Carolina Panthers, NFL

Panthers experiencing an EPIC Superbowl Hangover  

You know that hangover when you can feel the pulse is in your head and you just want to curl up in a ball because your eyes are so sensitive to light. That’s how I would describe the play of the 2016 Carolina Panthers. It’s been absolutely atrocious opposing quarterbacks are playing seven on seven against our defense on top of that we become colorblind and have butter fingers. Those factors add up to a 1-5 record and the faintest chance to reach the playoffs at this rate.

This is coming off a magical year where it seemed we couldn’t do anything wrong with a 15-1 and looked primed to claim the franchise’s first championship but we ran into Von Miller and the Denver Bronco defense. This just proves it’s hard to win consistently in the NFL matter how good you were a new year can change everything you think you know about the National Football League and the Panthers are learning a brutal lesson about that.

 

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The Norman Effect

The first thing people are going to talk about is the team’s gamble to rescind the franchise tag of all Pro cornerback Josh Norman. That gamble has definitely not paid off our secondary is like Swiss cheese there are so many holes with two rookies on each side and they are getting schooled.

I backed our decision to let Norman walk the reason why was our front seven wreaked havoc, creating money pockets forcing bad throws allowing Norman and other defenders to take advantage. This year our defensive line is like where’s Waldo all of our pass rush has completely disappeared, forcing Sean McDermott are defensive coordinator to bring extra guys on blitzes causing a weakness to become weaker. Our defense has gone from number six in the league to an atrocious 29th and that fear that opponents had when facing our defense has quickly evaporated now quarterbacks are licking their chops and they are absolutely picking us apart.

While I agree, that Norman is a factor in our struggles we also lost veterans like Charles Tillman, Jared Allen and Cortland Finnegan have played a vital role in the defense of success last year. I think the lack of pass rush has been a bigger factor than the loss of Norman because it’s put even more pressure on the rookies having to cover for so much long has exposed the fact that they are young and don’t know the speed of the NFL. There’s no doubt this gamble has backfired, but you’ve also got to put it on the execution by the players just as much the decision of the organization.

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Under Pressure

The offense has had its share of struggles I think the big reason why is because they understand they have to match the opponent score for score to even feel like they have a chance to pick up the victory. Thus causing Newton and Anderson to force things resulting in turnovers and bad decision-making. The team had a league-leading +20 turnover ratio in 2015 and now has a terrible -7 ratio giving opponents short fields and more possessions digging deeper holes for us to come back from.

Not only that, our offensive line has been less than desirable, causing quarterback Cam Newton to run for his life and he has suffered a concussion this season because of that. Ultimately that cost us a big chance of victory against division rival Tampa Bay. Additionally the wide receivers haven’t made the plays to help Newton. We look to be pressing and there have been way too many negative things on the offensive side of the ball despite our ability to put up points. If we can get healthy and somehow keep Cam Newton upright we can put up points we proved that it’s just a matter of stopping the opponent that’s been the issue.

Honestly we’ve looked absolutely terrible and frankly deserve to be where we are at 1-5. However, we’ve lost three games by field goals a missed 52-yard field goal as time expired in game one. A game-winning field goal by Tampa as time expired and a game winning field goal with 11 seconds left against the Saints. The reality is we are those three field goals away from possibly having a 4-2 record. That’s the way the NFL goes and it’s been gut-wrenching to watch, but it is what it is. To be honest, I’m losing a little confidence in Graham Gano he’s missed 2 extra points and three key field goals that could’ve changed the result of games.

The season has no doubt been disappointing, but it’s not over yet the Kansas City Chiefs were able to overcome this start and make the playoffs so anything can happen, but we have to play with a sense of urgency and desperate the rest of the way to give us the best chance possible to make the playoffs.

I just want people to stop playing the blame game we haven’t played good football at all in the execution from the coaches and the players has been subpar and that’s why we are struggling not because Josh Norman isn’t a Panther anymore. I bleed black and blue every season no matter the circumstances even if I’m frustrated that’s what we have to do Keep Pounding!!

 

 

 

 

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Carolina Panthers, Top 5 list

Top 5 takeaways when looking at the Panthers Roster

The Carolina Panthers come into the 2016 season with a massive chip on their shoulder as they look to avenge the Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos. It was a bitter end to an otherwise magical season! These 53 players look to take that final step and lift the Lombardi trophy and get rid of that bitter taste after the 2015 season. Here is how the roster looks as we begin the journey to Houston.

