Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Kyle Allen gives Carolina Panthers hope, for at least one week

Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen threw four touchdown passes against the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen threw four touchdown passes against the Arizona Cardinals. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The only thing Kyle Allen failed to do against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday was do his post-game interviews wearing a scarf. Football fans turned fashion critics would have struggled with that one before they conceded that, with a passer rating of 144.4, Allen is old enough to wear whatever he wants.

Until Allen, the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback, cut up the Arizona defense, we didn’t know him. We saw him relieve Taylor Heinicke against the Atlanta Falcons in Carolina’s next to last game last season, and we saw him in Carolina’s final game against a New Orleans Saints’ team that already had clinched top seed in the NFC.

We knew arolina coach Ron Rivera believed in Allen. In interviews with the media, and in a conversation with me before the season, Rivera gushed about Cam Newton’s undrafted 23-year-old backup.

On Sunday, we saw what Rivera did. After moving the team on its first drive, we saw Allen stripped of the ball, saw Arizona recover and saw Arizona score. How would Allen respond? He responded like a veteran, steady and as calm as he needed to be.

Allen’s poise – and this is a word Rivera often offered when he described Allen before the season – was remarkable. He threw 26 passes, four of them for touchdowns and none of them intercepted. Under pressure, he threw the last of his touchdown passes off his back foot. And nobody criticized him for it.

Allen finished 19 of 26 for 261 yards.

He had a good time doing what he did, in his hometown, in his first NFL start in a game of consequence. He never appeared overmatched because he never was overmatched. It was as if he was back in Spartanburg, at training camp, picking apart his own defense, or trying to.

Look. You know what the Panthers owe their fans? They owe their fans hope and, at least for a week, fans have it.

Allen will start Sunday in Houston against the Texans, and until Newton regains his health, regains full use of his injured foot and is close to 100%, Allen will continue to start. We know what Newton can do when he’s healthy and what he can’t do. About Allen, all we know at this juncture is what he can do.

He came into the Arizona game Kyle Allen. He left The Legend of Kyle Allen. He’s only borrowing the offense until Newton returns. But he’s fun to watch, don’t you think?

I called the Panthers’ team store at Bank of America Stadium Wednesday. The store does not stock Allen’s No. 7 jersey.

Until it does, maybe wear a scarf.

Hornets will be work-in-progress

I’ve written several recent pieces critical of the Charlotte Hornets, and their drafts, and their inability to acquire good players, and their decision not to trade Kemba Walker at an opportune time.

I’ve been perplexed by their grand plan, because I have yet to see evidence that it exists.

But here’s the truth: I’d like them to win. I’d like them to be a team fans could count on seeing in the playoffs.

Neither the Hornets nor Bobcats have contended since the NBA sent an expansion team our way in 2004. The numbers are dreary. Charlotte has made the playoffs three times in 15 years and has won three playoff games.

What if the Hornets won a series? What if they competed for and even won a second series? The city would flip. Home games would become an event.

The Hornets won’t compete for the playoffs this season. They feature six players 25 and younger, five players 24 and younger, and three players – Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington and Malik Monk – who are 21. Charlotte might lead the league in players who are asked to show their ID at bars.

How can Monk, who is in his third season, be 21? I have no idea. He has been hanging out in the weight room, and according to coach James Borrego, has added about 20 pounds.

Monk, whom the Hornets took 11th in the 2017 draft, is a tantalizing talent. There are moments in which he looks like a potential star.

There are also are moments, the majority of moments, when he’s a young guy who misses shots, plays poor defense and is summoned to the bench.

Borrego met with the media Tuesday. He’s one of those quietly optimistic coaches who get people around him excited about the season, which begins Oct. 23 at Spectrum Center against the Chicago Bulls.

The first exhibition is Oct. 6 in Boston against the Celtics and Kemba Walker. Training camp begins next week.

Walker was a leader, and so was veteran guard Tony Parker. But Parker retired and Walker went north. I asked Borrego who leads now.

He named 33-year-old forward Marvin Williams. Borrego will have input, but leaders usually emerge from within.

I wonder if new point guard Terry Rozier is a candidate. Rozier, 25, came to Charlotte from Boston, a Kemba consolation prize. Borrego flew to Miami and Cleveland to meet with Rozier, who has never started regularly in the NBA and thus never had a team to run.

Running is what Borrego envisions for his young team. He envisions running and hard work and defense. He talked a lot about defense. He said he’d simplify what he asked players to do defensively last season.

We all know this is a rebuilding season. Borrego talked about that word, rebuilding, and said that if everybody in the room wrote on a piece of paper what rebuilding means to them, nobody would offer the same answer.

The best Borrego can hope for, realistically, is a team that establishes a foundation for whatever comes next. The Hornets will finish last in the Eastern Conference, or next to last, or next to next to last. Their reward will be a great pick in the 2020 draft.

The reward for fans will be a team that competes and runs and, on some nights, surprises.

