Those who don’t know what it takes for players to get ready for 16 NFL games won’t understand how tough the Carolina Panthers’ victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday was.
So for those folks, we bring in Greg Olsen, who caught the game-winning 1-yard touchdown from Cam Newton with 43 seconds left.
"It was a short week, we’re on the road, we’re playing a really good team, we’re still recovering from a Monday night battle down to the wire, then we have to travel and come down to a hot place, I mean there was a lot to it," Olsen told FOX Sports by phone from the winning locker room. "We were very fortunate to win."
Fortune had little to do with this victory. Last week’s win over the New England Patriots was fortunate to a degree because of the officials’ picking up the flag for pass interference on Luke Kuechly.
Sunday’s game in Miami was a hard-fought win for an 8-3 team that clearly was still shaking off the hangover from arguably the biggest regular-season victory in team history.
But the Panthers’ defense blanked the Dolphins in the second half and held them to 119 yards over the final two quarters while Riverboat Ron Rivera gambled again to see Cam Newton hit Steve Smith for 19 yards on a fourth-and-10 and Olsen finished it off with his touchdown.
Newton, who had two fourth-quarter comebacks in his career before the last three weeks, now has three in three games. That’s something even great comeback artists such as Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Tom Brady and John Elway haven’t done. (Peyton Manning holds the record with five straight in Weeks 8-12 in 2009.)
The Panthers’ remarkable season continued Sunday with that comeback by Newton and the tying of a franchise record with seven straight victories.
"We have a lot of tough, resilient guys on this team who have been through a lot over the years," Olsen said, "and that’s built up a lot of toughness that we’ve been able to apply during the positives and it’s helped us over the last several weeks."
This Panthers team is playing tough, smart football and doing the things necessary to win games.
Olsen did just that, and not only on his game-winning touchdown. Sure, that was a great play because he sold the entire Miami defense on the play-action by being patient and making it look like he was blocking before running his route.
But the heady play that won’t get much attention came at the end of the first half. Olsen was out in front of Brandon LaFell and calling the shots on a 29-yard catch-and-run. The play began at the Panthers’ 43-yard line with eight seconds left in the half and no timeouts for Carolina, which was down 16-3 at that point.
LaFell made the grab and ran up the right sideline, seemingly unaware of how little time was on the clock. Olsen was running as his escort and was able to watch the clock long enough to yell for LaFell to get out of bounds when one second remained. Had he not barked the order, LaFell wouldn’t have reached the sideline in time.
"Sometimes when you have the ball, it’s hard to subtract the time, so I was trying to be his eyes," Olsen said. "There wasn’t really anything else for me to do at the time because their defense was so back. I just wanted us to get as many yards as we could and watch the clock and get him out of bounds. He did a great job."
As did Olsen, who watched the clock in one end zone and then found the one on the other end of the field when he spun around to escort LaFell.
"Yeah, it was nice," Olsen said. "Those big jumbotrons make it a lot easier."
The play allowed Graham Gano to line up for a 46-yard field goal, which he made. Now, it was 16-6 at the half and the Panthers had a bit of momentum heading into the locker room. While I’m reluctant to project what points earlier in the game mean down the line because there’s no telling how things would have played out had Gano missed the field goal, the three points meant the Dolphins needed a touchdown instead of a field goal following Olsen’s fourth-quarter touchdown.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman told me last week these players are playing with the confidence "they haven’t had in the past." Gettleman is right. Whether it’s Olsen’s heady play at the end of the first half or Newton’s poise at the end of games, this team is complementing the talent it’s had for a while with the football smarts needed for victories.
"It says a lot about the group of guys we have and about our coaches," Olsen said. "We were prepared, we had a really good week of practice. We’d rather not have to come back, but in this league you have to find ways to win. These last two weeks were huge games."
FAMILY FIRST FOR DAVID CARR
This holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving this week, we’ll talk a lot about the importance of family.
David Carr doesn’t just talk about it. He lives it.
The former No. 1 overall pick, most recently a backup to Eli Manning with the New York Giants, was offered contracts with two teams in recent weeks â one NFC club and one AFC team â but had to say no both times. The reason was he and his wife Melody had just learned their 2-year-old daughter Grace was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Though it’s a manageable disease once diagnosed and the Carrs have experience in dealing with it because one of their five sons, Austin, also has it, David couldn’t bring himself to leave his daughter and family.
