The whistle blew, the ball was dead, and then there were two.
The Carolina Panthers improved their record to 2-3 winning a key divisional matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Was it a pretty win? Absolutely not... but at least we played Carolina Panther football, arguably for the first time this season.
The game was fairly typical of any Carolina v. Tampa affair; Smashmouth, hard fought, and emotions were high, especially after Dante Wesley's hit on Clifton Smith to finish the first half. The game was closer than it should have been, but the Buccaneers always rise to the occasion when playing us. So, it feels good to escape Tampa with a win when it could have very easily gone the other way.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were men possessed, tearing apart the Buccaneer's defense for 262 yards and three scores. A lot of the credit needs to go to the offensive line for their stellar blocking against Tampa. Yes, sometimes they allowed penetration, but overall they pushed back Tampa's line and got the better of them. Jeff Davidson also deserves credit. He displayed inspired running play selection, choosing to burn the Bucs in the 1st half with Williams, then lay the hammer down, leaning on Stewart to batter the Bucs D in the 2nd half when they were reeling.
The same kudos cannot be given to the Panthers' passing attack, which was wholly atrocious on Sunday. Jake Delhomme displayed a severe lack of accuracy on deep passes to Steve Smith twice in the first half, continuing the poor performance with two interceptions, the second of which was a terrible read and allowed for a pick six by safety Tanard Jackson. The receivers didn't make it much easier for Delhomme, as both Smith and Muhammad were continually shut down by opposing corners Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber respectively.
I wrote in my Wednesday ‘Hump Day Prognostication' column that the keys to Carolina's victory would be to stop Kellen Winslow, and contain Josh Johnson's ability to run. Carolina defense shut down Winslow effectively, and while allowing Johnson to get some vital first downs they mostly contained him. The defense deserves a lot of credit this week it was the offense and special teams who almost beat us, not the Buccaneers.
DeAngelo Williams- Extremely Optimistic: What a way to bounce back. After a wholly horrible game against the Redskins, DeAngelo got his game back this week. Running for 5 ypc Williams was the furnace that kept the Panthers' offense burning. Williams could have the best patience in the backfield of any RB in the NFL. He calmly sits in the backfield, waits for his blocks to develop and strikes when the time is right.
Jonathan Stewart- Extremely Optimistic: Are we still worried that he's injured? Stewart continued his fourth quarter domination of the Redskins carrying his performance over into Sunday's game. While Williams got the bulk of the carries, J-Stew made the most of the carries he got. Beef Stew ran for 6.4 ypc and tore apart a beleaguered Bucs defense in the second half.
Julius Peppers- Extremely Optimistic: Here you go Julius, don't let me down. From worst, to first in the manor of weeks Julius Peppers has proved himself to be worthy of the lofty contract. He displayed another dominant performance this week with 2 sacks, 7 tackles and 1 FF, a great game by Peppers.
Thomas Davis- Extremely Optimistic: I should almost start evaluating players on a scale with Thomas Davis being the epitome of excellence. It will be a crime if Davis isn't selected to his first pro bowl this season. His performance Sunday should show that, 8 tackles, 1 interception. There is no player benefitting more from Ron Meeks' defense than Thomas Davis.
Ron Meeks and the Carolina D- Extremely Optimistic: In my mind, it's time we all started getting on the Ron Meeks bandwagon. Prior to Sunday only one team allowed the Buccaneers to get less yardage, the NY Giants in week 3. The Carolina D has been stuffing teams this season as yesterday showed, the Bucs only had 244 yards, shy of their 277 season average. The Panthers are continually holding teams and the score doesn't do justice to their dominance on Sunday.
Captain Munnerlyn- Somewhat Optimistic: Great punt return from the Captain. Hopefully that was the first of many to come.
Everette Brown and Charles Johnson- Somewhat Optimistic: I debated giving them the full distinction this week, but they fell just shy. I packaged our two young DEs together as they represent the future. Combining for 4 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 FF, Panther fans should rest assured that we have hope in a defensive line era A.P (after Peppers).
Offensive Line- Somewhat Optimistic: They had some bad protection here and there, but overall did a very solid job on Sunday. They opened up good lanes, got some push and dominated the point of attack. Now, they just need to chain these good performances together.
Jake Delhomme- Extremely Pessimistic: O Jake, where art thou? Jake's serviceable performance against the Redskins last week isn't enough to silence the cries of change from the masses. Jake played very poorly on Sunday and was bailed out by the offensive line and running game. I refuse to believe that Jake is ‘done'. However, I do believe he has lost a lot of confidence as a QB. For a QB who plays with fire and emotion he needs that confidence, and needs to find it fast. These performances used to be the exception; unfortunately they are becoming the rule. Despite all this, he is still our best option to win in 2009. For the people suggesting Fox makes the switch to Matt Moore I would suggest you look at Moore's preseason stat lines. Look at his numbers against opponent's third teams and still say with a straight face that he will turn this team around against first team defenses.
Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad- Extremely Pessimistic: Yes, it's on them too. Other than two deep opportunities in the first half neither Smith nor Muhammad were able to break away from their opposing CBs. This is especially true of Smith who failed to get any form of adequate separation from Aqib Talib other than the opportunities in the first quarter. These two are fierce competitors and in the past their performance was able to hide a lot of Delhomme's inadequacies. They need to return to that form if the passing game stands a chance in 2009.
Dante Wesley- Extremely Pessimistic: Should be more like ‘extremely disappointed'. His heinous hit on Tampa PR Clifton Smith will be the sole reason the Panthers are displayed on the national media this week. He will be fined, likely suspended and there was really no need for the hit. We are an organization who is always held in high regard as one of the classiest, this was an extremely unclassy move.
Special Teams- Somewhat Pessimistic: They avoid the ‘extremely' designation, but only slightly, and mostly because of last week's performance. A great PR by Captain Munnerlyn and good coverage on most kickoffs were overshadowed by allowing a blocked FG and horrible coverage allowing a TD by Sammie Stroughter. They need to play better; it's a simple as that.
At least we got our identity back. Why we haven't been running the ball 47 times and passing 17 times all season is beyond me. The truth is our RBs are too good for the vast majority of teams to stop. Last week vs. Washington the running game let us down (for the most part) and the passing game stepped up; this week the roles were reversed.
The Carolina Panthers remain a team who has all the cogs to be a successful machine in this league, but they're not all spinning at the right time. The good news, we're getting closer. Each week one more phase of the game is moving from negative to positive. We have one more game against a legitimate weak opponent next week before we get into the hard part of the schedule. If Jake plays like he did against Washington, the RBs play like they did against Tampa then we have a very solid offense. If Peppers continues his recent solid play and Thomas Davis remains the rock then we have a very solid defense. We just need to put it all together, simple as that.
70% Optimistic heading back to BoA to face Buffalo.