CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The decision to cut veteran defensive back Charles Godfrey on Tuesday left two impressions on the Carolina Panthers' locker room.

No. 1, nobody’s job is safe.

No. 2, Godfrey wasn’t cut out to be a cornerback.

But the first impression was the strongest for a Carolina defense that has allowed 37 or more points in four of the last five games and gone from one of the best in the league to one of the worst.

“It’s definitely hard to see him go, but at the same time we know it’s a business," said James Dockery, who will replace Godfrey as the nickel cornerback until rookie Bene’ Benwikere returns from an ankle injury.

“And if we don’t perform, it could be any one of us."

Free safety Thomas DeCoud agreed.

“It’s just a wake-up call," he said. “You know anybody’s number can be called. It’s the nature of the business, what we signed up for. You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt and keep fighting."

If that’s the message players got, coach Ron Rivera isn’t complaining.

“Any time moves are made and different things you do get player’s attention, it’s always a positive," he said. “This business really is about production. It’s tough sometimes, for whatever the reason being. The unintended consequences sometimes can be valuable."

Godfrey played safety from 2008 until his 2013 season ended with an Achilles injury in Week 2 He took a $4 million cut in salary during the offseason and was moved to cornerback.

He was the starting nickel corner the past two weeks with Benwikere sidelined.

He didn’t produce. He had three missed tackles in Sunday’s 38-17 loss at Green Bay and was victimized repeatedly on third down the previous week in a 37-37 tie against Cincinnati.

That’s where the second impression came in for several players.

“He was kind of out of position," cornerback Josh Norman said. “I think we all knew that. But at the same time, it’s one of those things where it’s the nature of the business. It’s the nature of the beast. It sucks when that happens. You’ve got to find a way to bounce back from it, which I know Godfrey will.

“He’s a safety, man. He can play it. He started in this league for how many years? That’s hard to do.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – That backup quarterback Derek Anderson has appeared in three of the last five games for the Carolina Panthers normally would be a good sign.

Not this year.

Anderson played in eight games the past three seasons at Carolina. Six of his appearances were in mop-up roles at the end of blowout victories. Two were in mop-up roles at the end of blowout losses.

The Panthers (3-3-1) haven’t had any blowout wins this season.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Tom LynnCam Newton doesn't like to come off the field, but he's being protected in blowout games by coach Ron Rivera.
So when Anderson has replaced Cam Newton, as he did Sunday in the fourth quarter of a 38-17 loss at Green Bay, it was for all the wrong reasons as far as the starter is concerned.

“It’s frustrating," Newton said on Wednesday. “It’s not frustrating coming out the game. It’s more frustrating that the product that you put out there didn’t keep your team in the game."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera understands quarterbacks like to finish what they start regardless of the situation. Had this been 2011, when the Panthers made Newton the first pick of the draft, Rivera would have left his franchise quarterback on the field.

“Early on in Cam’s career I would have left him in because he needed the development," Rivera said. “I don’t think he needs the development. But in light of the circumstances, we can’t expose him."

The circumstances are Newton is coming off ankle surgery in March and fractured ribs in August. The circumstances are Carolina has been without its top three running backs much of this season due to injuries and could be without two starters on the offensive line on Sunday against Seattle.

“He understands," Rivera said of Newton. “He gets it. He knows that there’s a certain point in a game like that, that the best thing is to take a step back, evaluate and protect him. I have to do that. It’s a long season.

“With everything that we’ve gone through, the last thing I would like to do is keep a guy in and have him get hurt. Honestly, I don’t really want to do it under those circumstances. I want to do it on the other circumstances when we’re winning."

If Newton comes out of Sunday’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, he hopes it because the Panthers have a big lead. He understands to do that, the offense will have to start faster than it did against Green Bay and several other opponents.

While there’s been a lot of piling on the defense for giving up 21 first-quarter points against the Packers, it should be noted that the offense also wasn’t good.

Carolina gained only 5 yards in the first quarter, going three-and-out on its first two drives and picking up its only first down in the quarter on a penalty.

The Panthers finished the first half with just 113 yards and three points. Newton had a passer rating of 66.1, while Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a rating of 153.4.

“My main focus on everything that is going into this week is starting fast and executing the whole game," Newton said.

If he doesn’t, Anderson will have had as many relief appearances by the halfway point of this season as he had all of last season.

“Sunday vs. Green Bay was unacceptable," Newton said. “And it’s my job to make sure that ship is driving straight."
TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith almost never criticizes players publicly. But he made an exception Wednesday.