"They were actually two teams I would’ve gone to. That’s the tough part," said Carr, who declined to name the teams out of respect for the organizations. "But when it comes down to it, (family) is what it’s all about. First of all, I wouldn’t be able to give 100 percent to the team I was with and I just wanted to be honest with them, so I called the general managers and told them personally. They were actually pretty cool about it and they were pleased with the honesty. I don’t think they get it that much.
"We’ll see what happens later. But for the time being, there are things that are more important."
Grace was having trouble sleeping and Melody was changing about a dozen diapers per night. Based on their experience with Austin, the Carrs had an inkling diabetes could be a factor. They took Grace to see a doctor, and tests revealed her blood-sugar level was five times the normal level.
It was right about then that one of the teams called. It wouldn’t just be as a clipboard holder, either. The 34-year-old David had a chance to push for the starting job. Then, the second team called.
"Test of the devil," the deeply religious Carr said. "It was like, ‘OK, you said no to this one, let’s see if you really mean it. Here comes another one.’ ‘Thanks. I could’ve handled one, but two?’ It’s just funny how it works."
Carr spoke to friends, family members, former teammates and pastors to gauge their advice. His brother Derek, the quarterback for undefeated Fresno State, is on the verge of becoming a high draft pick. The two have talked about how much they’d like to play in the NFL at the same time, and turning down a roster spot now doesn’t help David’s chances of holding up his end of the bargain in 2014.
But in the end, he made the decision he would have made even if he’d never consulted anyone else.
"Earlier in my career, I maybe would’ve made a different decision. It’s amazing what 12 years in the NFL can do to you," he said. "You see a lot of things, you learn a lot, you grow as a father and husband and you learn some things are more important than going out and collecting a check, standing there and trying to be 100 percent into the deal. So in my heart, all along, I knew what I was supposed to do, just because it wasn’t something I felt like I could walk away from.
"The thing with diabetes is it’s constant, like every hour it’s something. ‘What did she eat for lunch?’ She’s 2, she can’t tell us, so we have to figure it out. While I was trying to make that decision for those couple of days, she was always there, always in need, always running up and giving me a hug. She didn’t know anything else, she just knew her dad was here. That stuff makes the decision easier."
WINFIELD BACK TO SEATTLE?
In the wake of cornerback Walter Thurmond’s suspension for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, as the NFL Network first reported on Sunday morning, the Seattle Seahawks surely realize they’re going to need cornerback help. They’ll face the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers in the next two weeks without Thurmond and the injured Brandon Browner.
Do not be surprised if Antoine Winfield winds up being that help.
The Seahawks have contacted the three-time Pro Bowl selection, a source told FOX Sports. And while Winfield announced his retirement at the end of training camp with Seattle, it wasn’t truly a retirement. The 36-year-old Winfield has continued to work out and has heard from several teams recently but has turned down all offers. He’s looking for a chance to play in his first Super Bowl and the Seahawks could give him that opportunity.
1) Wes Welker has to come up and field that punt in overtime that wound up bouncing off the Denver Broncos’ Tony Carter to set up the New England Patriots’ game-winning field goal. Don’t blame Carter on this one. He’s carrying out his blocking assignment, so he has no idea what’s happening with the football. He’s relying on Welker to give the call to stay away and Welker didn’t give that call until it was far too late. That came after Welker took a few steps toward the football but decided against fielding it.
It’s clear Welker didn’t want to run up into traffic to catch the ball because he didn’t want to risk muffing it. That’s understandable, especially with those winds at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night. But Welker has to realize that traffic also poses a threat in the form of a ball bouncing off one of his teammates. That’s exactly what happened and it cost the Broncos the game.
2) The Green Bay Packers’ decision on whether to play Aaron Rodgers against the Detroit Lions this Thursday will be a fascinating one because of multiple factors at play. Foremost among the reasons he should give it a go would be the enormity of the matchup with the Lions, who sit atop the NFC North at 6-5. The Packers, at 5-5-1, would jump Detroit with a victory, leaving the Chicago Bears a chance to overtake Green Bay on Sunday. The fact it’s also a Thanksgiving game in front of the entire country will surely nudge Rodgers into trying to get a notoriously conservative medical staff to clear him. Add in that it’s his non-throwing shoulder and one can see how he might play in this game.