Quarterback: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, and Joe Webb

Running Backs: Jonathan Stewart, Cameron Artis –Payne, Mike Tolbert, and Fozzy Whitaker

Wide receivers: Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr, Philly Brown, Devin Funchess, Brenton Bersin, and Damiere Byrd

Offensive Lineman: Ryan Khalil, Trai Turner, Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, Andrew Norwell, Gino Gradkowski, Daryl Williams, Donald Hawkins, and Tyler Lawson

Defensive Ends: Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Ryan Delaire, and Lavar Edwards

Defensive Tackles: Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Vernon Butler, and Paul Soliai

Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, AJ Klein, David Mayo, Jeremy Cash, and Jared Norris

Defensive Backs: Kurt Coleman, Daryl Worley, James Bradberry, Tre Boston, Dean Marlowe, Robert McClain, Bené Benwikere, Teddy Williams, and Colin Jones

Specialists: JJ Jansen, Graham Gano, and Andy Lee

 

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Experience

The first thing that jumps out at me when looking at the Panthers roster is the veteran presence and that is littered throughout the roster. It’s an aspect of sports that is grossly underrated because this group has been through the wars of an NFL season. The team was returning 42 of the 53 players from the Super Bowl team last season it’s very rare in today’s to keep the majority of teams together because of the enormity of the contracts offered in free agency, but loyalty has been a staple in Gettleman regime and that’s a big reason why they are set up for another Super Bowl run in 2016.

Furthermore, this team has gone through the worst adversity any team can come up one game short of the ultimate glory after such a magical season that’s a bitter pill to swallow. That being said, this team is one year older and can take those experiences, turning them into positives moving forward. I expect us to play with a lot of fire and have a very successful season hopefully with a slightly different result.

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Youthful secondary

By far the biggest storyline coming into 2016 is the changes in the backend of our stingy defense. The team decided to part ways with All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman making our once veteran secondary young very fast. To compensate the loss of Norman the team drafted three cornerbacks two of which will start. This is the first time in 16 years a team will start two rookie cornerbacks. This is very rare and could leave us exposed if our front seven can’t create pressure.

However, both Daryl Worley and James Bradberry are both 6’1 and very physical so if they are able to get into their opponents’ heads because of they’re physicality creating an advantage in their matchups. An advantage we have is we have the best line-backing core in the NFL. They fly all over the place and can cover up some of the mistakes made by the rookies.

This unit will have the spotlight on them all season, but the key is for the young guys is to play their own game and let the game come to them don’t try to force things. They won’t  replace the great productivity we had last season on just one play. I think they will be fine because there’s a lot of experience around them to help them through the early part of the season.

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Deep linebacking Core

The deepest unit on the Carolina Panthers roster is the line-backing core. They are led by the best duo in the league in Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly and this year the team continues to develop talent at the position as they added two undrafted free agents Jeremy Cash and Jared Norris. These two young bloods might not play every Sunday, but they will gain invaluable experience and possibly be a valuable asset on special teams if needed.

I would be remiss, if I didn’t talk about the quick development of Shaq Thompson and one the most underrated players in the NFL in backup linebacker AJ Klein. Klein would no doubt be a starter on many other teams. He is another one of the diamond in the rough draft picks that the Panthers organization has made through the years.

The Panthers have made it a priority to continue to get talent at this position, especially this year because of the young secondary. The linebackers should be able to take some of the pressure off youngsters as they get acclimated to the NFL.

That’s why I think the depth at the linebacker position is key for developing rookies, improving the special teams, and most importantly giving hell to opponents every single game. The NFL is the most unpredictable sport that is why you can never have too much talent at each position.

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Byrd is the Word

Another newcomer to the Panthers roster is former South Carolina Gamecock wide receiver the Damiere Byrd. He is 5’9 180 pound spark plug that ran an eye-popping 4.28 40-yard dash. This is a welcome addition to the team because he’s a threat every time he touches the ball because of his blazing speed. He is a great compliment to the original speedster in Ted Ginn Jr, who has yet to lose a step despite entering his age 31 season.

He will also be a great asset on special teams, as he will likely take over the punt returning duties from Ginn to limit the punishing hits that happen in that aspect of the game. This way Ginn can focus on catching passes and scoring touchdowns without losing any type of advantage in the kicking game.  His story is one that I love going from an undrafted free agent and the year on the practice squad to on an NFL roster. These are the guys you root for and I think he will be a very valuable asset to the team this season.

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 The savvy Move

During his tenure as Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has known the right buttons to push almost each and every time. This off-season was no different he saw a glaring weakness and filled it. This time it was punter because of injury and ineffectiveness. The team acquired Andy Lee for a fourth-round pick from the Browns.

It might seem like a steep price for a punter, but he is a three-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro selection, and ranks sixth in NFL history with a 46.2 gross punting average. He also ranks He also ranks ninth all-time with 325 punts inside the 20-yard line. This shows he is worth every penny or in this case a high draft pick. This addition will give both our special teams and ball-hawking defense a chance at even more turnovers and negative plays to  give our explosive offense shorter fields to work with.

