FIRST AND TENThe Panthers and Bucs are so evenly matched, mirror images of one another in philosophy and personnel. Strong defense, efficient offense. The Panthers have more of a big play offense while the Buccaneers will pick you apart West Coast style. On defense, both squads will smash you in the mouth and giggle at the blood.
So it came as no surprise that the contest as whittled down to one critical play – a Keary Colbert touchdown reception - following a horrible game by the special teams of both teams and the kind of bumbling, stumbling flow of momentum expected in preseason, not in week 11.
Not pretty, but the Panthers will take what they can get.
A FEW OBSERVATIONS FROM SUNDAY'S CONTEST
- This thought flashed through my mind during the celebration in the end zone following Keary Colbert's key touchdown grab to win the game: Please, please, please, Jake, watch the thumb!
- The Panthers are returning to a run-oriented offense and it showed Sunday as Nick Goings ran for over 100 yards for his second consecutive game. Goings looked good doing it, too.
- For the fifth straight game, the offensive line had an outstanding game. Jake was sacked twice but one was a coverage sack. The running game had holes.
- Right tackle Todd Fordham will spend extra snaps this week practicing field goal blocking. Tampa's blocked field goal was entirely Fordham's fault.
- Muhsin Muhammad has a poor statistical game with only two catches, but his in-line blocking was superb and he commanded safety attention. He only dropped one pass.
- I get the impression that Jake Delhomme goes through his read progressions in recognition of spatial relationships. If effect, who's more open. The interception by Brian Kelly is evidence that this technique is not infallible but I like Delhomme's guts to make the tough throw.
- Vinny Cuircui has made the sting of losing Dan Morgan easier to take. The middle of the defense is no longer a weak spot.
- Uh, is there any debate left as to whether the Panthers should have chosen Julius Peppers over Joey Harrington?
- In my view, this was Mike Minter's best game yet this season.
- Hard, crisp tackling on both sides. Nice to watch, a joy to hear.
- My favorite ex-Panther is now Todd Steussie.
- Good to see Kindal Moorehead tough it out.
- Todd Sauerbrun got off an excellent 60+ yard punt. It went into the end zone, though, and his other kicks were ordinary.
- I absolutely love the wham block.
- Jake Delhomme has stopped trying to do too much. I think the San Francisco win was a psychological enema for Delhomme.
- Michael Clayton is a player. 8 catches on Sunday. Made ‘em all look easy.
- Who's in charge of Michael Pittman on pass plays? You would have thought Pittman was a tight end the way he was catching key passes. 8 catches for 134 yards and a TD. Unacceptable if you're a Panthers defender.
- I think the Bucs really miss their injured interior defensive linemen.
- Did John Fox get a hair cut this week? The dent made by the headset wasn't so pronounced. By the way, Fox chews gum like Jerry Tarkanian sucks towels. I like Fox's method of handling stress better, though.
- There were 73,000 plus people in the stands Sunday and they were loud. They even booed loud.
- For the tenth time this season, the Panthers lost the coin toss.
- For the third time this season, the Panthers scored first. They are 3 and 0 in those contests.
- The Bucs and Panthers are now tied for second place in the NFC South at 4 and 7.
FOURTH AND GOALWin #4 for the Panthers confirmed the franchise's resurrection from the 1 and 7 squad that penalized themselves to futility. New depth has developed, a few rookies have begun to assert themselves and some old hands have exercised leadership. A roster previously unsure of itself has learned its nature and is finally putting broken pieces back together. True healing has begun.
Even the playoffs are a possibility, no matter how remote. That idea would have been laughed at a month ago. But thanks to a woeful NFC, the playoffs are now a realistic goal.
The Panthers won't look good getting there, but at this stage in the season they'll take what they can get.
Correction Note: "Morning After" reader Tony Helton correctly pointed out that Emmit Smith passed Walter Payton for second all time in yardage from line of scrimmage, not all-time rushing yards as was stated in last week's column. Smith achieved that accomplishment while with the Cowboys.
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