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December 31, 2008

Williams: NFC's offensive player of the month

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams is the NFC's offensive player of the month for December. Williams ran for a league-high 560 yards, averaging 140.0 yards per game and scored seven touchdowns in the Panthers' four December games. He's one of only three Panthers players in history to be named the NFC's offensive player of the month, joining receivers Patrick Jeffers (December 1999) and Steve Smith (October 2005).

It's the third straight month a Panthers player has been named player of the month. Linebacker Jon Beason (October) and end Julius Peppers (November) won defensive honors earlier. -- David Scott

Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2008 at 03:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Lloyd: Best kicker in K-ball era

Panthers kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd has made some history this season.

Lloyd's 30 touchbacks are the most in the NFL since the league began using the "K-ball" in 1999. The league introduced the K-ball -- an unused ball specifically for use by punters and kickers -- in 1999 so they couldn't gain an advantage by breaking it in too much.

Lloyd also had the second-most touchbacks in a season since the kickoff line was moved from the 35 to the 30 in 1994. That record is held by Mitch Berger (40) in 1998. The next season, using a K-ball, Berger had just 13.

Lloyd's kickoffs have had a large impact on the Panthers. Their opponents' average starting field position is the 24.7, third in the league. That follows a 29.0-yard line starting point in 2007 when John Kasay handled the kickoff duties, 19th in the league.

The Panthers had four touchbacks in all of 2007. Kasay had one of them ;Lloyd had the other three when he signed for the last game of the season. -- David Scott   


Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2008 at 02:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

December 30, 2008

Jason Baker: Marino's new best friend?

There's a joke going around the Panthers' locker room that Dan Marino ought to buy punter Jason Baker a steak dinner.

It might be true. But it's also a way the Panthers are staying loose on the heels of their oh-so-close victory against New Orleans on Sunday with a little good-natured ribbing at Baker, whose shanked, 21-yard punt set up the Saints for a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans only had to drive 45 yards to get the touchdown. But it left Saints quarterback Drew Brees still 16 yards shy of tying Marino's single-season NFL passing record.

If Baker's punt had gone at least those 16 yards farther -- or had it netted at least that much -- Brees could have broken the record on that drive. As it was, the Saints got the ball back with one second left after the Panthers had gone ahead 33-31. Brees' final pass -- which could potentially have broken the record -- fell incomplete.

And here's a cool stat: Baker ended the regular-season with a 37.4-yard net -- 16.4 yards more than his 21-yarder against the Saints, which went out of bounds and wasn't returned.

How do you like that steak, Jason? -- David Scott

Posted by Observer Sports on December 30, 2008 at 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

December 29, 2008

SPECIAL REPORT: RBs make history

Carolina's DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart just completed one of the most spectacular regular seasons by a backfield duo in NFL history.

Williams and Stewart not only led all running back tandems in rushing this season by combining for 2,351 yards, but their total also ranks as the eighth best combined single-season rushing performance ever by a pair of teammates, according to league research requested by the Observer.

The only backfield duos with more yards all included one of these four Hall of Fame greats -- O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Walter Payton or Eric Dickerson.

That puts Williams and Stewart in rarefied air. Their 2008 total is the best in the NFL in 24 years.

The all-time record for backfield duos is 2,640 yards, set in 1975 by Simpson (1,817) and Buffalo teammate Jim Braxton (823).

Simpson made the top seven list twice for the 1973 season, when he gained 2,003 yards and teamed with Braxton (494) and Larry Watkins (414).

The combined total by Williams and Stewart is the best any backfield combination has compiled since Dickerson set a single-season individual record of 2,105 yards in 1984 and filled two of the top seven duo spots with teammates Dwayne Crutchfield (337) and Barry Redden (247).

Williams ran for 1,515 yards this season, a Panthers' team record, and Stewart set a new team standard for rookies with 836 yards.