As icing on the cake, Lee is a South Carolina native and said the trade to Carolina was a dream come true! His contract is a good one as he will be around until at least 2018 creating stability for a position that quickly became a concern during the preseason.

Conclusion

These are my biggest takeaways from this year’s roster ultimately I think we will make another along postseason run trying to avenge the heartbreak of last season. We do have some rookies being thrown into the fire, but I’m confident with the veteran presence around them they will adjust quickly and be successful. It all begins Thursday night in the Mile High City. Let’s get off to a good start! GO Panthers!!

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Carolina Panthers, NFL

Carolina Panthers keep core together in good offseason

The Carolina Panthers have had an interesting yet very productive off-season as they look to do something that’s never been done. No Super Bowl loser has returned to the big game the following season, that being said, I think the team is in better shape coming into 2016 with the return of Kelvin Benjamin and the team being one year older.

The biggest storyline was the organization’s decision to rescind the franchise tag of Pro bowl corner Josh Norman, which initially was a shocker, but I think it was a great decision because by letting Norman walk they opened up about 32 million dollars in cap space and they’ve put it to good use this off-season keeping the core of the team together with contract extensions. Additionally we’ve added veteran complimentary pieces that have enhanced the depth on the roster.

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The Offensive Line

The most important person to keep healthy on this team is quarterback Cam Newton because as Newton goes the team follows. That being said, it was important to keep consistency and depth within the offensive line. The team did that in a big way signing Ryan Kalil, and Michael Oher, to contract extensions they also added veteran center Gino Gradkowski improving the depth of a vital position on the football field.

Kalil has been one of the best centers in the game in his 10 years, he is a five-time Pro Bowler a stabilizing force for our team and the quarterbacks he’s worked with throughout his career. He’s also been very durable playing at least 10 games in seven seasons and starting all 16 games in five of those creating stability for everyone on the offense. He was rewarded with a two-year 16.75 contract extension virtually assuring he will finish his career as a lifelong panther as it should be.

Next, the team locked up right tackle Michael Oher, who had a breakout year, solidifying the left tackle position that was left in flux with the retirement of longtime Panther Jordan Gross. Oher was coming off a disappointing stint with the Titans where he was plagued by injury.

Despite the recent disappointments in Oher career, he made the seamless transition to the Panthers and played a vital role in protecting Cam Newton as we made our Super Bowl run. This off-season as Oher was weighing his options as a free agent Newton personally called Oher saying that he wanted him back in a panther uniform and the team felt the same as we signed Oher to a three-year 21.6 million dollar extension keeping the stability in front of our franchise quarterback.

Lastly, the team signed Gino Gradkowski as the backup center and possibly the eventual replacement for Kalil whenever he decides to hang them up. In his first two seasons with the ravens he started 15 of 16 games and all 16 games last two seasons, then fell off in his last two seasons split between Baltimore and Atlanta where he started eight games and four games respectively.

The last two seasons notwithstanding Gradkowski has proven he can be an effective NFL player and will be a serviceable backup Kalil. The Panthers have made sure this unit has stayed intact this off-season with the only question mark being the right tackle position between Mike Remmers and youngster Daryl Williams. The team has done an excellent job of finding the best combination to protect the MVP in Newton.

Carolina Panthers v San Diego Chargers

Mike Tolbert

The Panthers continued to take care of their own signing fullback Mike Tolbert to a two-year $4 million contract extension. Tolbert has been one of the most productive fullbacks in the league and since putting on a panther uniform he’s gotten even more effective because of the playmakers around him and he is taking full advantage.

This signing not only brings back a playmaker, but a familiar face that knows the protections and is a good blocker as well. Furthermore, it keeps the record-breaking offense in 2015 completely the same except the welcome addition of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin who is returning from injury.

The team has made it a point to keep the chemistry and camaraderie of each unit as high as possible and bringing Tolbert back continues that theme and I expect us to be better than ever in 2016.

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JJ Jansen

One of the more underrated signings for the Panthers this off-season with locking up long snapper JJ Jansen to a five-year contract extension worth $5.5 million. To just the average football fan, this would seem like a waste of money, however one of the most important positions on the field that is many times overlooked.

Jansen has been with the Panthers since 2009 and over that period of time he’s handled over 1000 snaps whether that is on punts, field goals or extra points and has been rock solid handling over 600 attempts since his last misstep in 2010, knock on wood.

A position that I believe will start getting more recognition because field goals are longer and as we saw in the playoff game the Minnesota Vikings the snap matters. Jansen is a vital piece of the special teams unit, helping kicker Graham Gano confidence to just focus on his job making pressure packed kicks. Never having to worry about the  snap  because it’s going to be spot on. The team recognized Jansen importance and rewarded him accordingly, keeping the bomb squad intact for the foreseeable future.

