NFC South: Tino Sunseri

Wrap-up: Steelers 27, Panthers 3

December, 23, 2010
Thoughts from Carolina's 27-3 loss to the Steelers.

What it means: I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know. I’m at a loss for words at this point and I am open to suggestions. So we’ll just play it totally straight. The Panthers, a bad team, went up to Pittsburgh and got thumped by a very good team. Did anyone really expect anything else? The Panthers had their one-game winning streak ended and fell to 2-13. On the bright side, they held onto their lead for the first overall pick in the 2011 draft.

What I liked: At some point in the second half, I went out and got my satellite radio. After watching and listening to the brutal first half on television, I needed to turn to someone familiar, someone who could really feel the pain of how bad this season has been for the Panthers. I got Carolina’s radio broadcast and listened the rest of the way to Mick Mixon, Eugene Robinson and Jim Szoke. They are three guys I’ve known for a very long time, three guys I genuinely like and three guys who are very good at their jobs. I wound up feeling really bad for them and felt better that I wasn’t the only one at an absolute loss for words. At various points in the second half, Mixon, Robinson and Szoke were reduced to talking about how the game was being played in Heinz Field and the importance of ketchup in Pittsburgh and the “bright spot’’ that was Captain Munnerlyn’s nice punt return.

What I found humorous and sad at the same time: On Sunday, I joked that general manager Marty Hurney might use the trip to make a side visit to try to talk University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri into entering the draft early. Amazingly, that sailed right over the head of one writer to my mailbag, who asked if I thought Sunseri might be willing to enter the draft early and if he could be anything more than a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Look, I’ve known Tino since the days when he was a ball boy at training camp and his father, Sal, was coaching Carolina’s defensive line. Tino is a great kid and I hope he has a nice finish to his career at Pittsburgh, but my reference was a total joke at the time. Tino’s got a bit of an arm, but I’m closer to the stereotypical size for an NFL quarterback than he is. I wrote that item thinking that even if Tino was thinking about coming out of college early, he had no chance as an NFL prospect. But after watching another episode of the Jimmy Clausen Show, I’m seriously thinking Hurney should explore every quarterback on the planet.

What’s next: Although the extra days off might seem like torture to the players, the bright spot is that John Fox’s final game as coach of the Panthers will come on the final day of the regular season at Atlanta. Even if the Falcons have clinched home-field advantage and decide to rest their starters, the Panthers have no chance. Once this mess of a season is over, the Panthers need to turn the page, forget about Fox and decide who will be the next coach.

Wrap-up: Panthers 19, Cardinals 12

December, 19, 2010
A few thoughts on the Panthers win over the Cardinals.

What it means: In this much-anticipated showdown between rookie gunslingers Jimmy Clausen and John Skelton, the Panthers won, but still might have delivered the worst possible result. Carolina’s still the leader in the battle for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, but, at 2-12, the Panthers now have only one less loss than the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos are losing by 10 to Oakland as I write this. A loss would put the Broncos at 3-13. Carolina still is in pretty good shape if it comes down to tie-breakers. But, what if the Panthers do something really crazy, like finish John Fox’s regime on a three-game winning streak. If that happens, they better hope Clausen really finishes strong because they’ll be booting the chance to get Andrew Luck at No. 1, if he decides to pass up his senior season.

Positive Panther stat of the day: Clausen got his first victory as an NFL starter in what will probably be Fox’s final home game at Bank of America Stadium. Reminds me of something I heard about Clausen not too long ago: “He ain’t in Notre Dame anymore, that’s for sure.’’

Positive Panther stat of the day II: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 137 yards. When healthy, which wasn’t the case for much of the season, Stewart’s been very solid.

What’s next: The entire nation (maybe even some lucky viewers in Canada and Mexico) gets to see the surging Panthers on Thursday night as they travel to Pittsburgh. Word on the street is general manager Marty Hurney has planned a side meeting with University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, the son of former Carolina assistant Sal Sunseri, to see if he can coax him into entering the draft if Luck runs out.