CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The question isn’t will the Carolina Panthers again pursue Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson after another failed performance by Sam Darnold on Sunday, this time at MetLife Stadium, where he spent his first three seasons with the New York Jets?
The question is: Should they pursue Watson, a player who is facing 22 active lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior?
It was less than four years ago that David Tepper, after being unanimously approved as the new owner of the Panthers, talked about changing the culture of an organization he purchased from Jerry Richardson.
The NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million after its investigation into alleged workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur with a team scout.
“I’ve had a business for 25 years,’’ Tepper said. “I’m a person that believes in equality for everybody, including men and women. … Anything that comes out of this [NFL Richardson investigation] is the past. The past is the past.’’
Pursuing Watson, as the Panthers did before the league began looking into accusations against the former Clemson star, brings the past to the present. It brings with it something else Tepper said on May 22, 2018, the day his purchase of the team became official.
“The first thing I care about is winning,’’ Tepper said. “The second thing I care about is winning. The third thing I care about is?’’
The Panthers haven’t been winning since Tepper paid an NFL-record $2.275 billion for the franchise. Carolina is a collective 20-35, and 3-4 this season after losing its fourth consecutive game, 25-3 to the New York Giants (2-5).
Darnold was so bad that coach Matt Rhule benched him early in the fourth quarter. For the game, Darnold was 16 of 25 for 111 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT, and his 10.7 total QBR ranks 21st of 24 quarterbacks in Week 7.
He’s been bad the past four games without star running back Christian McCaffrey (hamstring), throwing seven interceptions and compiling a 28.4 total quarterback rating that ranks 32nd among 33 qualifying quarterbacks during that span, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Only Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields is worse.
This came after compiling a 63.6 QBR the first three games with McCaffrey, which ranked seventh.
Because of Darnold’s recent play, Rhule was questioned after Sunday’s game about whether this changed the team’s approach to the trade deadline on Nov. 2.
In other words: Are the Panthers interested now in pursuing Watson?
Rhule downplayed that, saying “I can’t look into the future, but I don’t believe it will.’’
But what was most concerning about Darnold’s latest blunder was his demeanor after being benched.
Rhule said he wanted the loss to “infuriate and upset us.’’
Darnold didn’t appear to be either.
Darnold wouldn’t even admit to being embarrassed by the decision to bench him.
“When you get to that point, getting pulled, I just internalize it,’’ he said. “Honestly, it’s more of those situations where it is what it is.’’
That may be part Darnold’s problems. He should have been embarrassed and said so. He should have been fiery mad at himself for playing so poorly he had to be benched. He should have had steam coming off his forehead instead of a numbing, nonchalant stream of quotes about the lack of execution from everybody.
He should have been like defensive end Brian Burns, worried that the Panthers are headed for a fourth straight losing season.
“We need to fix it now before it gets scary,’’ Burns said. “… It’s scary now to be honest.’’
Darnold should be scared for his football future.
He failed with the Jets, going 13-25 in his first three seasons after being the third pick of the 2018 draft. Now he’s failing with the Panthers.
When asked if this simply was a slump, Darnold said, “That’s a good word for it.’’
If that’s the case, Darnold has been in a slump almost his entire NFL career. You can blame the Jets for not surrounding him with enough talent. You can blame what’s happened at Carolina in part to being without McCaffrey and with an offensive line plagued by injuries.
But Giants quarterback Daniel Jones didn’t have franchise running back Saquon Barkley and most of his starting receivers, and yet he found a way to make plays. He even made an outstanding one-handed catch on a flea-flicker.
Darnold, who had his top two receivers, found ways to make plays that hurt the Panthers. He had an intentional grounding in the end zone that became a safety. He had an interception near the goal line that wasn’t close to his receiver.
He missed other open receivers, as well.
Rhule tried to sugarcoat it by saying the team’s performance was “unacceptable for all of us.’’ He followed that by saying, “I don’t want to call any one guy out.’’
But he did call out Darnold — during the game.
He benched him in favor of P.J. Walker, an undrafted player who made a brief name for himself in the XFL before reuniting with his former Temple coach at Carolina last season.
And all Darnold said about that was, “It is what it is.’’
So despite Rhule saying Darnold will be his starter this week against Atlanta and moving forward, things could change.
Don’t forget, in February of 2020, Rhule said he “really wanted’’ Cam Newton to be a part of his first team. A month later, Newton was released and the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to replace him.
Whether Watson will be involved remains to be seen. League sources told ESPN.com the Panthers wouldn’t mortgage the future and give up the three first-round draft picks the Texans reportedly want for Watson.
But sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler the Panthers indeed are looking at their options for Watson.
The Panthers already have picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option that guarantees him $18.8 million in 2022, so that has to be considered too. Watson’s base salary is $10.5 million in 2021, but it jumps to $35 million in 2022, per Spotrac.
