Carolina Panthers: Tedd Ginn Jr.

Carolina Panthers season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 3
Preseason Power Ranking: 23

Biggest surprise: "Riverboat Ron." Not often does a coach admit he needs to change, but Ron Rivera did after a 24-23 loss to Buffalo dropped Carolina to 0-2. He admitted he should have gone for it on fourth-and-1 with 1:42 remaining and leading by three. He admitted he needed to show more confidence in his offense to make a yard and his defense to make stops. He went from one of the league's most conservative fourth-down coaches to one of the most aggressive, and added a nickname. He successfully went for it twice on the opening drive against Minnesota to start an eight-game winning streak. He went for it late on fourth-and-10 deep in his own territory to set up the winning touchdown against Miami. Carolina finished the regular season 10-of-13 on fourth-down attempts. Ironically, it was a failed attempt in the playoff game against San Francisco that led to the Panthers' 23-10 loss.

Biggest disappointment: The inability to win a home playoff game once again, which came in large part because of the team's late-season inability to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Panthers ran eight plays inside the San Francisco 10-yard line in Sunday's playoff loss, and came away with no touchdowns. Four times they had an opportunity to score from the 1 and failed. Had they converted even one, it would have been a one-score game at the end, leaving open the possibility for a comeback. I'm still wondering why 6-foot-5 quarterback Cam Newton didn't get the call on third down and less than 2 feet. You would think he could have jumped up and thrust the ball over the goal line.

Biggest need: If Newton is to have success as the team's franchise quarterback he needs to have more weapons. Outside of the aging-but-still-effective Steve Smith, and occasional moments from Ted Ginn Jr., he has none at this position. Brandon LaFell did little over the final three games to prove he should be re-signed as the team's No. 2 receiver. He could have been selected for the season's biggest disappointment. Don't be surprised to see the team address this position in free agency and the draft, which is heavy with receiver talent. It was obvious in the playoff loss against San Francisco that a major difference between Newton and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was talent at receiver.

Team MVP: This is a tough one. Part of me says Greg Hardy, whose team-leading 15 sacks and 38 quarterback pressures were key to what the team does on defense. Not to mention he played every position along the defensive front at some point. But I have to go with middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. He led the league's second-ranked defense in tackles with 176. He is the brains and leader of this unit. His ability to cover some of the league's top tight ends as well as set the tone for stopping the run was invaluable. His 24 tackles in a 17-13 victory against New Orleans in Week 16 helped keep the Panthers close enough to pull off a win that helped them clinch the NFC South title.


W2W4: 49ers at Panthers

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wide receiver Steve Smith changes the subject when you ask about the Carolina Panthers' 2003 Super Bowl run or the last time they made the playoffs in 2008.

He argues past history has nothing to do with the current team that faces the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC divisional playoff game on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

And he's right, to a degree.

But to ignore past history completely would be a mistake as it pertains to learning from past successes as the Panthers had in 2003 and failures as they had in 2008.

"History is important," said left tackle Jordan Gross -- he and Smith are the only players remaining from the 2003 Super Bowl run. "If you don't learn from good things or bad things you did, you're bound to repeat the bad.

"What happened then doesn't have any impact on us now, which is probably [Smith's] point. But it's important to know it's very important to win at home in the playoffs."

The Panthers did that in 2003, defeating the Dallas Cowboys at home before traveling to St. Louis and Philadelphia. They didn't do that in 2008, losing 33-13 to Arizona in a game plagued with turnovers.

Only 10 players remain from the 2008 team that began a string of four straight losing seasons before this one.

"It was funny," Gross said. "That year, we were kind of expected to be good, and we were good. And it was a huge letdown when we lost in a big way. This year it's like we've snuck up on 12-4. It was really slow the way everybody got excited about the team, the belief.

"But the guys that were here remember the lesson about how important it is to win at home."

With that, here are my five keys for Carolina against San Francisco:

Protect home turf: The Panthers earned the right to host a first-round game by winning 11 of their final 12 games, including seven in a row at home. They are allowing only 12 points a game at home compared to 18.1 on the road. It likely will take that kind of effort against the 49ers.

Red zone: This goes both ways. The 49ers have converted 56.4 of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns this season to rank 11th in the league. The Panthers held them to three field goals in the first meeting, which was key. Carolina has struggled lately in the red zone but on the season has converted 58 percent to rank seventh. The team that is most effective here likely will win.

Pressure Kaepernick: As much as Carolina coach Ron Rivera says quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a bad day the first time these teams met, his second-ranked defense was a big reason. The Panthers sacked Kaepernick six times, forcing him to step into the pocket where defenders were waiting instead of letting him get outside as Green Bay did. Kaepernick rushed for 98 yards against the Packers to advance. He'll face a much more disciplined defense this week, and statistics show Kaepernick struggles against top 16 defenses this season.

Big stage: Much has been said about this being the first playoff game for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, but he's been in big games before (see BCS National Championship and SEC Championship). He still in my opinion is key. When he has a good game the Panthers typically do, too. That he's playing at home where his statistics are considerably better should help. My guess is he'll have to rush for at least 40 yards and a touchdown for Carolina to advance.

Wild-card factor: Special teams often get overlooked, but Carolina's have been consistently good all season. The one thing the Panthers haven't done is return a kick for a touchdown. Ted Ginn Jr. came close to breaking one several times against his former team at San Francisco. The teams are so closely matched, it could come down to that.

Observation deck: Panthers-Steelers

August, 29, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Starting quarterback Cam Newton wore some form of skull cap instead of his signature towel Thursday night as he played spectator in the Carolina Panthers' 25-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Well, it was terribly humid for a towel.

Otherwise, here are my thoughts on the preseason finale.
  • Two quarterbacks enough. Derek Anderson proved why he is the easy choice to back up Newton and why third-stringer Jimmy Clausen is expendable. Anderson completed his first five passes and finished an efficient 10-for-15 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He even had an ill-advised scramble for 9 yards.
  • Who are these guys? There may be more depth at wide receiver than expected. Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon made good cases to be the third receiver behind Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. Ginn caught five passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, including an 87-yarder in which he blistered the Pittsburgh secondary. Hixon caught four passes for 44 yards, including a nice 23-yard third-down grab on the sideline.
  • Secondary question. Carolina needs its front seven, most of whom barely played, to have a big season to cover up soft spots in the secondary. Most of those spots are in the middle, where reserve Steelers tight end David Paulson looked like a Pro Bowler in the first half.
  • Who needs camp? Travelle Wharton moved right into the lineup at left guard after only three practices and held his own. Not bad for the former and now current Panther who hadn't played in more than a year while recovering from a knee injury.
  • Playmaker: Corner Josh Norman needs to be on the field. He had his fourth interception of the preseason, returning this one 70 yards.
  • What it all means: Absolutely nothing. Except Carolina has its first winning preseason record (3-1) since 2006.
  • What's next: Roster cuts to 53 on Saturday, but don't expect a major surprise -- unless you consider Clausen a surprise. Time to get ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the Seattle Seahawks, who will give Carolina a big test on both sides of the ball right away.