The Carolina Panthers aren’t ready.
Unsure themselves whether they really belong in the NFL elite, they have proved for two straight Sundays that they don’t.
The Panthers’ 25-16 home loss to Philadelphia on Sunday just about knocked Carolina out of the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs, as Carolina crumbled again in the clutch.
As December begins for the Panthers, we find them with an 8-4 record, a nearly insurmountable lead in the NFC South and a gnawing sense of dread.
Their season has just veered wide right, just like a John Kasay field-goal attempt. Consecutive losses to Dallas and the Eagles have slapped a Carolina team that only nine days ago was 8-2 and controlling its destiny.
On Sunday, the Panthers looked like a team that will earn a modest playoff seed in the NFC, host a game on wild-card weekend and lose badly to some team like Seattle.
—Scott Fowler, The Charlotte Observer ”Panthers’ season has veered to right”
The Panthers won their division, but entered the playoffs as the third seed in the NFC. The defeated the Cowboys in the wild card round before going on the road to defeat the Rams (#2 seed) and Eagles (#1 seed) to advance to the Super Bowl.
Interceptions have always been a problem for Kansas City quarterback Trent Green. He led the NFL with 24 in 2001, his first season with the Chiefs. He threw 37 in his first 32 starts with the Chiefs covering his first two seasons, both non-playoff years. But with Kansas City battling for the home-field advantage in the AFC with the best record in the NFL at 10-1, Green has turned off the tap.
Green has thrown only two interceptions in his last eight games and none in his last four. Green has gone 156 passes without an interception dating to Oct. 20. That’s the longest such interception-less streak by any NFL quarterback this season.
Priest Holmes is among the best in the NFL at protecting the football at the running back position, fumbling just once in 272 chances this season. If the quarterback isn’t throwing interceptions, the Chiefs are going to be awfully tough to beat down the stretch.
—Rick Gosselin, The Dallas Morning News “Fourth and inches in the NFL”
Green finished the season with 24 TDs and 12 interceptions and the Chiefs entered the playoffs with the second seed.
The Chiefs were defeated by the Peyton Manning-lead Colts 38-31 in the divisional round of the playoffs. Green was 18-30 with one TD and no interceptions. Holmes added 176 yards rushing on 24 carries. Manning was 22-30 with 3 TDs.
Brett Favre‘s risk-taking style has helped him win three N.F.L. most-valuable-player awards and plenty of games for Green Bay. It also cost the Packers a victory on Thursday.
Favre threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, and the Detroit Lions relied on Jason Hanson‘s five field goals for a 22-14 victory, dealing the Packers’ playoff hopes a blow.
”I guessed wrong a couple times and I was just off a couple times,” Favre said. ”That’s going to happen in this league. They just made the plays.”
Dre’ Bly made the most of Favre’s mistakes, intercepting two passes to negate scoring opportunities for Green Bay. Bly also forced a Javon Walker fumble, setting up Hanson’s go-ahead 49-yard field goal to make it 16-14 early in the fourth quarter.
The Lions (4-8) surpassed their victory totals from each of the past two seasons and extended their home winning streak to three games. ”I’m glad we had an opportunity to showcase our abilities in front of the world,” Bly said.
—The New York Times “Lions Take Advantage of Favre’s Mistakes”
The Jets had seen the videotape of Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair clutching his right calf in pain, and they shrugged. Opponents have seen McNair sustain injuries before. They have read the injury reports, only to watch McNair, one of the N.F.L.’s toughest players, emerge from the tunnel before a game and beat them after spending days in the trainer’s room.
So when McNair, who strained his calf against the Falcons on Sunday, was upgraded to questionable on the Titans’ injury report Wednesday, it removed nearly all doubt in the Jets’ minds that they would face him Monday night at Giants Stadium, even if the Titans insisted that they would wait until game time before deciding whether he could play.
”If they didn’t cut off his right arm, I’m sure he’s going to be out there,” Jets defensive tackle Jason Ferguson said.
McNair is a contender for the league’s Most Valuable Player award whose imperviousness to pain has become part of National Football League lore. He will not practice this week. He is wearing a protective boot, although he is able to walk without it. He has full range of motion, Tennessee Coach Jeff Fisher said, and a magnetic resonance imaging test showed only minor damage to the muscle.
—Judy Battista, The New York Times “Jets Prepare as if McNair Will Play”
If Mike Sherman and Steve Mariucci addressed their respective teams about the tradition involved in playing on Thanksgiving Day, only a handful of players probably understood what they were saying.
…You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Packers’ locker room who knows that the Packers and Lions played in Detroit every Thanksgiving from 1951 to 1963.
They might remember Reggie White throwing around Dallas Cowboys guard Larry Allen at Texas Stadium in 1994, but they sure don’t know about Walter Stanley returning a punt 85 yards for the game-winning score with 41 seconds left in a 44-40 Packers victory in 1986.
Nor do they know about Bart Starr getting sacked 11 times during a 1962 game that the Lions deemed “The Grudge Match” because they had lost a heartbreaker earlier in the season at Lambeau Field. (The Packers edged the 11-3 Lions for the Western Conference title and went on to win the NFL championship with a 14-1 record.)
Current Packers know only that Thursday they’ll be facing a 3-8 Lions team that would like to carve its own niche in Thanksgiving Day lore with an upset over the 6-5 Packers.
—Tom Silverstein, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ”Thanksgiving games bring back vivid memories”
There was nothing in Anthony Wright‘s past to suggest he would be the architect of the greatest comeback in the history of the Baltimore Ravens.
Matt Stover kicked a 42-yard field goal with 6 minutes 32 seconds left in overtime yesterday, capping an amazing rally that carried the host Ravens past the Seattle Seahawks, 44-41.
Making his seventh N.F.L. start — the second with the Ravens after being elevated from third string — Wright helped Baltimore score 10 points in the final 72 seconds of regulation to force overtime.
He then directed a 55-yard drive in overtime, connecting with Marcus Robinson for 19 yards on third-and-15 to set up Stover for the winner.
The frenzied finish seemed out of the question when Baltimore (6-5) fell behind, 41-24, with 14:16 remaining, but Wright and the Ravens never gave up hope.
Wright, who improved to 2-5 as a starter, went 20 for 37 for 319 yards and a career-best 4 touchdowns, all of them to Robinson.
Baltimore’s previous biggest comeback was a 16-point turnaround against Jacksonville in 2000.
—The New York Times “For Baltimore, A Comeback to Remember”
Oakland Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo is doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Jets with a torn knee ligament.
Tuiasosopo had an M.R.I. exam on his injured left knee Monday. Results were not immediately available, but Coach Bill Callahan said Tuiasosopo has a partly torn medial collateral ligament.
”It does not look good this week,” Callahan said of Tuiasosopo.
Tuiasosopo, a third-year pro, made his first N.F.L. start in place of the injured Gannon in Sunday’s 23-13 loss at Detroit. On Oakland’s third possession, he bobbled a snap, then ran up the middle and fumbled on a hard hit by Boss Bailey. Tuiasosopo stayed in the game for two more possessions.
—The New York Times “Raiders Will Likely Start Mirer vs. Jets”
Mirer started 8 games for the 2003 Raiders, his first starts since 1999, when had 8 starts for the Jets. He went 2-6 with 3 TDs and 5 interceptions. These were the final game appearances of his career.