Carolina Panthers

Tom Talks: My week making NFL picks? Oh, what might have been.

Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego (left), who coached Tony Parker as a San Antonio Spurs assistant, said the only question about Parker’s impact with the Hornets was how he’d adjust to the rhythm of being a full-time backup.
Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego (left), who coached Tony Parker as a San Antonio Spurs assistant, said the only question about Parker’s impact with the Hornets was how he’d adjust to the rhythm of being a full-time backup. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

I thought I had a perfect week. I’d picked the winners of Thursday’s game and the Sunday afternoon games, and had not missed a game going into Sunday night.

That was a tough call, the Orleans Saints at the Minnesota Vikings, but I liked Minnesota at home. The Vikings were leading the Saints late in the first half 13-10. They were driving, and they were going to lead by six at the half, or perhaps by 10. The momentum was theirs.

They ceded it by halftime. Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen, unstoppable this season, was stripped of the ball deep in New Orleans territory after catching a late first-half pass, and it was the Saints who scored. They led 17-13 at the half, and won 30-20.

Last Week: 13-1

Season: 73-45

Lock of the Week is the lone game I pick against the spread.

Lock of the Week: I picked Philadelphia (-3½) over Jacksonville in London. The Eagles won 24-18.

Lock of the Week Season: 6-2

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

Oakland 3 over SAN FRANCISCO

Chicago 8 over BUFFALO

CAROLINA 9 over Tampa Bay

Kansas City 11 over CLEVELAND

MIAMI 3 over New York Jets

Pittsburgh 2 over BALTIMORE

WASHINGTON 2 over Atlanta

Houston 2 over DENVER

SEATTLE 6 over Los Angeles Chargers

NEW ORLEANS 2 over Los Angeles Rams

NEW ENGLAND 7 over Green Bay

DALLAS 7 over Tennessee

Lock of the Week: MINNESOTA (-4) 10 over Detroit

Eric Reid’s impact

Most of this season, Eric Reid has collected more attention for what he does before a football game than what he does during it.

But fans of the Carolina Panthers have largely understood that kneeling during the anthem, which Reid does, is a quiet way to call attention to racial inequities and an attempt to bring about change.

Let’s focus, for a change, on what Reid does during a game. A safety, he’s played four for the Panthers, starting on Oct. 7 against the New York Giants.

Before the season, I thought safety was the weakest component of Carolina’s game. It’s not now. Mike Adams, 37, has intercepted three passes, one more than he did last season, his first season with the Panthers. Undrafted out of Delaware, he has intercepted 30 passes during his career. Adams knows what to do and where to be.

Reid does, too. He’ll turn 27 the week of the Monday night home game against the New Orleans Saints. He’s only a year and a few months older than James Bradberry, Carolina’s starting cornerback, whom we think of as young.

Reid knows this sport, and Adams obviously does. If you bring binoculars to Bank of America Stadium Sunday for Carolina’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, watch the safeties work.

They of course set up the coverage for the defensive backs, and almost seamlessly alternate with each other – who stays back, who moves up into the box.

Reid, 6-1 and 215 pounds, can move. Sic him on a running back or tight end; he has range. But talk to players or coaches, and the quality they first mention about Reid is a fundamental one – he hits. He’s tough enough and hits hard enough that the San Francisco 49ers used him some at linebacker last season.

No matter how hard you hit, you don’t miss the first four games of the season as an unsigned free agent, show up in football shape be suddenly aware of all the subtleties and intricacies of a new defense.

In Reid’s third game with the Panthers, their comeback victory two weeks ago against the Eagles, you could see his instincts, knowledge and conditioning come together.

Throughout the summer and into the season, I pushed in print and on radio for the Panthers to sign Reid. When they did, they to their credit signed him with no asterisk – as in, they didn’t tell him he could play here only if he promised to behave and stand for the anthem.

The Panthers operated like adults, not worried about blowback on an issue that, two years from now or even a year from now, will cease to be an issue.

No Carolina safety has ever been selected to play in the Pro Bowl, but Reid and Adams both have, albeit not here.

They’re fun to watch. And, man, are they good. Safety is a flaw no more.

Ali’s rope-a-dope flummoxed Foreman

In this week 44 years ago, George Foreman defended his heavyweight title against Muhammad Ali in The Rumble in the Jungle, in Zaire. Foreman was 25 and powerful, undefeated and one of the hardest hitters the sport had seen. Ali was 32 and, next to Foreman, almost frail.

Fans of Ali weren’t afraid of him losing as they were about him getting seriously hurt.

This was a different time, and the fight was bigger than boxing. It was one of those events that everyone stopped to pay attention to. Ali’s detractors were thrilled that somebody finally would shut up the loud, brash, entertaining and, seemingly fading, at least compared to Foreman, Ali.

Remember, Foreman wasn’t the affable guy who smiled and sold grills. He said little. He talked with his hands. The year before, he knocked previously undefeated Joe Frazier down six times in two rounds – thus, Howard Cosell’s “Down goes Frazier!” and beat him via technical knockout in round two.

In round one against Foreman, Ali fell back into the ropes and allowed Foreman to hit him. Ali couldn’t dance the way he did as a young man, and he couldn’t trade punches with Foreman.

He invented the rope-a-dope, and used it for eight rounds.

Foreman took wide powerful swings, and Ali covered up and held on and pushed Foreman away. Ali sustained damage, especially to the body. But all those punches drained Foreman, who was not accustomed for fighting even as long as even three three-minute rounds.

Foreman’s 12 fights before Ali lasted two, one, two, two, two, two, two, two, four, two, two and one round.