Smith said he was disappointed in fullback Jorvorskie Lane and defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers, who each were suspended for the next two games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

“For both guys, they hurt our football team by not being available this week and next," Smith said.

Smith said he’ll welcome both players back when they’re eligible. Smith said he doesn’t think the Bucs have a problem with performance-enhancing substances.

“Everybody in the world is trying to lose weight," Smith said. “My point is you make mistakes. Everybody tries to lose weight. Do I think it’s a major problem? No."

But Smith said he believes Bowers and Lane knew what they were doing was against league rules.

“Even if you’re educated, people make mistakes all ways," Smith said. “And they make bad decisions all ways. I think they knew what they were doing and they chose to go that route."
TAMPA, Fla. – The early signs Wednesday were that Mike Glennon will be the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback on Sunday against Minnesota.

Glennon went first among the quarterbacks during the portion of practice that was open to the media. He also spoke to the media before practice. Those are pretty good indications Glennon will remain the starter, at least for now. I don't think the Bucs would have trotted Glennon out for the media if he is not still the starter.

Josh McCown, who started the first three games of the season before suffering a thumb injury, practiced Wednesday. McCown first returned to practice Monday, but it’s hard to imagine the Bucs starting McCown without more practice time.

It also should be pointed out that Glennon has played well at times and the starting job could remain his even when McCown is fully healthy.

“It’s good to see [McCown] get back," Glennon said. “But it doesn’t change my mindset. My mindset is to win games. No matter if he’s back or not, that’s what I’m prepared to do. I’m going to prepare just like I have every week, just to be the guy. I don’t think anything in my preparation is going to change."

The Bucs have avoided talk of a quarterback controversy and that might be due in large part to the way McCown has handled the situation.

“Having a guy of his personality and his intentions, yeah, he wants to play but he wants to see this team succeed," Glennon said. “He wants to help those around him. That’s just a credit to him as a person. I see it and guys see it, how much he wants to just help. It’s probably a better question for him. But I think he just wants to see us win. It’s been great to have him. It might be different if he had a different personality, but he’s been nothing but helpful to me. We’re definitely lucky to have a guy with his personality."
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, still recovering from an ankle injury, continued his usual routine of being limited to start the week during Wednesday's practice in London.

Jones' ankle typically is sore early in the week and fine by game time. It's been the same process since the Minnesota game in Week 4.

Also limited Wednesday were left guard Justin Blalock (back) and linebacker Prince Shembo (back). Wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (foot) were held out of practice. Babineaux was on the injury report with a knee injury last week but still played.

For Detroit, receiver Calvin Johnson was listed as limited coming off a sprained ankle, while offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle's status has become a concern due to a concussion.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have an extra running back at Wednesday’s practice.

Rookie Charles Sims will practice for the first time since the preseason. Sims has been on injured reserve with the designation to return due to an ankle injury. Sims isn’t eligible to play until the Nov. 2 game against Cleveland.

Sims’ return brings some intrigue to the backfield. Doug Martin has been averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. It’s important to keep in mind that Martin was inherited by the current coaching staff.

That same staff and the front office saw some reason to use a third-round pick on Sims when there appeared to be bigger needs at other positions. It’s likely the Bucs will try to work Sims into the rotation gradually.

But Sims could end up playing a lot more as the season goes on.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers really did defensive back Charles Godfrey a favor by letting him stay on the roster as long as they did.

Were the seven-year veteran not considered a positive influence in the locker room and just an all-around good guy, he might have been gone at the end of training camp.

But ultimately, Godfrey was judged on performance.

And his performance didn’t cut it.

That rookie Bene' Benwikere was made the starting nickel cornerback after the first game should have been a hint. The Panthers moved Godfrey from safety to corner during the offseason, believing his coverage and run-stopping skills would be a plus.

It turned into a negative, and that never was more evident than two weeks ago against Cincinnati, as it was painfully obvious Godfrey couldn’t keep up with the slot receivers.

Five times on pass plays of third-and-6 or longer, the Bengals picked up a first down on Godfrey, who started at nickel because Benwikere suffered an ankle injury the week before.

In Sunday’s 38-17 loss at Green Bay, Godfrey had a three of a team season-high 11 missed tackles.

Godfrey helped the Panthers by taking a $4 million pay cut during the offseason to avoid being cut -- his cap number was $7.1 million. But ultimately, he couldn’t help them on the field.