The Defense

The Panthers also fortified one of the best defensive units in the NFL over the last couple of years and continued the theme of the off-season keeping the core guys together on each unit. They made three major moves increasing the depth at the defense of tackle position signing veteran Paul Soliai, who is another big body and is expected to be a great run stopper.

This seems to be a great fit because Soliai will be playing alongside his great friend Star Lotulelei. Not only will you be an asset for us on the field I think he will be a great addition to the locker room commodity because of the comfort level that comes when playing with a close friend. This team cares about quality football players and people they got both of those things with Soliai.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers

Charles Jonson

The next move was a bit of a shocker when the team was able to re-sign Charles Johnson to a one-year $3 million “prove it” deal after a disappointing 2015. A season that saw him tear his hamstring and then lose playing time to Jared Allen who was playing better after he came back from injury.

This was shocking that Johnson would even consider coming back to the Carolinas because of the money he was offered elsewhere, specifically with the Giants it was five years, but Johnson clearly wanted to stay in the Queen City because he almost fired his agent over his desire to stay in Charlotte that is clear loyalty and I respect that immensely.

Johnson was extremely unselfish in signing this deal it allowed the team to clear much-needed cap space. He showed exactly what he cared about and that is winning. Johnson coming back adds a familiar face and a veteran guy for the young up and comers to learn from. An asset that sometimes gets overlooked, but is extremely important for the growth of the players and the defense as a whole now and in the future.

This is a low risk high reward scenario for the Panthers because if they get the Pro bowl Charles Johnson or something remotely close to that the defense will be even more fierce and if not it doesn’t cost them a great deal financially. Also, they have a lot of good options to replace if he gets injured again or if he’s not effective. it’s a win-win deal for the organization. I hope he comes back stronger than ever, giving us another weapon for opponents to plan for.

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Kurt Coleman

The last move the team made was signing Kurt Coleman to a three-year $17 million contract extension. This move was a must, as Coleman has quickly becoming the quarterback of the secondary with the departures of Josh Norman, Charles Tillman and Roman Harper who went back to the Saints.

Coleman is coming off a breakout 2015 where he had 90 total tackles, 55 solo and more importantly seven interceptions. An amazing first impression for a guy I had no idea who he was when we signed him last off-season, but is quickly become one of my favorites because of the brutality and focus that he plays with.

As one of the veterans of the secondary his leadership is going to be crucial as the team is trying to get the three rookie cornerbacks comfortable in our system. I believe Coleman will play a vital part in their development while continuing to improve his great skills set.

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Ron Rivera

It wasn’t just the players that were taking care of this off-season, but head coach Ron Rivera was awarded a nice extension for his role in making the Panthers one the NFL’s best teams. He signed a three-year 19.5 million dollar extension making sure he will be in Carolina at least through the 2018 season.

It’s a well-deserved contract as he was one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL today. It wasn’t all roses and beginning, however some were calling for his head after a slow start to his coaching tenure. Then came the nickname Riverboat Ron taking chances going for it more than normal on fourth down, putting more trust in his player’s ability.

This resulted in the team playing more free and easy trusting themselves and because of that a lot of winning and consistent play has happened since the nickname arrived. He has led the Panthers to three straight division titles an NFC championship and has been named the NFL Coach of the year twice. He has brought honesty, consistency, and creativeness to the Panthers organization and I’m proud that he’s our coach.

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Conclusion

The Carolina Panthers have shown they pride themselves on his loyalty and high character players and personnel. The team took the $32 million cap space they got once Norman left and turned it into six contract extensions, ensuring the bulk of this roster stays the same for a long while. They also signed three veteran guys to low-cost contracts to add different abilities to this team.

So in all they turned one player in Josh Norman, who was going to require a max deal into nine players. Many of whom are vital to the success and chemistry of this team the lesson here is be loyal to Carolina they’ll be loyal to you. If not it’s okay will find quality players that want to be in the Queen city. Don’t mess with  GM Dave Gettleman he’s not afraid to play hardball. This team is set up for another Super Bowl run and I can’t wait for it to start.

 

 

MY FAVORITE PUMP UP VIDEO Will GET YOU FIRED UP!!!

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Carolina Panthers, NFL

The Carolina Panthers make the right call on Josh Norman

On Wednesday the Carolina Panthers sent shockwaves through the NFL world when they decided to rescind the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman. Making him an unrestricted free agent free to sign anywhere. Personally I think the Panthers made the right move in letting Norman walk and I think it will benefit the franchise presently and in the long run.

The Panthers sent a strong message with this move showing they will not be pushed around and/or mortgage the future success of the franchise for a player that doesn’t seem to have the right mindset for this organization. Especially with just one Pro bowl season and by all accounts a questionable attitude. Prior to last year’s breakout season Norman, if I recall correctly, he was in the doghouse with Coach Rivera and he didn’t play much his first couple of seasons. I understand a player wanting his payday after being productive on the field, but it was just one season and Norman’s asking price is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.

