There's this old Hee Haw song that goes something like this:
"If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all…Gloom, despair, naggin' in on me!"
Apt, is it not?
Cosmic karma has flipped on the Carolina Panthers. Last season's magic has turned into this season's curse. And gloom, despair is weighing in like a gray summer afternoon in Raleigh. Those who live there know what I'm talking about.
The Panthers live under a wet blanket these days but, following the erratic yet gutty play of quarterback Jake Delhomme, the squad out-gained the Philadelphia Eagles 344 yards to 283. The offense converted more first downs (21 to 10), gained more yardage on the ground (158 to 81), had more plays (75 to 47) and dominated time of possession (38:30 to 21:30). The defense held the Eagles to 40 yards rushing through three and a half quarters and minimized Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb to 209 yards passing, including two 50+ yard pass plays to wideout Terrell Owens. Except for the score, it was a decent statistical game.
But four interceptions (one returned for a score), big plays, poor special teams tackling, key penalties and a general lack of confidence can suck the life out of statistics any day. John Fox is famous for saying that statistics are for losers. Yeah, well, Carolina fans will take what they can get, coach.
Last season, the Panthers were able to overcome poor statistical games by doing what the Eagles did on Sunday: make the big play, make the key stop, excel on special teams, bend but don't break, play with aggressiveness and confidence. The result speaks for itself.
As do the numbers in '04. Yes, bad luck these days is spelled a-m-r-a-k.
A Few Observations From Sunday's Contest:
- I like the way Dan Morgan is beginning to assert himself.
- Steve Smith's "threat" quotient is sorely missed. There are no scary receivers on this team.
- Philly should have been penalized for the helmet-to-helmet hit against Delhomme. Kearse led with his helmet, and despite some opinions to the contrary it was an ear-hole hit.
- The Panthers had one sack. And it was Brentsen Buckner's. Ouch.
- In the second quarter, Keary Colbert let a TD pass bounce off his hands. Gotta make that play, Colbert.
- Same goes for Mike Minter, who let an easy interception in the Philly end zone slip through his arms. The Eagles scored a field goal on that drive, but it also cost the Panthers potential field position.
- Um, Scotty O'Brien better wake his Special Teams unit up. First half kickoff returned 66 yards? Second half kickoff a successful Eagles on-side kick? Pathetic. The return game did not improve with the presence of Jamal Broussard.
- Each loss will result in one starting job gone.
- 8 penalties. Two by Jordan Gross and one by Matt Willig. All three penalties were on first down, putting the Panthers in a first-and-fifteen hole.
- Ricky Manning is going back to being called "junior".
- Chris Gamble still looks lost at times. He also looks afraid to tackle.
- Carolina's punt average was 35.2 yards vs. 41.0 for the Eagles.
- The Eagles had two sacks. One was Brian Dawkins on a safety blitz. The other was by Sam Rayburn who pimped Tutan Reyes's injury replacement Rick Tylski. Rayburn beat Tylski so bad, Delhomme didn't believe it, going so far as to argue with the side judge that Rayburn was off sides. There was no penalty on the play.
- Dorsey Leavens's first quarter touchdown run was not challenged by John Fox. Replays showed that Leavens probably didn't get in. Could Fox be getting gun shy?
- McNabb's first quarter pass to Terrell Owens that went for 51 yards was a third down play.
- Colin Branch had one tackle.
- I'm thinking offensive tackle or wider receiver with my top 5 pick in the '05 draft.
- Philly had 150 return yards vs. 92 for Carolina.
- In the fourth quarter, during the Panthers' lone touchdown drive, Delhomme was calm and efficient. That's because he already knew the game was over. You could see it in his eyes. The rest of the game, he and the rest of the team were pressing.
- Julius Peppers is an absolute athletic freak of nature. Trgovac needs to move that man around more.
- Note to the secondary: The Eagles' wide receivers are not that fast. It's tough to make a play when you're conceding eight yards on practically every play.
- Carolina was getting excellent pressure from the outside, but very little push up the middle. McNabb had all day to make his throws.
- Steven Davis was effective. It's just that he could only run two plays consecutively due to lack of game conditioning.
The Panthers' troubles are self-evident and fixable. John Fox could begin by returning his team to Pop Warner fundamentals. You block, you tackle. You throw, you catch. You run until someone stops you from doing so. You score unless someone stops you. You smack someone in the mouth and you don't shoot yourself in the foot. You win unless someone beats you.
Mind this distinction, though: Losing is different than being beaten.
Of course, if you're always losing, it's tough to not get beaten. Carolina has scored exactly 14 first quarter points for the season. Opponents have scored 30. In three of those contests, the Panthers were held scoreless. Only one opponent, Kansas City, was held scoreless in the first quarter. Is it a coincidence that this was Carolina's lone victory?
Against the Eagles, Carolina fell behind by a quick 10 points. By the opening of the second quarter, the Panthers were beaten.
To their credit, the men in black and blue fought hard throughout and emerged statistically superior. The game plan was to get on top early then control the clock, field position and, finally, the score. Though the plan didn't go as intended, there was no quit in the Carolina Panthers against a motivated Eagles squad bent on revenge.
But when you're 1 and 5 and the karma is against you, there's no such thing as a moral victory. The good news is that there is plenty of time to shake off the gloom and despair.
At home next Sunday against the Chargers would be a good place to start.
You can reach Chaz Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org
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