 50-50 balls.
If there’s a single pass catcher on the Panthers offense that the Packers must give extra attention in coverage, it’s Olsen. A blunted Panthers running game with controlled tight end passing production is a recipe for success — a recipe that other teams are surely aware of, but thus far unable to bring to completion.
When these two elements are clicking, the wide receiving corps of Ted Ginn, Jr., Corey Brown, and Jerricho Cotchery usually go to work with timely catches. To derail the Panthers offense from this roll that they’re on, somebody is going to have to put a full game together against them. Leaving a hole in the dam in any one of these areas and defenses have inevitably drowned against them.
If the Packers can plug them all, they will be the first.
Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers
By David Newton | ESPN.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 23-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game:
What it means: The season didn’t begin the way the Panthers expected and it ended the way they hoped it wouldn’t: with a loss to an NFC West opponent in both cases. Their loss to the 49ers kept them from getting a chance in the conference championship to avenge a 12-7 loss to Seattle in the season opener. The Panthers had their chances early, but failing to score a touchdown on third down at the half-yard line and a 7-6 lead in the second quarter was crushing. What shouldn’t be lost is the Panthers turned a 1-3 start into a 12-win season — including a 10-9 victory at San Francisco — and an NFC South title. The foundation is there for future playoff runs.
Stock watch: Quarterback Cam Newton’s first trip to the NFL’s big stage didn’t go quite as well as he would have liked. He had a few moments. His 31-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith was perfect. He also had a few moments in which he threw high — one resulting in a first-quarter interception — and held the ball long enough to get sacked. He finished with two interceptions and five sacks and a quarterback rating of 79.9 that just wasn’t good enough.
Crabtree the difference? Much of the talk all week was how 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who didn’t play in the first game between these teams, would be the difference. But it was Anquan Boldin who kept coming up with huge plays. He had eight catches for 136 yards, including a 45-yarder to all but put this one away.
Captain blunder: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn got beat on Boldin’s 45-yard reception that went to the Carolina 2 in the third quarter. Boldin was wide open and Munnerlyn was lucky to catch him to save the touchdown. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick punched it in with a 4-yard touchdown run after a 2-yard loss. He then threw it in Carolina’s face by copying Newton’s Superman touchdown move.
Sack party? The Panthers sacked Kaepernick six times in the first meeting, but had only one on Sunday. The lack of pressure from a team that had 15 sacks in its previous two games was crucial.
On second thought: Still not sure why the Panthers didn’t let Newton attempt a sneak on third down at about the half-yard line in the second quarter. They had a chance to take a 14-6 lead. Instead, they lost a yard and settled for a field goal. Newton already had 40 yards rushing at that point.
Smith’s day: I’d say Smith was close to 100 percent. If there was any doubt how valuable the wide receiver is to this offense, he showed it in the first half, catching four passes for 74 yards. His 31-yard touchdown catch with tight coverage on the left side to give Carolina a 7-6 lead was a play no other receiver on the team would have made. To San Francisco’s credit, the defense shut him down in the second half.
What’s next? Next up is free agency, where signing defensive end Greg Hardy will be a priority. Inking Newton to a long-term deal also will be key.