The Panthers need more speed at not only the nickel position, but the secondary overall. It has been a shell of the unit from a year ago. Benwikere, who is doubtful for Sunday’s game against Seattle, will provide that speed when he returns.

That the Panthers were willing to cut Godfrey and take a chance on James Dockery, who recently was re-signed after being cut at the end of training camp, pretty much said it all.
QB Matt Ryan addressed the media in London on Wednesday as the Atlanta Falcons began preparation for Sunday's matchup against the Detroit Lions. And Ryan expressed optimism despite the team's 2-5 record and four-game losing streak.

"We're in a point in the season, with where we're at moving forward, we're going to have to win," Ryan said. "And we feel like we're going to have to start winning this week.

"With that said, in the division, there's reason to be optimistic. As bad and kind of as ugly as it's been the last couple of weeks, we're still right in the mix. And that's one of the reasons I think there's a lot of optimism and a lot of energy within our building. ... I think guys have the right mindset."

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan and the Falcons offense haven't been as successful making plays of 20-plus yards this past few weeks like they were the first quarter of the season.
The Falcons are third in the NFC South behind the 3-3-1 Carolina Panthers and the 2-4 New Orleans Saints. The Falcons are 2-0 in division play.

But in order for the Falcons to generate any type of winning streak, Ryan and the offense have to get back on track. The Falcons had a season-low 254 total yards and scored just one touchdown in their 29-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. The Falcons had the league's top offense in terms of yardage the first four weeks of the season, but they've dropped to sixth in yards per game.

Against the Ravens, Ryan and the offense generated four plays of 20-plus yards. In two wins this season, the Falcons compiled 15 plays of 20-plus yards, including six plays of 35-plus yards.

"I think last week, really the first three quarters, we were kind of out of rhythm," Ryan said. "In getting the ball downfield, we've got to do a great job both running the football and pass protecting. I think both of those things kind of allow you to do some of your play-action and to take some more time in the pocket and throw it down the field a little bit more.

"We've also, when we've had opportunities with one-on-ones, and guys like Julio [Jones] and Devin [Hester] having some deeper routes on the outside, we've got to take chances at it. We're going to make the adjustments, certainly. It's a big part of what we've been here in the past, this kind of explosive offense. So we've got to find ways to create more explosive plays than we did last week."

It will be quite a task against the Lions' top-ranked defense, which surrenders just 290.3 total yards per game. DT Ndamukong Suh and the defensive front is sure to put extreme pressure on Ryan, who will be working with an undrafted rookie center, James Stone; an ailing rookie left tackle, Jake Matthews (ankle); a veteran left guard coming off a back injury, Justin Blalock; and a slumping right tackle, Gabe Carimi.

Ryan said Suh, DT Nick Fairley & Co. are among the premier defensive linemen in the league.

"We're going to have to be solid up front," Ryan said. "We really are. We're going to have to play well up front and have a good plan to account for where those guys are at."

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tuesday's news that defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers has been suspended for two games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances was just the latest twist in what has been a disappointing career. It also puts Bowers one step closer to the likely end of his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It's a sad story that could have been a great one if things had gone differently. But Bowers hasn't produced much of anything since joining the Bucs in 2011. When Bowers was entering the NFL draft, the early word was that he would be a top-10 pick, maybe even the top overall pick. But a knee injury caused a drop in Bowers' stock.

When Bowers still was available in the second round, former general manager Mark Dominik decided to take a shot. Even in hindsight, it wasn't a bad move. As a second-round pick, Bowers' risk factor wasn't as high and he still could have come with a large reward.

The Bucs gave Bowers his chances. In 2013, they tried to hand him a starting job at defensive end. But Bowers showed up at camp in poor shape and he returned to his backup role.

With a new coaching staff taking over this season, the Bucs decided to shift Bowers to defensive tackle, but there haven't been any miracles there. Bowers has been used as a rotational player and hasn't had much of an impact.

Bowers' contract is up after this season, and that's why I say his time with the Bucs probably is coming to an end. The Bucs already have seen firsthand that Bowers isn't an impact player. Some other team will remember the pre-draft hype surrounding Bowers and take a shot on him. But don't count on the Bucs offering Bowers another contract.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Barring what at the moment looks like an unlikely trip to the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers have no chance to face Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning this season.

But over the last five games the Carolina defense has surrendered Manning-like numbers to starting quarterbacks.

Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, Chicago’s Jay Cutler, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers had a cumulative 118.7 passer rating against Carolina.

