PANTHERS MORNING AFTER – VIKINGS

There's a few foods that's just eatin' food, if you know what I mean. These are foods that you chew on for the pure simple pleasure of eating. Popcorn, cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti... smoot. Smoot food seems to be the preferred snack on Sundays in October. Smoot's sweet enough to remind the diner of yardage past yet tinged with a salty hint of first downs to come. Smoot has just the right flavor for those crispy, cool autumn pass plays.

FIRST AND TEN

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith heartily endorses smoot as the perfect Sunday afternoon snack food.

He just can't get enough of it.

A FEW OBSERVATIONS FROM SUNDAY'S CONTEST

* It was a complete-game victory for the Panthers. I don't think it would have made much difference if Culpepper was injured or not.

* For the second straight week, Carolina faced a team that can't run. Or couldn't. The D-line is getting it done.

* Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning went on oxygen after Carolina won its first coin toss of the season.

* Scoring on the first possession was the key event of the butt-whoopin' that followed.

* Jordan Carstens now has two sacks on the year.

* Still too many penalties on Special Teams. Blocking on punt returns needs improvement, too.

* I like the way Michael Gaines is writing himself into the playbook.

* No turnovers and few penalties. Hard to ask for more, except maybe to create more turnovers.

* Rod Gardner should have assimilated more of the playbook than he's shown. I think Delhomme would like to involve him more since he's such a big target, but Gardner is simply not "getting" it. I still believe he'll become part of the passing game before the season is over, but unless Gardner begins putting it together quickly, he may be relegated to fighting for a roster spot next summer instead of getting a contract extension.

* I counted three big hits by Karl Hankton on Special Teams plays.

* Who would have guessed Ricky Manning, Jr. would make a good free safety? I know he's the nickle corner but he hits like a safety. Opposing offenses may have to start game planning for the diminutive dynamo.

* Excellent job by the offensive line protecting Jake Delhomme. Jake had time and a clear field of vision to make his throws.

* Mike Trgovac stayed aggressive. Well done. A few more games like Sunday's and his critics may finally quieten down.

* I saw John Fox smile two minutes into the third quarter. This was before his team replied to a Vikings score with one of their own.

* Julius Peppers appears to really be hurting. Pain is no excuse, of course, but it's plain to see that it's affecting Peppers.

* I think Troy Williamson will be quite a weapon one day. But he was nothing more than a pop gun Sunday.

* It's amazing how far Michael Bennett has fallen.

* Stephen Davis displayed more power than he has in past weeks. He's not explosive and tends to wait too long for his blocks to develop, but he gives the Panthers the battering ram their offense requires.

* Brad Johnson's passes have lost velocity.

* I think the Panthers organization has moved past Jermaine Wiggins' image of himself.

* The Vikes need to find a running game. Fast.

* Between them, Davis and Foster had over 100 yards rushing.

* Delhomme had over 300 yards throwing.

* Only because the Panthers were three touchdowns ahead could I bear to stand the Fox announcing crew. What was supposed to be a funny piece on Tutan Reyes just came out stupid instead.

* Thank goodness Jason Baker only had to punt, I think, twice.

* You have to wonder if Chris Gamble has recovered from his injuries.

* You have to wonder if Fred Smoot will ever recover from Steve Smith.

FOURTH AND GOAL

The Panthers demonstrated growth as a good football team with the complete demolition of an opponent they put down and kept down.

So many times over the recent past, Carolina had run up a nice lead only to allow the opposing squad breath of life just short of victory. Green Bay and Phoenix come immediately to mind.

Yet the Panthers drove the Vikings into the ground then pushed their faces into the dirt with unrelenting force.

It's what a good team does often and a great team does all the time.

Carolina's not a great team – yet. But they're showing signs.

TOUCHDOWN

To keep the body healthy, it's got to eat. Good food and a balanced diet are essential to proper physical fitness.

For the Panthers, the table is set with the running game. That's the meat. Steve Smith and the passing game are the potatoes, but Super Spud is nothing more than a quick-burning carbohydrate without a meaty running game as the main course.

The offensive and defensive lines are broccoli and beets and spinach and asparagus. Solid food; required, but relatively bland. Add a little Pepper, a pinch of Wahlenut...stirred with a Whitherspoon. So even the basics can come out tasting pretty good.

Coaching and Special Teams are the wine and cheese, with each gaining flavor with age.

But the fuel that feeds the head, the soul and the heart of the Panthers is the running game. Without it, balance is disrupted and the body parts struggle.

The inconsistent season so far for the Panthers can be boiled down to the amount of running game it has consumed from contest to contest.

Give the beast its bloody, quivering meat and it'll be just fine.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

You can reach Chaz at chazestes@yahoo.com

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