He wants Patrick Peterson and Darrelle Revis type money asking for 16 million per year. Norman only has one great year under his belt where as Revis and Peterson have proven track records to be quality football players and shutdown corners. I’m not saying Norman isn’t a good player and may be worth that much someday, but right now there is no way. I know he didn’t get thrown at much the second half of the season after his torrid beginning, but I seem to remember some situations where he gambled and got burned  putting our defense in some bad spots.

Another big factor in his decision is his attitude it’s been reported that he was not the best locker room presence and that’s one thing I’ve learned since Gettleman’s arrival to the Panthers is a locker room chemistry is paramount and if that comes into question the “offender” is usually not a part of the long-term plan of the team. Norman’s attitude played a part in the contract negotiations and it was clear to Gettleman that a long-term contract was not feasible due to Norman’s demands.

The team was reportedly willing to give Norman 11 million per year, which isn’t too shabby, but sometimes a person’s true colors come out showing what he is really after. Instead of having the opportunity to win championships in the years to come Norman chose the greenbacks his choice and the Panthers were willing to oblige allowing him and his agent to explore a trade. When that didn’t work out they just cut ties with him altogether. Like I said I don’t fault a guy for wanting a big payday, but it seems he could have had the best of both worlds with the opportunity to win championships and make a good chunk of change in the process it is what it is best of luck to him.

Honestly the organization might be in better shape now they opened up 32 million in cap space. The team can shore up multiple areas of the roster and not have that money chewed up by one player; which could potentially handcuff the organization in the future when trying to add other players or re-sign our own. Speaking of keeping our own we can now lock up our core players like Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei to long-term deals to keep them in the Queen city for a while. I applaud the Panthers brass and ownership for sticking to their guns and not giving in!

Gettleman has proven he is not afraid to make the unthinkable move he doesn’t care what other people think he just does what’s best for the organization’s present and future. I’ll admit it was a shocking move, but I agree with it and I believe the Panthers will be better off and I’m excited to see what else he’s got up his sleeve to improve the team in the weeks to come.

 

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Carolina Panthers, NFL

Turning the Page: Poised to be Great Again

The Carolina Panthers fell a little short of the ultimate goal of hoisting the Lombardi trophy falling to the Denver Broncos 24-10. It was a game filled with what if’s and missed opportunities. I think I speak for all of Panther nation when I say I wish we could go back in time and fix the critical errors that ultimately cost us the game. However, that is not possible the worst thing about sports is someone has to lose and unfortunately we did not play up to our ability and suffered the consequences of that.

Despite the loss it was an incredible season to witness and be a part of! 2016 has a chance to be equally as amazing with a slightly different result at the end. The motivation couldn’t be higher for this organization to continue the journey to become the champion of the NFL! Here are three reasons it could be even better for the Panthers in 2016.

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Return of Kelvin Benjamin

In sports, when one of your star players goes down with an injury, then returns it’s like making a big trade, but it doesn’t cost you anything. That’s going to happen for the Panthers next season as Kelvin Benjamin is set to return from his ACL injury he suffered in training camp before the season. It’s going to be a huge addition to an already potent offense.

In his rookie season he set records for receptions (73), yards (1008), and (9) touchdowns. This is going to be a huge shot in the arm and just another weapon for defenses to plan for. It’s a dream situation, I think because Cam Newton was able to build trust and confidence in his other wide receivers helping the entire offense mature and develop chemistry. Adding Benjamin to the mix creates mismatches and allows for creativity with the offense because defenses can’t double-team as frequently when Benjamin is on the football field.  The sky’s the limit for this offense, I can’t wait to see it!

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Another Year Older

The experience factor is just if not more important than the talent on the roster. This season so many young guys were able to gain valuable experience showing themselves and the coaching staff they belong. Those guys include Devin Funchess and Shaq Thompson rookies that were key contributors to our success. In Funchess’s case, he had to grow up a little faster due to injury and was able to do that making many important catches to help us win games. It’s going to be fun to see the twin towers Benjamin and Funchess develop into a great one-two punch with Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn JR, and Philly Brown alongside.

A lot of us were scratching our heads when we selected Thompson 25th overall out of the University of Washington. He has shown he has the ability to turn into a dynamic every down defender. He had some bone crushing hits this season that made me smile and understand why we made the selection. Those are just two young guys that benefited from great experience this season.

The experience was not only great for the rookies, but for the entire team from the top down. Experience shows you how to handle big moments, success and failure no one can take that away from them. Knowledge is the gift that keeps on giving, especially in football because you can go into your memory bank and see how you handled a situation on or off the field. Making them better prepared when they are in that situation again.

