PANTHERS MORNING AFTER - SAINTS

The Carolina Panthers were beaten Sunday – plain and simple. The New Orleans Saints came into Carolina's own crib, punched it in the mouth and took its milk money. And with America watching closely Sunday night and Monday morning, the Panthers had no choice but to smile through gritted teeth and praise the Saints' focus and determination in the face of such heart-wrenching devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

FIRST AND TEN

In the end, the outcome was no surprise at all.

New Orleans ran the ball like they said they would. They ate up the clock, just like they said they would. They dinked and dunked Aaron Brooks to a high quarterback rating, picked on poor over-matched rookie Thomas Davis, pile-drove offensive tackle Travelle "Matt Willig" Wharton and caused just enough hesitancy in Jake Delhomme's reads to force two costly interceptions.

Just like everyone said they would.

There was a lot written during the preseason about the Saints' new focus on Deuce McAllister and the running game, how they'd shortened the playbook to help Brooks, how they'd beefed up the offensive and defensive lines to meet the deep challenges of the NFC South.

Is it any real shocker that the Saints came out focused and menacing and bludgeoned the Panthers into defeat?

It was painful to watch the replay of last season's excruciating finale, but the Panthers deserve to lose as much as they Saints earned the win.

A FEW OBSERVATIONS FROM SUNDAY'S CONTEST

Rod Smart, beyond all reason, continues to run smack dab into the back of the wedge.

Jake Delhomme has the same "itchiness" in the pocket that he had last year as the line struggled. Clearly, he does not yet trust Travelle Wharton.

Isn't Ernie Conwell, like, fifty years old or something? I think he caught ten balls all of last season. He almost had that many at halftime.

Still can't understand why, on third and three, a cornerback gives a wideout an eight yard cushion. You'd think the corner didn't trust his safety or something.

Carolina getting absolutely no penetration in the middle of the line. Brooks had clear throwing lanes all day.

Admittedly, Jordan Carstens did a decent job of filling in for the injured Kris Jenkins. Decent, however, just wasn't getting it done.

Good rip run by Stephen Davis. Would have liked to see him bulldoze his way into the end zone, though.

Can somebody just cover the freakin' tight end?

I think the Fox announcers were too obviously biased toward the Saints. I truly believe this is an unbiased opinion. By the end of the third quarter, I wanted to puke every time Tim Greene opened his mouth.

Mike McKenzie should never, ever be allowed to jump routes like he did Sunday.

Delhomme needs to find a receiver other than Steve Smith to throw to.
Except, of course, Karl Hankton.

Charles Grant impressed me. But his swim-hook move won't get the holding calls against an established offensive tackle that it did against Wharton.

Would have liked Mike Trgovac to bait the Saints into testing his cornerbacks deep, or at least away from the middle of the field. Geez, or blitz.

The offensive line started keying on Mike Wahle midway through the third quarter and the whole offense found a rhythm.

We also knew Peppers would get doubled all day once Jenkins went out. Why didn't the coaching staff adjust?

Keary Colbert needs to get a double move off a play fake and go long.

I move that we petition the NFL league offices to widen the field by, oh, four inches or so.

Jake's third quarter interception was just a plain stupid throw. You just can't lock in on Smith so much and not get jumped. Then he made it worse by whining about it afterwards. His effin this and effin that could be heard all over the field. Saying that, I can't help but like Delhomme's gutsy, gritty, playmaking personality. He's the kind of quarterback his teammates would die for. That's rare.

Marlon McCree, my man, that was almost a clean hit.

Carolina lost this game at the line of scrimmage. But they aren't talented enough up and down the roster to overcome the kind of dumb, untimely mistakes that plagued them Sunday, no matter how well they perform in the trenches. The Panthers lost a football field in penalties.

FOURTH AND GOAL

Well, at least the Panthers don't have to suffer under the SI Super Bowl microscope anymore. That dog, at least, can be put to sleep.

Maybe now the team can concentrate on the things that made them successful in the past and improve on the correctable things that are impacting their present.

TOUCHDOWN

Monday morning is a time for healing, or for Panther players to feel the pain of Sunday for the first time. But on Tuesday, it's back to work.

New England's coming to town and they always put up a good fight. Carolina must be ready, or they'll fall flat in defeat and face the growing sense of dread that drowned them for half a season.

If there's such a thing as a must-win so early in a season, the game against the Patriots - at home - is it. We can only hope the team truly understands this.

Hear this Carolina Panthers: playtime is over.

It's time to take your milk money back.

You can reach Chaz at chazestes@yahoo.com

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