Rhule later admitted Sunday he didn’t want to say anything was on the table or off the table.
“We’ll see who responds,’’ Rhule said. “Let’s find out who’s got that edge. We want to become a really, really tough franchise. A tough building, and I have not gotten that done. When things like this happen it’s right on my shoulder. I have not gotten that done.
“If we don’t become a tough team soon we’re going to have to make some serious changes.’’
How Lee Evans moved past his devastating failed catch 10 years ago – Baltimore Ravens Blog
Lee Evans has long moved on from one of the biggest playoff gaffes in NFL history, although the former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver hasn’t moved far from Baltimore.
Evans, 40, lives a one-hour drive away in Northern Virginia, where he is busy investing in real estate and coaching his 13-year-old son in football, basketball and baseball. As a coach, one of the lessons Evans teaches comes from the lowest point of his eight-year NFL career.
“It’s not necessarily about what happens to you, it’s how you react to it,” Evans said. “I think the biggest thing, when you’re talking to kids, is letting them know that it’s OK to fail, and you’re going to fail. It’s going to happen. So if you can’t rebound from it, you probably won’t go very far in anything.”
It was 10 years ago on Saturday — Jan. 22, 2012 — when Evans failed to hold onto a potential winning touchdown catch in the waning seconds of the AFC Championship Game and cost the Ravens a trip to the Super Bowl. The 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots was sealed when Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 15 seconds left.
He has second-guessed what he could’ve done better to not let cornerback Sterling Moore slap the ball away from his grasp in the end zone, but Evans doesn’t obsess. He’s not haunted by the fact that the final pass thrown to him resulted in this dreadful moment in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
“I feel like I could have been stronger with the catch, but yeah, for a DB, that’s what they want to do,” Evans said. “They want to get their hands on the ball and knock it out. And he did a good job of doing that.”
Evans still loves football. He took his son to last Saturday’s playoff game in Buffalo. Lee Evans IV is a Buffalo Bills fan because he was born in Buffalo, where his father caught 377 passes from 2004 to 2010.
The elder Evans still loves the Ravens. He has attended one game at M&T Bank Stadium a few years ago, and he believes his youngest son, 3-year-old Lyndon, will grow up to be a Ravens fan.
He still loves visiting Baltimore. He lived in the city a year after being cut by the Ravens, and he’s been making frequent trips there recently to look at real estate properties.
Every now and then, Evans does get recognized.
“There hasn’t been any type of issue,” he said. “It was all in good support.”
Evans has always been grateful for the support he received from his teammates after the game, even to this day. He recently reconnected with Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis through a mutual friend.
“He put us on a text, and my heart just smiled,” Lewis said. “I said it then: ‘One guy does not win or lose a game, a team wins and loses games, right?’ And yeah, one moment that it didn’t go the way he would’ve wanted it to go, that it is what it is. But as a brother, I loved him more. I love him more now.”
A decade ago, Evans stopped Lewis as he was boarding the bus outside Gillette Stadium. Evans knew the 36-year-old linebacker might never get a chance at getting to the Super Bowl again, and he wanted to apologize. But Lewis stopped him.
“People say it all the time, ‘Oh, he should have made that catch,’” Lewis said. “I know a lot of tackles I should have made. I know a lot of things we should have done. He was one of the reasons why we was in the AFC Championship. Let’s make that loud and clear. And so as a brother, I’m proud of him. I’m proud of him that he’s kept himself together and he’s living a really good life.”
After that game, Evans asked someone from public relations to get him a picture of his failed catch. He wanted it to serve as a constant reminder to keep pushing. For a while, the photo hung on a wall in his home.
That pic captured Evans’ final NFL game. After getting cut by Baltimore, he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he was released early in training camp.
Many of Evans’ teammates with the Ravens received a second chance, and they capitalized on it. Baltimore exacted some revenge in winning in New England in the AFC Championship Game the following season and then beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Evans was cheering the Ravens along the way.
“I knew who that team was and the potential that it had,” Evans said. “So whether I’m on that team or not, seeing what it was made up of, it was great to see them get over that hump. I was really, really happy for those guys because it was a special group of guys, for sure.”
Evans heard that the failed catch was talked about in Tom Brady’s “Man in the Arena” series on ESPN, and he plans on watching it. He can’t remember the last time he thought about the play before this.
“It’s not really on my mind a whole lot,” Evans said. “I mean, obviously when you go to games and you’re watching football and you see things happen, you think back to when you played. But it’s not really something that I think about constantly or dwell on.”
NFL divisional round – Could cold be a factor for San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers playoff game?
GREEN BAY, Wis. — For much of their storied history, the Green Bay Packers were unbeatable at home in the postseason.