Being a year older will greatly benefit everyone that’s a part of this team on and off the field it’s amazing what experience will do for football players. The Panthers will benefit greatly from what they experienced this year!

DAVE_GETTLEMAN_06Young Core

Lastly, this roster is built for the long run with our core players being young starting with quarterback Cam Newton (26) and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (24) captains of the offense and defense respectively.

This team has built well through the draft in recent years Newton and Kuechly included, but here are some other guys that have developed into great NFL players and will be around for a while. Defensive tackles Kawann Short (27),  Star Lotulelei (26), Cornerback Josh Norman (28). Those are just a handful of guys that are just entering their prime and shows you can build a winner through the draft as we have.

I’m really hoping we are able to lock up these guys because they are really good and like GM Dave Gettleman said “I don’t want to develop these guys for other teams.” I’m very confident that we will be able to get those deals done while continuing to make improvements to our roster. Gettleman has the pulse of the team and understands what we need to make it over that last hurdle. It’s been exciting to see us develop this winning culture over the past handful of seasons. The Queen City will be roaring once again in 2016 I have no doubt. Go Panthers! Keep Pounding!

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Carolina Panthers, NFL, Top 5 list

Super Bowl Bound!! 5 Reasons Why

Then there were two! My Carolina Panthers will face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. It’s been amazing to watch the Panthers mature and trust the process. In sports the most difficult thing is to be patient because this is an industry that is judged by wins and losses.

The Panthers have reaped the rewards of their patience over the past few years building through the draft and adding low-cost veterans to mentor the younger players. It’s a strategy that angers fans because we want instant gratification and championships now and don’t want to wait.

An approach that will maintain a winning culture for years because we have such a great group of young core players. Here are five key things that happened to the Panthers in 2015 that fueled this Super Bowl run.

Losing Kelvin Benjamin

Panthers-Benjamin Football

It may be shocking to some when I say losing our number one wide receiver helped us during this run. I honestly believe it has because it forced quarterback cam Newton to mature as a passer going through progressions and building chemistry with his other wide outs. At times last year it felt as if Newton was staring down Benjamin and not giving us the best chance to get the ball down the field and score as many points as possible.

Would it be great to have Benjamin? Yes, but it’s been great to see Newton make the best out of a bad situation and gain trust in everyone on the offense not just Benjamin. I think the injury made him focus a little more because his tall safety valve that he used many times last season was not there.

Not only has Newton elevated his game to an MVP level, so have the guys around him, realizing they had to step up big time to fill the void left by Benjamin after the injury. The offense has had a record-setting year in many categories, I think it’s because everyone focused a little harder once they realized they wouldn’t have Benjamin’s production on the field.

Here are a few statistics to show you what I mean; we led the league in points per game averaging 31.3. We accomplished that in a myriad of ways with the most balanced offense in the NFL. We were second in the league in rushing yards per game at 142.6 yards per game and collectively as a team, we have rushed for over 100 yards in 30 consecutive games, including the postseason.

This just goes to show you losing a star player doesn’t have to doom a season if the team has the right attitude about it. It’s been absolutely amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish without Benjamin just leaving us saying “what if.”

The Offensive line play

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The offensive line was a perceived weakness for the Panthers coming into the 2015 season. However, that has not been the case as we were ranked 11th in the regular-season allowing just 33 sacks and 61 quarterback hits, which is amazing considering the dual threat that Cam Newton is on every play.

That area has improved in the postseason as well, allowing just two sacks and three quarterback hits. They’ve been so good Newton has had at times three seconds in the pocket before anyone is close to him, allowing him to survey the defense and complete those big plays down the field.

A big reason for the quick resurgence of this group is General Manager Dave Gettleman signed left tackle Michael Oher to a two-year contract this off-season. Oher was coming off an injury-riddled year with the Tennessee Titans and needed a fresh start. We provided the opportunity and he has become one of the most important people on our roster protecting Cam Newton’s blindside.

He’s been awesome in the running game as well; creating lanes for big plays, putting opposing defenses on their toes. This will be the biggest factor in deciding the Super Bowl champion because Denver’s defense is relentless, but I like our chances the way those guys have played all year.

Ball Hawking Defense

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The backbone of this Carolina Panther team for years has been the defensive side of the ball. This season is no different, but somehow we’ve elevated our game to an even higher level. Generating takeaways has been the greatest area of improvement as our guys continue to develop; the team has forced 39 turnovers in the regular-season and another nine during this postseason run. They have been a very opportunistic group accumulating a +29 turnover ratio creating momentum early and often.

The defensive line has been the key to this spike in turnovers forced. They have become a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks to face because they’ve generated so much pressure from many different levels of the defense. This constant pressure has allowed the guys in the backend to take more chances, which has resulted in big momentum grabbing plays.