Maybe we’ll fall for the new guys. Maybe we’ll see a young player to whom we’ve been introduced emerge, a player such as Dwayne Bacon or Miles Bridges or Monk or even Devonte’ Graham, a steal of a second-round pick.

I love the NBA, and would love to love the Hornets. I admit it.

But this season, I’ll be satisfied if I like them.

Billy Joel? A big-time concert?

The Carolina Panthers held a major news conference Tuesday. They announced that they had joined with Live Nation, a big-deal concert promoter, and would begin to promote concerts at Bank of America Stadium. That’s great. The big acts no longer will fly by on their way to Raleigh.

Because of the grandeur of the news conference -- breaking news! -- I expected the first concert to be huge. You convinced Led Zeppelin to get back together? U2 or the Rolling Stones are coming? Tell us? What?

The debut performer will be Billy Joel. He is expected to play the piano and croon. Some of you might be Joel fans. But this is not big.

Charlotte Motor Speedway set a standard for major news conferences. The news emanating from the speedway rarely was major. But the news conferences were.

A fiery school bus would jump over a bunch of trucks. Or a fiery truck would jump over a bunch of school buses. Or there’d be sandwiches the size of a healthy toddler, and competitive eating star Joey Chestnut would be there to competitively show us how to eat them.

When fiery vehicles not designed to go airborne go airborne, a rapt press corps watches.

The speedway has hosted pre-race concerts. ZZ Top played in the infield. They played Sharp Dressed Man. The music was really good. The irony was better.

I salute the Panthers and Live Nation. Bank of America Stadium opened in 1996, and only three groups have played in it. The Rolling Stones did in 1997, and everybody you know either went or claimed to. Country guys Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw played in 2012.

That’s it. So it’s interesting and that Live Nation and the Panthers will use the stadium for big-time concerts, giving Charlotte one more entertainment option.

So why not start with a big-time concert?

MLS would be investment for Charlotte

Should Charlotte pay $100 million to $215 million to help billionaire David Tepper procure a Major League Soccer franchise that will play at Bank of America Stadium? If Tepper pays more than $400 million, it should.

This isn’t charity. This is an investment.

There are thousands of newcomers to Charlotte, many of them young and, based on their rent, handsomely paid. Most probably have an allegiance to the hometown teams they left when they moved to Charlotte.

Many are looking for a team to make theirs. Some have claimed the Charlotte Knights, some the Charlotte Hornets, and some of the Carolina Panthers. But their past probably includes baseball and basketball and football.

I can’t envision an MLS team failing in Charlotte. Thousands of fans will abandon their lookalike apartment buildings on game night. Some nights, a brewery is not enough. We all want a team that feels like ours…

I hope the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday attracts a crowd. NASCAR has conducted a series of experiments to try to win back fans. Few of them have worked.

The Roval, which made its debut last season, should. It’s where the road course and oval come together. The first Roval was a thrill, innovative, daring, and so much fun to watch, a collection of right turns as well as lefts.

Kudos to Charlotte Motor Speedway president and COO Marcus Smith…

Dave Gettleman, the former Carolina Panthers general manager, has the same job with the New York Giants. When he used the first of his team’s first-round picks, No. 6, on former Charlotte Latin and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, the media and fans flipped.

The response was nasty. How dare you. Jones, everybody said, would have been around when the Giants made their second first round pick at No. 17. Gettleman says he wouldn’t have.

Jones was fine in the preseason and so, so good in New York’s comeback victory Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jones looks like the quarterback Gettleman said he was.

I like Gettleman. Hope he got this one right.

Cheated on Lock of the Week

I was cheated out of my Lock of the Week. I picked the New England Patriots, who were giving 24 points, to cover against the New York Jets. If the Patriots play New England football, they win 30-0. The defense didn’t give up a touchdown, and hasn’t all season.

The Jets scored when Jarrett Stidham, who replaced Tom Brady, had his third pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and again when the Patriots fumbled a fair catch on their 6 and the Jets recovered and scored.

Thanks for listening.

Last Week: 10-6

Season: 31-16-1

Lock of the Week: Failed. New England (-24) beat the New York Jets by 16.

Lock of the Week season: 2-1

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:

Week 4

Thursday

GREEN BAY 6 over Philadelphia

Sunday

ATLANTA 9 over Tennessee

NEW YORK GIANTS 3 over Washington

Los Angeles Chargers 10 over MIAMI

INDIANAPOLIS 6 over Oakland

HOUSTON 4 over Carolina

BALTIMORE 7 over Cleveland

New England 6 over BUFFALO

LOS ANGELES RAMS 11 over Tampa Bay

Seattle 4 over ARIZONA

Minnesota 3 over CHICAGO

DENVER 2 over Jacksonville

Dallas 7 over NEW ORLEANS

Monday

PITTSBURGH 7 over Cincinnati

Lock of the Week:

Kansas City (-7) 11 over DETROIT

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer columnist.
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