More on this in tomorrow's Observer and online.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on December 29, 2008 at 09:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

Playoff tickets on sale Thursday

Tickets for the Panthers' playoff game Jan. 10 will go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. Prices will range from $62 to $400 and each fan can purchase up to four tickets. There will be no sales at the Panthers' ticket office at Bank of America Stadium. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster, by calling 704-522-6500 in the Charlotte area or going to www.ticketmaster.com. Ticket information: 704-358-7800 (Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) -- David Scott

Posted by Observer Sports on December 29, 2008 at 03:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Fox's Monday news conference

Here's the transcript from coach John Fox's Monday news conference:

Q. Any injury updates?

"Nothing since it happened, I don't know, how many hours ago. There's nothing else to report. We'll report again Wednesday."

Q. Can you prepare this week for whomever you might play, Arizona, Atlanta or Minnesota?

"The good news is we played all three this year, so it's not like they're totally foreign to us. That'll be helpful."

Q. What will practice be like this week?

"They'll be much shorter, minimal contact. We'll be selective on who practices. I'm not going to get into detail on that now."

Q. Are you happy with the bye?

"There's no doubt we prefer it worked out that way. As far as where we're seeded, the key is the bye. Our current state is beneficial to us. We've got guys banged up like that we'd like have back before we play again. If it happened the other way, we'd have a short week and with this short season, you want your best players."

Q. Did you talk to Mr. Richardson after the game?

"Yes, he was very excited and very proud. It meant a lot to him and he knew it meant a lot to us. He seemed to be in very good spirits."

Q. Did he say if he was nervous at the end?

"Yeah, he said...I can't say that. I'll leave it as it was amusing."

Q. What do you think of the "Double Trouble" nickname for Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, and did you check it out on their website?

"I didn't know it was officially out there. What was it again? Double Trouble? I'm not a big website guy."

Q. On the last field goal, did you want seven seconds on the clock or five?

"In that vicinity. I don't want to get into too much strategy. But typically when you're behind, you like a little extra time in case there's a holding penalty. If the game's tied, we do it a little differently."

Q. Is this as good an offense as you've seen?

"In 20 years, I've seen a lot of different things. No doubt it's the best offense we've had here since I've been here as head coach. A lot went into it. We injected a lot of talent and it worked out. There are not guarantees with personnel acquisitions. They blended well. (Offensive coordinator) Jeff Davidson and his staff, (quarterbacks coach) Mike McCoy. We maintained a balance that I think is important. Guys flourished in the passing game and in the running game."

Q. Did the running backs exceed your expectations?

"They're pretty good. I've mentioned it in (TV) production meetings and to you guys. At certain points, people were trying to pick which one's best. But there's a lot of gymnastics in a season. The reality is they're both pretty darn good and have helped our running game."

Q. How long after last season ended did you decide to overhaul the offensive line?

"That happens immediately when a season's over. You evaluate your team, the changes you can make, the direction you want to go. You try to stick to it. You realize where your weaknesses are, where you need to get better. I thought that was key, it really started when the season was over. It's like that every year."

Q. Why did Steve Smith return a punt yesterday?

"He's a guy who's been pretty adequate at that position before. As we get into this next (post) season, he may or may not be something we look at. We don't want the playoffs to be the first time he did it. He's practiced there, but we want to see him in a game situation."

Q. Does it seem like Jake is throwing the ball out there and Steve's just going after it to catch it, like he did on the last drive yesterday?

"There's no question, at the end of the day it was a pretty good ball and an excellent catch. Those two guys have done that over time. I'm sure Drew Brees and his receivers have been in situations like that. It's a combination that does it pretty well. The Green Bay play, was that something Jake just chunked up there? There's a lot of moving parts that have to happen, the quarterback has to get it off. The play before he didn't have a chance to do anything. He got whacked. It's not automatic. I don't like to say he chunked it up in the air because a lot went into getting it out there. No question it was a great play by Steve Smith. It's not the first time, even in a big spot. Go back to '03 (playoffs) and his touchdown pass (against St. Louis). It was a great route and a great throw and the quarterback got leveled when he got rid of it."

Q. The defense has given up big leads in the second half of the last two games. Does that concern you?

"What I'd say is we've played the No. 1 offense, the No. 2 offense, the No. 4 offense and the No. 6 offense down the stretch to end the season. When you go to Green Bay, and that's not a box of chocolates, then play Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football, play against the No. 2 offense with Denver, then go to New York and play the world champs, I'm not concerned."