But even Rodgers has admitted it’s about more than pain tolerance and range of motion. It’s about re-injury and whether it’s worth it for him to rush back now rather than wait another 10 days after this game to heal up even further and face the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 8. Plus, the Lions’ defensive front has been known to be rather rude when it comes to handling opposing quarterbacks. Sitting Rodgers another week could very well cost the Packers a postseason appearance, but it seems like the smart thing to do at this point.
3.) Rex Ryan wouldn’t commit to Geno Smith as the New York Jets’ starting quarterback following Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and it was wise of him to be non-committal. Ryan has previously backed Smith even after yanking him, but Sunday’s game might have been a breaking point.
Smith is 25-for-64 for 345 yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions in his last three games combined. He’s not seeing the field well. Late in the game, he threw incomplete to a covered Santonio Holmes when Bilal Powell was crossing in front of his face for an easy catch-and-run first down, then threw an interception when he badly misjudged how Corey Graham was baiting him into making the throw into the wind. I’m not giving up on Smith and he’s shown more resilience than I thought he had, but he needs to take a seat and regroup.
4.) I still believe Dez Bryant could have, and should have, handled himself better in Detroit last month, but the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver’s point was he wanted the ball in crunch time. This time, Tony Romo listened and fed him three times for 32 yards to kick-start the game-winning drive. And while we’re on the subject of Romo and game-winning drives, the one on Sunday to beat the New York Giants was his 21st in the regular season. That ties him for 43rd all-time with Troy Aikman and Doug Williams. It’s incredible to think that Aikman didn’t have more than 43 game-winning drives, but that’s probably because the Cowboys teams he quarterbacked were playing from ahead so often.
5.) My weekly update on the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin case is to tell folks not to assume Incognito is going to be cut by the Dolphins at this point next week when their maximum allotted time to suspend a player for conduct detrimental to the team runs out. Incognito wouldn’t have waived his right to an expedited grievance if he didn’t get some indication there was a good chance he’d be back with the Dolphins. Sources say his teammates supported him in conversations with Ted Wells, which isn’t surprising given how much they backed him to the media a few weeks ago, and Martin’s hesitancy to try handling the situation in house could wind up helping Incognito.
10 EVEN QUICKER TAKES
Justin Houston and Tamba Hali: The news on both of the Kansas City Chiefs’ pass rushers doesn’t seem too bad right now. Houston suffered a subluxed elbow, meaning it popped out and then back in. They’re hopeful he didn’t suffer major ligament damage. It’s believed Hali avoided a high-ankle sprain. Even so, both players are in jeopardy of missing Sunday’s game against Denver.
Bruce Arians: This guy almost retired last year. Now he’s leading the Arizona Cardinals to a 7-4 start and bringing offense to the desert. The Cardinals broke the 40-point barrier in Sunday’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts. It was only the second time they’ve scored 40 since Kurt Warner was their quarterback.
Philip Rivers: Rookie Keenan Allen (124 yards receiving) is helping, but Rivers is carrying that offense. What a throw to Seyi Ajirotutu for the game-winning touchdown. Rivers has four games of 390 passing yards or more this year, tying Joe Montana and Dan Marino for most in one season.
Hakeem Nicks: New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Nicks didn’t play because he didn’t practice last week, which is a policy Coughlin has in most cases. A source said Nicks was checked for a sports hernia last week but none was found. Nicks might not be having his best season, but it’s clear from Sunday’s performance the offense suffers when he’s not on the field for defenses to defend.
Greg Schiano speech: As could be seen on FOX’s "The OT" following the Cowboys’ victory, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach was some kind of fired up, as he should be. That team has played four excellent games and his young quarterback is making huge strides.
St. Louis Rams: Imagine if Sam Bradford hadn’t gotten hurt. Maybe they’d have beaten Seattle and/or the Tennessee Titans to get on the right side of .500.
Colts’ first-half struggles: They’ve scored a total of 12 points in the first halves of their last four games. Twelve. As in three per game.
Houston Texans: Watch your back, Gary Kubiak.
Ravens-Steelers: All of a sudden, this will be the most anticipated game on Thanksgiving. Not that Packers-Lions doesn’t mean much, but Pittsburgh and Baltimore are now battling for a playoff spot and this rivalry speaks for itself.