The Packers, buoyed by the minuscule temperatures of the “frozen tundra,” won each of their first 13 playoff games at Lambeau Field. Some of that mystique has worn off since the Packers suffered their first home playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons in 2003, as they have gone 7-6 since the undefeated start.
Green Bay’s next chance to win a home playoff game comes Saturday night in the NFC divisional round when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers visit Lambeau for the first time in the postseason since Jan. 5, 2014.
Whether weather really matters in a game such as this was a popular topic this week as the Niners prepared for the Packers. That was especially true for Garoppolo, who, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, has not thrown a pass in an NFL game with kickoff temperatures below 40 degrees.
By kickoff Saturday night (8:15 p.m. ET), the temperature, according to weather.com, is expected to be around 10 degrees and dropping through the evening, though it’s not likely to make the top 10 list of the coldest games. For point of reference, the last time the 49ers played a playoff game in Green Bay, the kickoff temperature was 5 degrees.
Since 2014, 101 quarterbacks have started a game with kickoff temperatures below 40 degrees, which means this will be Garoppolo’s first, at least in the NFL. Not that he’s too concerned about it.
“I’ve lived in it my whole life, so there’s just different ways [to get ready for it],” Garoppolo said. “I think people who have grown up in it and played in it for a long time, there’s ways to prepare for it, things that you kind of know going into it. I think our team, we have a good mindset going into this thing and we know what it’s going to be like on Saturday, so it’ll be a hell of an atmosphere.”
Before Saturday, the closest Garoppolo has come to throwing a pass in what is loosely defined as a “cold weather” NFL game was during his time as the backup to Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. The Patriots had 13 games with a kickoff temperature below 40 degrees during his tenure, but he played only three snaps in those games, all of which were kneel-downs.
Despite that, Garoppolo is no stranger to playing football in cold weather. He grew up in Arlington Heights, Illinois, just three hours from Green Bay, and spent his high school and college (Eastern Illinois University) careers regularly playing in the cold. Most recently, that included a pair of FCS playoff games in 2013 that had an average low of 8 degrees on those days. Garoppolo threw for 561 yards, five touchdowns and an interception in those contests combined.
On the other side, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is 34-12 since 2014 in games played below 40 degrees. His playoff record for such games is 4-1.
Of more importance for Garoppolo is how the weather affects his injured right (throwing) thumb and shoulder. He has a torn ligament in the thumb and a sprained shoulder. The cold combined with those two injuries could affect Garoppolo’s ability to grip the ball and will be worth watching when he takes hits.
Garoppolo suffered the shoulder injury last week against the Dallas Cowboys and said it had an impact on every throw he made after it happened, not unlike the searing pain he feels in his thumb after any throw.
“It’s a shoulder injury, so any type of throw you’re going to feel it and it’s going to change things,” Garoppolo said. “It’s just similar to when I was first dealing with the thumb, my body’s just learning and I have to adapt to it.”
As for the rest of the 49ers, the thought of cold weather doesn’t seem to faze them much. Coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged that he doesn’t “do well” in cold but said it’s up to individual players on how to handle it themselves, whether that means wearing long sleeves, long underwear or whatever else is available to try to keep warm.
“The weather is cold out there, but that’s no reason to affect a game,” Shanahan said. “Wind is a much bigger factor. Rain is a bigger factor.”
Tight end George Kittle harked back to 2013, when he was at Iowa and the Hawkeyes played Michigan on a day that was minus-28 degrees with the wind chill.
Kittle offered some tips on how best to handle it all.
“My key to staying warm is just to play, play a lot of snaps and so you keep your blood going,” Kittle said. “The heated seats and the heaters on the sideline are probably really nice. But hey, it’s football, you can’t really use the cold as an excuse.”
Will Pete Carroll go past comfort zone for Seahawks’ new d-coordinator – Seattle Seahawks Blog
SEATTLE — On a personal level, the decision to fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. had to be brutal for Pete Carroll.
The Seattle Seahawks coach is known for loyalty to his assistants and has long had a particular affinity for Norton, once calling him one of the favorite people he’s worked with during his coaching career. The two go back to the mid-90s, when Norton was an All-Pro linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers while Carroll was their defensive coordinator. Norton worked under Carroll for 15 of the past 18 seasons dating back to their time at USC.
In that sense, Seattle firing Norton this week, along with defensive passing-game coordinator Andre Curtis, was mildly surprising.
In every other sense, it was not.
The Seahawks’ defense was good at times during Norton’s four-year tenure. But two of the best stretches followed awful starts to each of the past two seasons, when Seattle allowed yards at historic rates early before turning things around. It was not consistently great over any of those four seasons, never ranking inside the top 10 in points allowed or top 15 in yards allowed.
