NBC studio analyst Rodney Harrison apologized to the Carolina Panthers for doubting them following their 27-23 victory at Seattle last weekend. Harrison, during an interview Thursday with the Observer, praised Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen and Carolina’s defense.
But the co-host of NBC’s Football Night in America questions whether the Panthers have enough offensive weapons to be a Super Bowl contender.
Harrison, the former New England defensive back, offered his take on that and several other topics during a 10-minute conversation with the Observer.
On the Panthers: “I know I have some fun with the fans and they’re tweeting me a bunch of stuff. They think I didn’t believe in the Panthers because I just have a hatred for the Panthers. That’s not true.
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“The main thing I look at when I watch tape, I look at a team, say the first four weeks of the season, that really didn’t play anyone that I thought was impressive. They went up and beat Seattle, so I think everyone is celebrating that. But Seattle is a 2-4 team and clearly not the team that they once were. But they went up there in a tough situation against a desperate team and beat them.
“But we still have to keep everything in perspective. It’s five weeks. I played on enough teams to know after five weeks you don’t win anything.”
On Carolina’s offense: “One thing that stands out to me outside of Greg Olsen being really outstanding is Cam and the maturity level and the poise that he’s shown. Last week against Seattle didn’t start off good, and hung in there.
“Before I felt like he would’ve held on to that negativity. Cam over the course of his career had a tendency to get down on himself and pout a little bit. But you can tell that he’s just starting to mature into a mature quarterback.”
On the Panthers’ top-10 defense: “It’s one of those things where when you start reading the clippings about how good you are, people are going to continually test you. I’m still impressed with Josh Norman. He looks hungry. I like his fire. I like his toughness. I like his competitiveness. He’s a guy that really stands out on film.
“I think having Luke (Kuechly) back, that will help ‘em. But overall I think they’re playing good team defense. And they’re solid.”
On how Carolina is winning: “When I look at the Panthers, this is a team that’s playing good team football. It doesn’t look great, but they’re winning. When the Patriots win and the Green Bay Packers win, you say, OK, Aaron Rodgers looked great. Their defense did this.
“But the Panthers, it’s more of just a team victory. It doesn’t look great, but it’s working for them.”
On the Panthers’ ceiling: “To be honest with you, do they come off as a Super Bowl contender right now? Not to me. And this is not because I hate them. They just don’t have enough weapons to me. Even the running back position, (Jonathan Stewart), he’s a little better than average. He’s not a great running back.
“They’ve got great Greg Olsen. If any team is just dumb enough, they continually single-team Greg Olsen. You have to take him away. Put two guys on him, put three guys on him. Force them to go to those guys on the outside. But you can’t let Greg Olsen have seven catches for 100-plus yards. It’s stupid.
“You’re (asking) me, do they have enough talent offensively? I think they’re good enough defensively to go far. But they’re going to need more production from more guys offensively if they want to reach the Super Bowl. I played in four of them and trust me, comparing their offense to a bunch of other offenses I played against in the Super Bowl, they have an average offense when it comes to the weapons outside of Cam and Greg Olsen.”
On claims the Patriots had the Panthers’ signals in Super Bowl XXXVIII: “Nah, we didn’t have any … signals. Are you kidding me? I wish I had the signal when Steve Smith scored that touchdown and they had all those bombs. Nah, we didn’t have no … signals. The problem with that is this: Even if you had a signal, you still have to stop the play. But we didn’t have a signal and it’s just crazy to even insinuate that.
“We’re a better team than them and we had better coaches. Trust me, they were a really good team. But we were a better team. And it kills them because they feel that’s their only claim to glory is to say that the Patriots cheated. We didn’t cheat. We beat ‘em, flat out.”