Q. Can you compare the personality of this team to the playoff teams of '03 and '05?

"It's hard to compare. We're not done yet. But I like this team. It's a pretty resilient group. To do what they've done four out of the last five games of the season is not easy. That's a tribute to those guys in the locker room."

Q. Was it tough to get that feeling in the locker room with all the new players?

"That's pretty much the challenge for every coach every year. But it's the landscape of our league now. There's s much more turnover. But sometimes turnover is good."

Q. When did you notice that you have that kind of attitude with this team?

"No light comes on. I liked the way these guys went about their business in the offseason, how hard they worked with their conditioning. At no point did I say, We'll be great. But it's a good combination of youth and leadership and guys going after it. The talent level picked up some as well. Guys knew how to work and win in this league."

Q. Did last season's struggles help this season?

"Most people look at a 7-9 season and say it's all bad. A lot of good happened that season. There's a certain toughness to play in the conditions we played in. It makes you stronger and tougher. That season was what it was. A lot of guys here hung together."

Q. Vinny Testaverde helped DeAngelo Williams understand that he had to work harder. What was your take on that?

"You look at a guy who's been in the league that long and taken care of himself to have the opportunity to stay in the league for that long, it's a real eye opener for young professional football players. I think Vinny was very helpful to that quarterbacks room and to our whole team. There were also a lot of other guys, like (running backs coach) Jim Skipper, who deserves some props. He's done a terrific job. There's been a lot of leaders in that room for us to be successful."

Posted by Observer Sports on December 29, 2008 at 03:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

December 28, 2008

Panthers Postgame: Answering your questions

How does Jake look? Has Fox said anything about him being shaken up on that one play?

Posted by: Clay | Dec 28, 2008 5:18:10 PM

Clay: Jake said he was a little woozy from the hit, but he's OK. -- David

Not so much a question, but what is wrong with the Panther's secondary?

Posted by: Scott | Dec 28, 2008 5:18:40 PM

Scott: Not much pressure up front with the DTs out has something to do with it. Brees has done that to teams all season, so the Panthers aren't alone. -- David

What is up with O-line health?

What is up with prevent OFFENSE?

Jake is one tough dude.

When in doubt, chuck it to Steve. WOW!

Posted by: Gut | Dec 28, 2008 5:19:59 PM

Gut: O line health: Otah (toe), Hangartner (ankle). We don't know how badly they're hurt for at least a few days, if not next week. No reason not to keep it on the ground when you're ahead, but the Saints' run defense got better when the Panthers' o-line started falling out with injuries. Until that last drive, right? -- David

Can someone explain to me the strategy of the squib kick? I see it being far more of a disadvantage than an advantage when used. It gave the Saints an unnecessary second play.

Posted by: allredjedi | Dec 28, 2008 5:20:45 PM

Allredjedi: It wasn't supposed to go out of bounds. Had it stayed in and somebody touched it, the clock would have run out.

Where was Otah? Did he get hurt?? Is it me or does Lucas continue to get burned on a regular basis?

Posted by: tc | Dec 28, 2008 5:22:41 PM

tc: Otah hurt his toe. Lucas has struggled some, but I think he's tightened up some over the last few weeks. Those Saints receivers are TALL. -- David

Is Otah hurt now? If not, why was Gross playing RT?

Posted by: Ken Lawton | Dec 28, 2008 5:23:48 PM

Ken: Yes, Gross moved over to Otah's spot after he hurt his toe. -- David

When will playoff tickets go on sale? What will the price range be?

Posted by: Charles | Dec 28, 2008 5:26:06 PM

Charles: Probably later this week. About 7,000 of them will be on sale to general public. Not sure on the price. -- David

There will no doubt be alot of negativity (mostly directed towards Fox) on this board, but regardless - we won our second NFC South championship and tied the franchise record for wins in a season. Granted, it took 10 years off my life, but I couldn't be happier for the team.