The player that has taken the biggest leap this season is defensive end Kawann Short going from what some thought a potential bust to now the JJ Watt of the Panthers defense. Entering the season Short had just five sacks and 55 tackles. This year he has worked extremely hard at his craft and has been rewarded with 13 total sacks regular-season and postseason combined.

A perfect time for this coming out party because the opposing offenses have to pay extra attention opening up opportunities for other guys to make an impact. These eye-popping statistics show this is one of the most complete teams the Queen City and the NFL have ever seen from the Carolina Panthers.

Many Savvy moves made

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The Panthers organization has experienced great success from top to bottom in 2015. The orchestrator of this roster, general manager Dave Gettleman deserves a ton of credit for what we’ve seen this year from the Panthers. He’s made countless moves that will not light of the tabloids, but have greatly improved the team without mortgaging the future.

Signing Kurt Coleman

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Coleman signed a two-year contract worth just $2.8 million, which is an absolute steal considering the production he’s provided on the field. He has quickly become one of the best safeties in the NFL. He is putting together a career year with nine interceptions this season, including two in the NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals.

He has greatly benefited from guys like Josh Norman because offenses tend to shy away from that side of the field, allowing Coleman to patrol the middle of the field reading quarterbacks’ eyes taking advantage of every mistake. He is a very tough-minded player that will sacrifice his body and do anything to help this team win.

This move illustrates Gettleman’s ability to evaluate talent and allow a lesser-known player the chance to prove himself and help the team win football games. Coleman is just one of many diamond in the rough type of guys that he has brought in that have contributed a great deal to the success of this team.

Signing Courtland Finnegan

 

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This was an insurance policy move because the secondary has been ravaged by injuries and we needed a healthy body. Finnegan was sitting on his couch with his retirement papers drawn up when we called for his services. He has fit in like a glove in our secondary.

He’s a guy that you love to have on your team, but hate to face because he tries to get into opponents’ heads forcing them into mistakes. He had a great impact in the NFC championship game with an interception and he helped limit Larry Fitzgerald to just four catches for 30 yards.

This move shows he has the pulse of this team. Knowing exactly the type of player that will fit into the locker room and on the field. He has a magic wand this year, pushing all the right buttons. These are just a couple of many savvy moves Gettleman has made to propel us to this point in the season.

 Having Fun

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The Carolina Panthers are having the most fun I’ve ever seen a team have it’s been a joy to watch. The team has created the “dab” sensation, celebrating first downs, and big plays every chance we get. It’s really refreshing to see a high profile athlete where his emotions on his sleeve and not care what anybody thinks.

The entire team has followed Newton’s lead, enjoying what they do while thinking of the fans. After every touchdown they give the ball to a kid sitting behind the end zone, creating a memory that they won’t forget. The celebrations and pictures might rub some people the wrong way, but it’s just because they can’t stop us.

The emotion and attitude this team brings to every play keeps them engaged and even after a bad play they know they can atone for the mistake. That’s the mentality coach Rivera has preached all season, keeping your personality and doing your job. That attitude has allowed us just to focus on what we can control and not what the media thinks.

This is a very rare occurrence and sports nowadays because it’s all about championships and professionalism, but the Panthers have proven you can have fun and still do your job at the highest of levels.  A deadly combination for a team with so many dynamic weapons on the roster,

 Conclusion

These are five things I think helped us get to where we are! However, it’s not over yet we have one goal left to achieve and that is to lift the Lombardi trophy. I’m so ecstatic I don’t think I have stopped smiling since watching us punch our ticket a memory that I will never forget. Finish it off Go Panthers!

 

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Top 5 Takeaways from Panthers victory over the Seahawks

These NFL playoffs have had mind-boggling plays that just shouldn’t happen on a football field. A few examples of the craziness we’ve seen.. Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip shot 27 yard field goal, or when Aaron Rodgers completed two Hail Mary’s to force overtime! What happen next, the overtime coin flip had to be redone because the coin didn’t flip! You can’t make up these things up, there is just something different about playoff football.

The Carolina Panthers followed suit with a crazy, unexplainable game against the two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. Here are my top five takeaways from the Panthers victory other than I had a heart attack again. Which is nothing new for this team the matter the situation!

Cardiac Cats do it Again

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This team has  a tendency to get out to big leads and take their foot off the proverbial paddle and make it a nerve-racking experience for all fans involved. It happened again on Sunday as the Panthers jumped out to a commanding 31-0 at half, which I might add is our largest halftime lead in franchise history. However, in the typical panther fashion they had to make it exciting in the second half being outscored by the Seahawks 24-0.

It’s the only way we know how to play football games and as a fan, you’d think we’d be used to it by now, but trust me, you don’t if your heart doesn’t skip a beat during a Panther game there something wrong. We just have a unique way of doing things it just puts fans at risk for a heart attack or the need for alcohol to get through a game. One way or the other we keep pounding and find a way to win football games at all cost its what I love about this team despite the heart attacks they like to give us.