Manning leads the league with a 118.2 rating.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonCarolina's defense has had issues stopping quarterbacks and now must face the dual-threat ability of Russell Wilson this week.
It gets worse. Next up is Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who ranks fifth in the league with a 101.9 passer rating and leads all quarterbacks with 327 yards rushing.

While Rodgers was completing a gaudy 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina on Sunday, Wilson was making NFL history with 313 yards passing and 106 yards rushing in a loss to St. Louis.

It was the first time an NFL quarterback surpassed 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game. It also gave Wilson an NFL-record three games with 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game.

He’s done it twice in the last three games.

Having Wilson next on the schedule doesn’t bode well for a Carolina defense that ranks 22nd against the pass and 26th against the run -- a defense that Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said on Monday isn’t competing hard enough and swarming to the ball.

“He’s a quarterback that is very versatile and does a great job of getting out of the pocket and creating plays and extending plays downfield," Davis said. “As a defense you have to understand that we are in a situation where you can't leave guys or take plays off and think he’s down.

“You have to compete until the whistle is blown."

Davis said the Panthers (3-3-1) haven’t been doing that. That explains why the defense is averaging about three more missed tackles the past five games than it averaged last season. That explains why the team shook things up Tuesday, releasing veteran defensive back Charles Godfrey after he missed three tackles against Green Bay and was victimized repeatedly on third down the week before at Cincinnati.

That also explains why teams are gashing Carolina for big plays.

Wilson is a big-play threat in the running and passing games. Against the Rams, he had a 19-yard touchdown run and two other runs of 10-plus yards, including a 52-yarder.

Three weeks ago against Washington, Wilson had four runs of 10-plus yards and two of 20-plus.

It will be key for Carolina to keep him contained and pressure him.

“He’s going to make plays," Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “These quarterbacks we’ve faced are elite quarterbacks ... and then you go against Russell Wilson. Every week you’re getting an upper-echelon quarterback.

“That’s the challenge, and our players have to know it and embrace it. Everyone’s got to have a part to it. The coverage has to be tight, the front has got to trap the quarterback and then we have to stay disciplined with that rush.”

If not? Davis summed that up best.

“We have some really big games coming up," he said. “But first and foremost we have to go out and do our jobs against Seattle or the outcome won’t be any different than the one we had this past weekend."
One would have figured Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White would feel a little bit more comfortable with his performance after an nine-catch, 100-yard, one-touchdown outing against Baltimore last week.

But that wasn't the case.

White, who said leading into the Ravens game he felt like he was letting down his teammates, remains down on his overall play. Although he surpassed Terance Mathis for the most touchdowns in franchise history (57), White was more concerned about the couple balls he dropped against the Ravens. He now has at least five drops going into Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions in London.

"Mentally, I feel like I'm in the game plan. Mentally, I feel prepared for the games. It's just ... I don't know what is is," White said. "I'm not finishing plays. I'm not doing what I'm supposed to do."

White refused to use injuries as an excuse, although he's dealt with knee, ankle and hamstring issues over the last two seasons. He doesn't bring up the age factor, either, although he turns 33 on Nov. 2.

"It's frustrating me," White said. "It's getting to the point where I'm doing everything I've been doing for the last nine years of playing football, but it's not real good for me right now. I don't know what it is. I'm trying to find out. I'll figure it out, though. I will figure it out."

White has 28 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns through the first seven games. He missed one game due to a hamstring injury.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NFL got it right by admitting an official made a mistake in ejecting Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly in the third quarter of Carolina's 38-17 loss at Green Bay on Sunday.

Kuechly did nothing wrong. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year simply threw up his left arm when grabbed at the waist from behind by back judge Steve Freeman after being separated from a scrum following a fumble.

Kuechly didn't know -- and had no way of knowing -- it was an official, having already been pulled from the pile by a player.

It was totally inadvertent contact. No punch was thrown. There was no malicious intent.

The league apparently saw the same thing. According to ESPN's Ed Werder, a source said Carolina coach Ron Rivera has been told a mistake was made and Kuechly would not be fined.

That Kuechly is one of the most mild-mannered players in the league -- except when it comes to tackling -- had nothing to do with the uproar about the ejection. It simply was wrong.

It was so wrong that one Green Bay fan took the time to find my email address to express outrage. I'll share because it likely sums up the thoughts of many on this. It read:

"I watch arrogant players get away with nasty plays every week; this was not one of those. This was my post via Facebook at the end of your internet article; please feel free to share it if it will make a difference for an outstanding player.

