Good morning Panther faithful! Just as the storm clouds cleared over Charlotte; the fallout of a far away storm, so did the air of pessimism and doubt free itself from the Carolina skies. Yes folks, the Carolina Panthers, your Carolina Panthers, are back.
With a 28-19 victory the Panthers restored a lot more than hope in our franchise. This was the first game where numerous players established their confidence. Jake Delhomme was a man possessed, particularly in the first half and for the first time in 2009 found Steve Smith with regularity. The injection of Muhsin Muhammad in the lineup seemed to be just what the doctor ordered as Delhomme was finding Moose for the majority of the yards, punctuating drives with shots to Smith that kept the Falcons' secondary reeling. It was this offensive triumvirate that played with a swagger previously unseen in 2009, and when they were available to support Double Trouble it became evidently clear, we were deep offensively, for the first time all season.
I have plenty more gloating about the team as a whole, as well as some individual breakdowns so join me....
after the jump
As much as the drafting on Jonathan Stewart seemed to be a head scratcher at the time (only from the standpoint of round, not position) Fox, Hurney and co. quietly built the best RB tandem in the NFL. I say quietly because it wasn't until the end of the 2008 season that they started getting recognized. As other so-called ‘tandems' fall off the map in '09 (Johnson and White in Tennessee, Barber and Jones in Dallas, Tomlinson and Sproles in San Diego) Double Trouble remains resolute; the difference? Mutual trust. In all those aforementioned cases you have a clear short yardage back, or home run hitter and an every down back, in Carolina we have two legitimate every down RBs. When DeAngelo is having a sub-par game Stewart steps in and fills the void, conversely when Stewart is beating his head against a wall DeAngelo steps up and gets the yards. Sure, other teams may boast a ‘Three headed monster' to our two, but our monster is ten times bigger than anyone else's, and I couldn't be happier.
On the other side of the ball we have Ron Meeks. If you've read much of the optimist (or any of my posts) the past few weeks then you know I've developed a man crush the size of BoA for our new defensive coordinator. His defense isn't flashy, it doesn't make Sportscenter, but it is effective... drastically effective. At the start of the season a majority of fans chided his ‘bend but don't break' philosophy, and rightfully so; it appeared that we were allowing vast amounts of yardage, then breaking on the goal line and allowing points. I chose to hold out hope though, and believe that the players were still learning a new system; surely his defense couldn't be this bad? Well, I've drunk so much of the Ron Meeks Kool-Aid that I might as well burst though the end zone wall screaming ‘OH YEAH!' after every 3 and out. We held the dynamite New Orleans Saints beneath their yardage and points averages, and now we held the Falcons below their point's average. Did we give up too many yards? Sure we did. But, without Thomas Davis and an offense designed to target Davis' side we still held. Personally, I don't care if we give up 600 yards per game if we keep teams from scoring, and in my opinion our red zone defense is stouter than I've seen in a long time.
Jake Delhomme- Extremely Optimistic: He's back! During the slump I said the same thing numerous times "Jake is the most consistently inconsistent QB in the NFL. You get 4 terrible games, 4 great games and 8 middle of the road games every season" a quote I borrowed from Mark Packer. Looking back on Jake's history since arriving in Carolina this holds true and it seems to hold true thus far in 2009.
- - Philly: Terrible
- - Atlanta: Middle of the road
- - Dallas: Middle of the road
- - Washington: Middle of the road
- - Tampa Bay: Terrible
- - Buffalo: Terrible
- - Arizona: Middle of the road
- - New Orleans: Middle of the road
- - Atlanta: Great
So, by this rudimentary, empirical system Delhomme is due to have 1 more terrible game, 3 more great games and 3 more middle of the road games. History shows that this will probably happen... so let's hope history sides with us. On Sunday, he was dynamic, showing zip on his passes previously unseen, hitting receivers in stride, running the offense with confidence while he barked out various alignments, blitz pickups and audibles. I'm not sure I put any stock in the notion he called his own plays on Sunday, but he made excellent adjustments at the line, more than we've seen all season.
Double Trouble- Extremely Optimistic: From their Matrix-esque TD celebrations to their look of mutual joy when each other score our RBs love their role in the offense. I bunch them together this week because they were the perfect tandem. While Stewart was statistically the more effective back, both were dynamic averaging for a Double Trouble 5.8 ypc. Great work from the guys!
Steve Smith- Extremely Optimistic: HEY GUYS! SMITTY'S BACK! I don't know if he ever really left, but just as 2004 Jake Delhomme returned to Charlotte so did Steve Smith. The tandem once thought to be one of the best QB-WR pairings in the NFL showed they were simpatico providing two scores. Smith didn't have the most yards, but he was the main scoring threat. It was great to see him again.
Muhsin Muhammad- Extremely Optimistic: MOOOOOSE! Was cried throughout BoA numerous times on Sunday, and for good reason! Muhammad was the ‘go to guy' on the majority of passing downs using his big body and sure hands to amass 91 yards receiving on 6 catches. More importantly, his performance opened up the game to Steve Smith, and vice versa. Great game.
Tony Fiametta- Extremely Optimistic: Potential nightmares about losing Brad Hoover were allayed with an amazing performance by the youngster. If you don't hear a fullback's name being called, it's normally a good thing. Fiametta proved why he was head and shoulders the no.1 FB in the 2009 draft making the Carolina offense look like it never lost a piece. He had key blocks allowing for big games, and outside of an early dropped pass played immaculately. The future is bright for our running game.
Sherrod Martin- Extremely Optimistic: The rookie run continues! 3 starts, 3 INTs from Martin. I love seeing him at FS and it will be tough to justify returning Charles Godfrey to the lineup. I know a coach isn't supposed to take a player's job due to injury, but when you have lightning in a bottle and a true playmaker, how do you justify doing ‘the right thing' when your job is potentially on the line?
Richard Marshall- Somewhat Optimistic: People know I'm not high on Marshall. Despite what statistics show, I think he's not an NFL caliber starting CB. That being said, I won't slight him for getting the late interception and playing Tony Gonzalez perfectly in the redzone (even if he should have caught the ball).
Jason Baker- Somewhat Optimistic: His punting was sub-par, but I can't ignore a punter who jacked up Eric Weems on a punt return. Weems will be hearing and seeing him get KO'ed by a punter for a long time.
Travelle Wharton- Extremely Pessimistic: Wharton was not good filling in for Jordan Gross. I know it's tough to fill in for an absolute rock and all-pro, but he made some big time errors in pass protection. Thankfully, Jake was getting the ball out quickly or it would have been ugly in the second half. My thought: move Jeff Otah over to the left and shift Wharton to the right unless we find someone, because I don't like Wharton to protect Jake's blindside.
Julius Peppers- Somewhat Pessimistic: He's not on the stat sheet, at all. If we are going to keep this turn around rolling we need Peppers to return to dominance. He's dropped off the last two weeks, here's hoping he's back on Thursday.
I think we're seeing the start of something special. The rest of the NFC wild card hopefuls are self destructing while we are surging. Philly fans are doing their yearly ‘call for the head of Andy Reid', the Giants look worn down, the 49ers don't scare anyone and Michael Turner may miss significant time for Atlanta. Let's not forget, with the win vs. ATL we now hold the cards in a tiebreaker with the Falcons.
I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, because it's a long road... no doubt; and every game is a must win from here out. However, Sunday seemed to be the first time all season where all phases of the game played to their potential. 1-7 to the playoffs in 2004, 0-3 to the playoffs in 2009? Don't say it won't happen, because the second you do the Cardiac Cats are bound to prove you wrong.