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Defense set the tone early

One of the keys coming into the playoffs was to generate a pass rush to take the pressure off of a beleaguered secondary that was ravaged by injuries late in the season. They did exactly that on the first play for the Seahawks it was a tackle for loss the next play was a pick six by Luke Kuechly throwing a Haymaker up 14-0 just 3 1/2 minutes into the game a magical start they continued through the first half. The pressure we were able to generate was a sight for sore eyes, as the outside guys hadn’t gotten a sack since the Thanksgiving showdown against Dallas.

It was great to see us force Russell Wilson into bad decisions and put them behind the chains with four sacks. The big boys responded to the challenge and did their jobs taking the pressure off the secondary, which will be key again when we face the Arizona Cardinals.

 

Our own “Beast Mode”

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This team’s identity is the running game pounding it down the defense’s throat wearing them down opening up big splash plays. That happened Sunday with the return of our leading rusher Jonathan Stewart after a three-game absence due to injury.He set the often the tone early with a 59 yard run on the first play from scrimmage showing it was going to be a long day for Seattle trying to tackle the battering ram style of Stewart. He is the first player to rush for over 100 yards against that stingy Seattle defense in the last 27 games!  I don’t like when our key players get hurt, but he looked to have the fresher legs after not being hit in three games, I think it was a blessing in disguise.

It felt like we gave Seattle a taste of their own medicine with our quartet of backs including quarterback Cam Newton. The running game is always key to our success! Today was no different Stewart rushed 19 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. It was good to have Stewart back in the lineup, adding a dimension back to our offensive playbook.

Mr Reliable comes through again

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The most reliable target of quarterback Cam Newton has been tight end Greg Olsen. Sunday was another example of the chemistry those two have developed since they both arrived in Carolina. He had six catches for 77 yards and what turned out to be the game clinching touchdown late in the first half. It wasn’t just your garden-variety touchdown either it was an acrobatic catch in between two defenders that honestly, I don’t know if any of our other guys make that catch.

Another key play in yesterday’s game that won’t get, as much notoriety as it should was a pivotal third down conversion that kept the clock moving. It was a third-down and eight a little crossing pattern that Olsen caught and took a vicious shot from safety Kam Chancellor, but still was able to get the first down. Football is a game of inches and if he did not sacrifice his body and stretch the ball we could be talking about a whole different outcome because the momentum was severely shifting in Seattle’s direction.

The trust between Newton and Olsen has continued to get stronger and stronger carrying us throughout this magical season it’s been awesome to watch. It also has forced defenses to focus more attention Olsen’s way of opening up big plays for the other guys.

Once again, I thank the Chicago Bears for giving him to us; he has become one of the best tight ends in the league and once again was a pivotal player in our playoff victory yesterday. That connection is a deadly nightmare for defenses to prepare for and virtually every time a big play results. We had Mr. reliable in Ricky Proehl now I think we have it in Greg Olsen and that’s amazing.

 

 

“You Play to Win the Game”

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We played one of the most complete halves of football I’ve seen us ever play up 31-0. However, I think human nature played a part in the Seahawks second-half comeback when they outscored us 24-0. As Cam Newton put it in his press conference everybody got a little “butt tight” I totally agree you can still be relatively aggressive while chewing clock by staying at the line of scrimmage a little longer. The conservative playacting got us out of our rhythm  fueling the comeback by Seattle   giving them belief  they could come back fortunately we made enough plays down the stretch so that didn’t happen.

In playoff football you have to keep the pedal down because as we seen crazy things can happen very quickly. The team understands they can’t let that happen again against the even more explosive Arizona Cardinals. It was good to see coach Rivera was disappointed to see our aggression diminish in the second half  said it won’t happen again. If you have an opportunity to deliver the kill shot to your opponent, you must do it because your opponent have pride and don’t want to be embarrassed at their job.

I put in a little on everybody because I know Mike Shula has creative play is that can still keep us in rhythm and the defense on their toes. I know there’s a fine line because you don’t want to make stupid mistakes, allowing the opponent right back in the game. I don’t see us having a problem with that again because we understand what can happen, but it is a good problem to have because you know you’re getting off to fast starts putting your opponents behind the eight ball.

 Conclusion

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It was a topsy-turvy game that took three years off my life, but we ultimately got the job done and that’s all that matters. We have a little more bird hunting to do, I expect it to be a very exciting game that comes down to the end. Get the defibrillator ready because it’s playoff football and the Carolina Panthers anything can happen, but one thing’s for sure Bank of America Stadium is going to be rocking I can’t wait. One step closer Keep pounding Go Panthers!!

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