"I am a Packer fan and I feel totally sorry for Kuechly. It is clear that he thought another player was pulling at him; and as soon as he realized it was an official, he became docile. There is no evidence to support the ejection, nor is there evidence to support a fine. I have seen good men taken down for actions that were not really their own; this is one of them. Kuechly: if you are reading this, please don't let the ultimate enemy win. Continue to be a quality, caliber player regardless of the egoism that is the basis for this call. I am truly sorry for you from the bottom of my heart."

Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn felt so strongly about it that he told The Charlotte Observer he would be disappointed if the league didn't issue a statement on it.

"Officials are held accountable too," said Blackburn, who is also Carolina's NFL Players Association representative. "That's how I look at it."

The league apparently agreed.

The Film Don't Lie: Saints

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

No quarterback in the NFL has been worse while under duress this year than Drew Brees, who needs to start making better decisions under pressure when the Saints (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night.

Brees now has a league-worst passer rating of 19.4 when he's either under duress or being hit, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- a number that has plummeted with three ugly interceptions over the past two games against the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees has completed 20 of 47 passes for 199 yards while under pressure with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks.

The good news is Brees has been under pressure on only 20.4 percent of his dropbacks this year -- a rate that ranks sixth best among NFL teams once you throw out the sack against punter Thomas Morstead on a flopped fake punt at the Dallas Cowboys.

And, at times, Brees and the Saints' offensive line have looked outstanding, like they did during the first three-plus quarters at Detroit this past Sunday, when Brees completed 26 of 32 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns.

But then suddenly, the Saints line couldn't seem to block anyone in the Lions' stifling defensive front as they coughed up a 13-point lead in a stunning 24-23 loss. Brees threw a career-high 10 straight incomplete passes in the fourth quarter -- including a game-changing interception he admitted was too telegraphed.

Left tackle Terron Armstead got beat on that play, and he allowed at least three pressures in the fourth quarter. So did guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Right tackle Zach Strief allowed at least two.

Saints coach Sean Payton expressed very little concern over Brees, though, when asked if he thinks he's pressing too much.

"No, I don't," Payton said. "Obviously [you] want to have the one interception back, but I felt like his decision-making and rhythm, I felt like his week of preparation and how he played all during the practice week was outstanding. He's going to be just fine. He's the least of our worries."

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must fix:

A major reason Tampa Bay's offense ranks 30th in the NFL has been the lack of production from the running game.

Just look at what Doug Martin, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, is doing. Martin, who missed two games with a knee injury, is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. He's gained only 139 yards on the ground, and his longest run of the season went for 19 yards.

A rebuilt offensive line that still is trying to get the proper chemistry undoubtedly is largely responsible for Martin's slow start. Watch the film and you don't see a lot of holes for Martin.

But some of the blame has to fall on Martin because the team's other running back, Bobby Rainey, is faring much better. Rainey is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and he's doing it behind the same offensive line as Martin.

The Bucs have stuck with Martin as their starter, and that may pay off in time. Martin still is a talented runner, and maybe things will open up for him. But the Bucs can't wait too long for Martin to break out of his slump.

If Rainey continues to outplay Martin, it might be time to switch starting running backs.

The Film Don't Lie: Panthers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Carolina Panthers must fix:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a passer rating of 154.5 -- 158.3 is perfect -- in Sunday’s 38-17 victory over Carolina. Over the past five games the average quarterback rating against the Panthers is 118.7. To put that in perspective, that’s higher than Peyton Manning’s league-best 118.2 rating.

Now Carolina must face Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who ranks fourth in the NFL in passer rating at 101.9. Wilson leads all quarterbacks in rushing yardage with 327 and faces an undisciplined Carolina defense that ranks 26th against the run. When you include running, as ESPN Stats & Information does for its quarterback rating, the Panthers have allowed a total quarterback ranking of 82.7 over the past five games. Only four teams have been worse. Not since 2006 have the Panthers had a five-game stretch in which the opposing QBR was at least 70.

They didn’t have one pass defensed against Rodgers, who had as many incompletions (3) as he did touchdowns. The Panthers have allowed 15 touchdown receptions in seven games after allowing only 17 all of last season. All these numbers are alarming. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said Carolina has to change the brand of defense it is playing. He pointed to a lack of effort, particularly when it comes to missed tackles and yards after the catch. The Panthers are giving up an average of 140 yards after the catch this season, compared to 106 a year ago.

It’s a fix that can be made only with better technique and effort.

“It speaks to the consistency," McDermott said. “I know this -- we have to get it back. We’ve got to do a better job of swarming to the ball carrier."