When Ali wasn’t taking punches, he was throwing them, in flurries. By round eight, Foreman was exhausted. Ali finally landed a stunning combination, and Foreman went down and was counted out with two seconds left in the round.

If you watched, you remember. If you haven’t, find it.

We know about Ali’s speed and poetry, his feet and hands. We allow ourselves to forget how absolutely inventive he was. He proved it in Zaire.

Tony Parker’s impact

Tony Parker was the best player Tuesday on the Spectrum Center court. There was a time you would have expected that. But that time has passed.

Parker has played in the NBA since 2001, when the San Antonio Spurs took him with the 28th pick in the first round. The Charlotte Hornets drafted 16th. They took Kirk Haston of Indiana. He was the first of many questionable Big Ten picks, a string that ended this season when they took Miles Bridges of Michigan State.

Parker, 36, led the Hornets and Miami Heat Tuesday in almost everything. He led in points (24), assists (11), free throws attempted (8), free throws made (7), field goals attempted (15) and field goals made (8).

Parker imposed himself on Miami’s reserves, led Charlotte’s reserves and was so good the Hornets couldn’t risk taking him from the court. He played 25 minutes.

Yet it wasn’t always what he did but the way he did it. The days when Parker was the fastest player on whatever court he stepped on it have ended. He worked his way from Belgium, where he was born, to France, where he grew up, to San Antonio to Charlotte. He gets to be tired.

Parker did old guy stuff, and the young guys (which means everybody but Miami’s Dwyane Wade, who is exactly four months older) didn’t know how to handle it. He changed speeds as seamlessly as a great car does.

Parker, 6-2, drove as if he was going to the hoop, but smartly passed to whoever’s man picked him up. He drove to the hoop and went to the hoop. He drove as if he was going to the hoop, and pushed back off his front foot and quickly took a jump shot. He took one such shot over Miami’s Kelly Olynyk, who is not quite a foot taller than Parker. The shot didn’t go in. But still. It could have. Parker was absolutely in balance when he took it.

All night, Parker seemed to have a two-on-one advantage – him and the glass against a solitary defender. He would back a man in, spin and bank the ball off the glass as he went to the floor and the ball went through the hoop.

I asked Parker if he could his shot any time he wanted.

“If I feel good, yeah,” he said.

I asked fellow Frenchman Nic Batum if anything Parker did Tuesday surprised him.

“I’ve played with him for 10 years, and I know that guy,” said Batum. “I’m not surprised by him. This is who he is.”

It won’t be who Parker is every night. Coming in, he averaged 16 minutes, 7 points and 4.3 assists. He is a leader, the cohort of Kemba Walker. Parker has been there and done it and has proof. He was four times an NBA champion, six times an NBA all-star and the 2007 NBA finals MVP.

Parker took the previous game off, not his idea. Coach James Borrego knows he can’t send his 36-year-old point guard onto the court and have him play major minutes, or even lesser but intense minutes, every night.

Yet there will be evenings such as Tuesday, when Parker’s legs are fresh and he can do what he wants to whom he wants when he wants.

I guarantee that on Wednesday morning a lot of the old guys who saw Parker perform Tuesday went to the gym, said, “I’m sick of the elliptical machines and spin classes” and, properly inspired, worked their way to the basketball court.

Who’s got next?

Short takes: ‘Bama, Clemson vs. the world

▪ The College Football Playoff Rankings were released this week and Alabama was No. 1 and Clemson No. 2. Everybody else was Among Other Schools Receiving Votes and will continue to be…

▪ When the Hornets were introduced Tuesday, starters received warm applause – except Nic Batum, whose applause was polite. Some fans figure Batum doesn’t earn the huge contract he signed.

So, if your employer offered you a fortune, would you say, “Nah, not interested, I’m not worthy”? Fans of the Carolina Panthers blame tackle Matt Kalil for his contract. If you need to blame somebody, if that’s how you live, blame their employers…

▪ This is a good time to be a fan of Charlotte’s two major league sports teams. The Panthers played their best game of the season Sunday against Baltimore, handling the favored Ravens in every way. They’re 5-2.

The Hornets are flying. As I write this, they are 4-4. Three of those losses have by one, two and two points.

As good as Walker has been, they no longer are Walker against the world. They have yet to develop a player who is reliable every night to share Walker’s load. But players such as Malik Monk and Jeremy Lamb and Parker take turn volunteering. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is having a solid season, leaving sweat on the court and an impact in the lane.

The Hornets are selfless, moving and passing and hustling. Twice on Tuesday night a Hornet leapt over chairs and out of bounds to attempt to save the ball. Kidd-Gilchrist did it, and so did Cody Zeller.

I admire the work of Charlotte center Willy Hernangomez. He lets nobody get away with anything. An opponent might beat him inside. But the guy is going to have to earn it.

▪ The Hornets were asked their scariest all-time movie in a Halloween themed story played on the scoreboard screen, and some said “The Conjuring” and “Saw.”

Mine is “The Exorcist.” Remember the shaking bed? One of my brothers went home after the movie, and hid beneath the bed. When his wife, who had seen the movie with him, laid down, he began to push the mattress from below, shaking it.

She was terrified. In unrelated news, they no longer are married…

▪ I love what Panthers owner David Tepper did Sunday. The Panthers invited Saundra Adams and Chancellor Lee Adams to the Carolina-Baltimore game at Bank of America Stadium.

Chancellor Lee is the son of former Carolina receiver Rae Carruth. You know the story.

Tepper took time to meet on the field with Saundra and Chancellor Lee. He’s the kind of owner

we like to think we’d be, your basic caring cap-wearing billionaire…

  Comments