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Panthers Were Not Ready

January 16, 2014

It was nice while it lasted. The Carolina Panthers gave its fans a nice regular season and a home playoff game. But everything came to a crashing halt on Sunday as the San Francisco 49ers came to Charlotte and eliminated the Panthers from playoff action by a 23-10 count. Carolina came out all amped up but showed some inexperience early. But nearly as painful to Carolina and its chances to grab an early double digit lead were the personal foul penalties on the defense that extended San Francisco drives and led to early field goals. Also painful was the offense’s inability to find the end zone when in the red zone. 

The result was San Francisco opening up a 13-10 halftime lead even though they were outplayed by the Panthers. Carolina easily could have been up by three touchdowns. 

The 49ers showed their playoff experience by taking control of the game in the second half. They put 10 more points on the board while the Panthers offense struggled mightily. It was quite clear that San Francisco, Super Bowl participants last year, had more experience in those types of playoff atmospheres while the Panthers hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2008 season. 

Cam Newton, in his first appearance on the postseason stage, once again led an offense that only managed to score 10 points against the 49ers. I thought Newton played well but it is clear that Carolina needs to find more offensive weapons. And we should not overlook just how dominant the San Francisco defense can be when it’s on its game. Just as in a 10-9 loss to the Panthers earlier this season, San Francisco made life for Newton absolutely miserable. They sacked Newton five times and picked him off twice. The Panthers missed a couple of opportunities early, which set the stage for the 49ers’ relentless pass rush to overwhelm Newton’s offensive line down the stretch.  

NFL Playoff Notes 

The wild-card round a week ago was a thrill a minute. This past weekend was a letdown by comparison, with only the New Orleans Saints-Seattle Seahawks game coming down to the final minutes. There were not any real surprises and we are now down to the NFL’s version of the Final Four. 

The best division in football now has the last two teams standing in the NFC playoffs. Though several other teams thought of  themselves as contenders, teams like Carolina, New Orleans, Green Bay, Philadelphia, even Chicago, Detroit and Arizona for a bit, most thought that the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers were on a collision course for this conference’s championship. The 49ers had to work their way into the playoffs a little harder than did the top-seeded Seahawks. Now that they’re here, I think they are capable of finishing the job they started last season before falling just short against the Ravens in the Super Bowl. 

Peyton Manning

The AFC gives us another Peyton Manning - Tom Brady matchup as Denver will host New England. Brady usually came out on top in the past when Manning was with the Colts. Most of the earlier match-ups came in New England. This time, the two will meet in Denver. Everyone knows by now that Manning struggles in bad weather. I have not checked the Denver weather yet but I do know I will go with the Broncos if weather is not an issue. Denver has too much talent on offense though you have to respect how far Brady has taken his team this season as he rarely has led an offense with so little talent.

One thing to watch in both games is the rushing attacks. Especially New England as the Patriots have excelled in that facet of the game. Actually, the four remaining teams once again showed us that you have to have a running game to advance in playoff football. There are a number of reasons rushing attacks emerge during playoff football. The primary reason is that weather can sometimes dictate the need to run the ball. Nothing can slow down dynamic passing attacks more then inclement weather. Another reason is that controlling the game with a rushing game can keep opposing offenses off the field. 

Tom Brady

Numbers bear this thinking out. Rushing offense exploded in the opening round of the playoffs when the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, 49ers and Saints each rushed for more than 100 yards on their way to wins, averaging 162 yards per team. In the Divisional round, teams came out running and again all four winning teams exploded on the ground. The four winners averaged 167 yards on the ground. Here are some other numbers I found. During the regular season, NFL teams ran 42 percent of the time and passed 58 percent of the time. In the divisional round of the playoffs, the winning teams flipped the regular-season ratio, going 57 percent run and 43 percent pass.  

Stubborn Stewart 

There has to be a reason why Tony Stewart will not turn to former crew chief Greg Zipadelli. Fans just do not know the reason and likely will never know. Stewart and Greg Zipadelli won 33 races and two NASCAR championships together over a successful decade together. They split after the 2008 season when Stewart left to become co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, and Stewart begins this season with his third different crew chief since Zipadelli. 

That is evidence to me that Stewart has struggled to find the same chemistry he had with Zipadelli all those years. So why not just reunite with Zipadelli? Zipadelli told AP last week that he has offered  to return to the pit box this season with Stewart. 

Apparently, the three-time Cup champion is not entertaining the thought of reunification.

Tony Stewart


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