In fairness to Norton, he didn’t have the same level of talent that predecessors Kris Richard, Dan Quinn and Gus Bradley did during the Legion of Boom days. And while Seattle’s defense was part of the problem in 2021, especially early, it’s hard to argue it was the biggest reason they finished 7-10 and missed the playoffs for only the second time in the past 10 seasons.
No one expected status quo after a season in which the Seahawks suffered their most losses in more than a decade.
Now the search is underway for their fifth defensive coordinator of Carroll’s tenure.
A source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that they’ve requested an interview with Denver Broncos DC Ed Donatell. The other reported candidates are Seahawks defensive line coach/assistant head coach Clint Hurtt (per The Seattle Times), Chicago Bears DC Sean Desai (per The Athletic) and Joe Whitt Jr. (per the NFL Network), the Dallas Cowboys‘ defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach.
Before a look at each candidate, here are three questions worth considering:
What role did Jody Allen have in the Norton and Curtis decisions? Their firings came days after Carroll and general manager John Schneider met with Allen, who’s been the team’s de facto owner since her brother Paul Allen passed away in 2018. It’s believed that the major shakeup to Carroll’s staff following the 2017 season was largely at Paul Allen’s behest. It’s fair to wonder what influence Jody Allen had on these changes.
How appealing is the Seahawks’ DC job? It depends on the coach. Anyone that Carroll hires would be running Carroll’s defense for the most part. A more established coordinator who’s had success running his own scheme would presumably be disinclined to adopt someone else’s. To some candidates, though, the Seattle job would carry plenty of appeal. There are the usual questions about which free agents (Quandre Diggs, D.J. Reed, Al Woods) and under-contract players (Bobby Wagner) will be back.
But between what they already have, who they’ll re-sign and who they may add in free agency with their ample cap space, there should be enough talent to make it far from a rebuilding effort. And it may be equally attractive to prospective DCs that the Seahawks have a quarterback and offense that should be able to do their part, assuming Russell Wilson isn’t traded.
What schematic changes might Carroll have in mind? Long gone are the days when the Seahawks would run pretty much the same defense, knowing they were good enough to execute even if opposing offenses knew what was coming. They’ve done things differently in recent seasons. In 2019, it was an unusually heavy dose of base personnel. In 2021, they frequently used what was essentially a five-man defensive line. They also played more man later in the year, according to Reed, which helped curb all the yards they were allowing in soft zones early on.
Point being: Carroll has been adapting his defense. Whatever changes he makes will likely be geared towards generating more pressure and turnovers. They were tied for 22nd in sacks last year and 25th in takeaways.
Here’s a look at the four reported candidates:
Ed Donatell. The 64-year-old Donatell has a long history with Carroll that began in 1983 at University of the Pacific. They also spent four seasons together (1990-94) with the Jets. Donatell coached defensive backs in both of those stops, which has been his primary position group throughout his coaching career. He worked closely with Broncos DBs during his three seasons in Denver, where he ran coach Vic Fangio’s defense.
The Broncos allowed the third-fewest points of any team in 2021. That seems indicative of strong coaching when you consider the personnel challenges they dealt with between the Von Miller trade, Bradley Chubb only playing seven games and numerous injuries to their inside linebackers.
Clint Hurtt. The only in-house candidate of the four, the 43-year-old Hurtt has spent the past five seasons on Carroll’s staff. He previously coached outside linebackers with Chicago. As disappointing as the Seahawks’ pass rush was in 2021, their defense was strong at stopping the run, allowing the second-fewest yards per carry in the NFL.
Could the Seahawks go with a dual-coordinator role in which Hurtt is in charge of their run defense while someone else handles the pass defense? They had that arrangement on offense during their Super Bowl years between Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable. Per Fowler, Hurtt is also in the mix for the DC job at the University of Miami, his alma mater.
Joe Whitt Jr. The 43-year-old Whitt doesn’t have history with Carroll but did spend parts of the past two seasons working under Carroll disciple Dan Quinn. Whitt was the Atlanta Falcons‘ defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach in 2020, Quinn’s last year as Falcons head coach. Whitt followed Quinn to Dallas last offseason after Quinn was named the Cowboys’ DC. Quinn coordinated Carroll’s defense in 2013 and ’14 and has continued to run a similar scheme, which provides some built-in familiarity with Whitt. Carroll has to like what Dallas did this past season in leading the NFL in interceptions and takeaways.
Sean Desai. He also has no direct experience with Carroll, having worked in the college ranks before he began his nine-year run with the Bears in 2013. He is coming off his first season as a defensive coordinator at any level. The 38-year-old Desai was Chicago’s safeties coach for two seasons (2019-20) before they elevated him to DC last year. The Bears ranked 22nd in points allowed last season and sixth in yards allowed.
According to the team’s website, Desai is the NFL’s first Indian-American coordinator. He earned his doctorate in educational administration in 2018 from Temple, where he served as an adjunct professor in 2009 and ’10.
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