Panthers Needed Mulligans to go With Divots

<P>The Panthers first home game was an embarrassment for the players and the front office. Not only did Carolina let some golden opportunities get away, the field, that was rated one of the best in the NFL last year, came up in clumps and was probably the reason one of their best defensive players has been lost for the next month.

The Panthers' defense, which had been humiliated in Atlanta a week ago, looked better from the get go. They contained Ahman Green and intercepted Brett Favre on the Packers' first possession. But, then we got a preview of what was to come. It was the first of the Panthers' missed opportunities. With a first down at their own 48, the Panthers went three and out.

Early in the second quarter, up 7-0 on a 3-yard pass from Chris Weinke to Wesley Walls, the Panthers' defense got another takeaway, Deon Grant intercepting Favre at the Packers' 27. First play, Weinke hit a wide open Muhsin Muhammad for the touchdown. Oops. Holding on Todd Steussie, bring it back. The Panthers ended up with a 4th and 14 from the 31, and instead of trying a 48-yard field goal on iffy turf, they went for it. Muhammad was wide open beyond the first down marker...and dropped it. Two Green Bay turnovers...no Panther points.

Before the end of the half, the Packers put a pair of Ryan Longwell field goals on the board. But, Carolina felt pretty good, as they got the ball to open the second half. That's when the roof caved in.

Electric rookie kick returner Steve Smith dropped the ball. Green Bay promptly drove 38 yards to their first score. On the ensuing kickoff, Smith did it again. Again, the Packers drove 38 yards, and suddenly, with the offense still waiting to take their first snap of the half, Green Bay had sprinted out to a 21-7 edge.

"It was like 50 minutes on the clock between snaps for us," said guard Kevin Donnalley, "you get cold and tight. That's tough."

The Panthers promptly went three and out, and then did it again on their next possession, which started at their own 1. In the third quarter, the Panthers ended up running just 6 plays, and had the ball just 4:11.

The Packers followed that second Panthers' possession with a 48-yard touchdown drive (their longest of the three) to take a 28-7 lead.

By that point, the game was over. Green Bay knew the Panthers were going to have to throw, and teed off. Both George Seifert and the players acknowledged that you can't give a resurgent Brett Favre the kind of opportunities they did and expect to win.

Then, there was the field. New turf that was laid down a couple of weeks ago hadn't taken root, and came up in clumps throughout the game. Every time there was a stoppage in play, there was an almost comical, rush of the field by about 20 members of the grounds crew, who proceeded to stomp divots back into the ground.

Ultimately, the poor turf may have cost the Panthers their first round draft pick, linebacker Dan Morgan. He suffered a broken left leg when his foot got caught in the grass on a Favre stiff arm. He'll be out 4-6 weeks.


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