Anywho, my question is two-fold -- where does the catch by Smith on the final drive rank among all time plays in Panther history? "X-clown" was huge in 2003 of course, but Smitty went up to grab that ball in between TWO defenders, on a jumpball, under 2:00 left in a game with the division on the line. The play in 03 won a playoff game obviously, but it was a relatively simple route and easy catch. This grab was anything but - especially with a division title on the line. What do you guys think?

Secondly - what do you think of Smitty's HOF chances? Between the Mardigras Miracle (please give me credit when y'all use that one) and all the other unreal grabs he's made throughout his career, did this one punch the ticket?

Posted by: kris | Dec 28, 2008 5:30:42 PM

Kris: First question: It was a big one, due to the stakes. Top 10? Probably. Question 2: He's got several more seasons to continue at the same level for HOF consideration, I'd say. -- David

Any thoughts on losing a big lead in the 2nd half in huge games for the last two weeks in a row????

Posted by: J Thomas | Dec 28, 2008 5:33:24 PM

J Thomas: The Panthers definitely got conservative on defense, which is easy to do. But they're banged up on that D line. That allowed the Giants' running game to get them back in the game. Drew Brees puts up these kinds of numbers all the time. -- David

I wonder why Nate Salley and James Anderson played the majority of the 2nd half ? Something wrong with Chris Harris and/or Nail Diggs ? If so, why not play Landon Johnson ? I thought he was second on the depth chart ? Greets.

Posted by: Krueger | Dec 28, 2008 5:47:44 PM

Krueger: Lots of different lineups with the DTs out, especially with Brees slinging it. Landon Johnson just hasn't panned out. -- David

Do you think the 7 seconds was a gift to Breez to give him one pass play for the record?

Posted by: Eric K Hasara | Dec 28, 2008 6:13:59 PM

Eric: Probably not. -- David

Comment, it's funny that people use the question post to pull out their soapboxes and rant and rave.

Question, which two teams are facing off in Wild Card weekend that we would go against?

Posted by: Justin | Dec 28, 2008 6:00:15 PM

Justin: We won't know until the wildcard games over. The Panthers would play the highest remaining seed (the Giants would get the lowest). -- David

Posted by Charlotte Observer on December 28, 2008 at 09:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (37)

Panthers Postgame

Post your comment/question here after the Panthers' 33-31 win over the Saints. One of our beat writers will answer selected questions later on this evening.

Posted by Charlotte Observer on December 28, 2008 at 05:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (61)

BREAKING NEWS: It's "Double Trouble"

Bye, bye, "Smash & Dash." Hello, "Double Trouble."

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams unveiled a new nickname for himself and Jonathan Stewart in the most creative of ways -- the launching of a website that pokes lots of fun at Tennessee running back LenDale White.

Check out the website "www.nameswecanbelievein.com" ... It speaks for itself.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on December 28, 2008 at 05:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

Panthers hold on for win, No. 2 seed

   NEW ORLEANS – One week after missing a field goal at the end of regulation against the New York Giants that could have given Carolina homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, John Kasay kicked a 42-yarder with one second remaining to give them a dramatic 33-31 win over the New Orleans Saints.

   With the win, the Panthers clinched the NFC South Division championship, a first-round playoff bye and a first-round home game.;

   Had Kasay missed, the Panthers would have had to play a wild-card game next week at Arizona.

   Carolina (12-4) led 30-10 in the fourth period but Saints quarterback Drew Brees led his team to three touchdowns in the final quarter.

   New Orleans took a 31-30 lead with 3:15 remaining when Brees threw a 13-yard TD pass to Lance Moore.

   The Panthers took possession at their 18 with 3:06 remaining and were playing with an injury-riddled offensive line.

   After starters Geoff Hangartner (ankle) and Jeff Otah (toe) had to leave the game, the Panthers had to reconfigure their offensive line, including moving Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross to right tackle.

   Quarterback Jake Delhomme’s 39-yard pass to Steve Smith on the first play of the possession moved the Panthers across midfield and eventually set up Kasay’s game-winning field goal.

   Brees passed for 386 yards, but fell 15 short of Dan Marino’s single-season NFL record of 5,084 yards passing.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on December 28, 2008 at 04:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)