This is a protest-free column.
I have written about NFL protests in three separate columns this week and – fair warning – will likely do so again. But now it’s time to focus upon the game itself, as Carolina plays a New England team with the exact same record (2-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday. And yet despite those identical records, the Panthers find themselves to be an underdog in this game by about 10 points.
Why? It’s for mostly the same reason that Panthers fans are acting right now more like the team is 0-3. Carolina can’t score.
You know how when you are suffering a Vitamin D deficiency and someone tells you that you need to get outside in the sunlight more often?
Panthers fans are currently suffering from a Vitamin T deficiency, with the “T” standing for touchdown. They won’t feel better until their team starts getting into the end zone more often.
Through three games, Carolina has exactly three TDs. That “one-TD-per-game” average is tied for dead last in the NFL. New England, by comparison, has scored 12 TDs.
As tight end Ed Dickson said recently, “I’m a touchdown guy.” Most people outside of placekickers and their immediate families are, too.
Touchdowns make fans feel good. It’s a lot easier for a fan to stomach losing a game 45-21 than it is to lose one 24-0, even though the margin is exactly the same.
The worst season in Carolina history actually came in 2001, when the team went 1-15.
But the worst season I thought the Panthers ever actually had from a fans’ standpoint was in 2010, mostly because that 2-14 team couldn’t score. It also averaged one touchdown per game – 17 TDs in 16 games, actually, with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, which was nine fewer than any other team in the NFL. The 2010 Panthers were harder to watch than a “First Take” marathon.
New Orleans was supposed to present a great opportunity for Carolina to score last week, but instead the Saints intercepted Cam Newton three times and won 34-13.
New England enters this game first in the NFL in offense but dead last in defense. The Patriots would seem ripe for a shootout – but only if Carolina can score. Because you know Tom Brady will.
▪ Brady is 40 and has been around since the Pleistocene era. But it’s not like no one on the 2003 Panthers Super Bowl team that fell victim to Brady 32-29 will be on the field Sunday.
Julius Peppers, now 37, was in his second year in the NFL that season and started for Carolina in that Super Bowl. On a day when Brady wasn’t sacked a single time despite throwing 48 passes, Peppers had a quiet game, with two tackles.
▪ I was glad to see linebacker Luke Kuechly admit this week that he probably interfered with Rob Gronkowski on the final play of Carolina’s 24-20 victory over New England in Charlotte in 2013. That does a little bit to disrupt the false narrative employed by so many fans that the Patriots “get all the calls.”
▪ My prediction: Too much Brady, but the Panthers offense shows a little life. New England 31, Carolina 20.
Fowler: 704-358-5140; Twitter: @scott_fowler