CHARLOTTE — The answer to this week's first question is yes; as a matter of fact, I have seen something like that before.
It's Atlanta. Weird stuff happens there.
There's something particularly and innately odd about a game in Georgia's most populous and, by extension, hardest-to-traverse city, a place where Freaknik was born and where freakish endings to football games have become common. At least for the Panthers.
The Panthers are now 8-20 in the Georgia Dome (RIP you utterly functional and confusingly pastel and soulless convention and meeting space) and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and there have been some real doozies there.
I mean, the Panthers lost their first game in franchise history in overtime after left tackle Derrick Graham's false start forced them to kick an extra point rather than going for a game-winning two after Willie Green's 44-yard touchdown from Frank Reich in the final minute of regulation (sound familiar)?
They got Haruki Nakamura'd there in 2012. When your name becomes a verb, it's bad.
Michael Vick levitated on fourth-and-goal from the 12 in 2004, somehow staying airborne just past the fingertips of linebacker Dan Morgan.
The only regular season game they lost in 2015 was in Atlanta, and Julio Jones hit them for 300 yards in 2016.
We've seen some things down there. Nothing about that place is normal. It probably starts with having an indoor stadium in one of the more pleasant climates in the NFL, and the roof of the new place is, for lack of a better word, evocative.
So yeah, it's a lot. Hard to think of things that are worse than a trip to Atlanta. I'm struggling. Maybe something will come to me by the end of the day.
Whew, tough loss! First time in a long time, I felt excited and nervous watching a Panthers game. This team is playing differently, and there's a different vibe in the air. I hate to be a pessimist, but I'm trying to be a realist in regard to the Panthers' remaining schedule. There are quite a few tough games upcoming. My question is, if the season ended today, what needs to be the offseason to-do list in terms of upgrading position groups? I know that depends on what happens with the coaching staff, etc. I'm just curious to get your take on what areas you would look to bring in better talent. I really feel this team is close to competing. #KeepPounding from Nevada! — Jeff, Henderson, NV
It was definitely a different vibe. There have been some Panthers teams of recent vintage that might not have bounced back from the pick-six before halftime. But to rally the way they did, with 21 in the fourth quarter, including the PJ Walker miracle touchdown, was really something.
And that's a weird way to segue into the next question because, obviously, quarterback will be near the top of the list next year, regardless of what else happens. Matt Corral is the only one under contract at the moment, so they're going to be adding there.
There are a few other spots that will become factors this offseason (the kinds of things you can't really fix now, especially since the trade deadline came and went without any moves). They could get younger at linebacker. They need more depth on the defensive line. For once, they don't have to panic about offensive line depth. Center Bradley Bozeman is the only starter not under contract, and he seems to like it here, and even if he doesn't hang around, they like the potential of Cade Mays in the middle.
Could they use a top-shelf tight end, like they used to have in Greg Olsen? Of course they could. The same is true for approximately 31 other teams in the league.
But there is a lot to like about this roster, especially after the way they played Sunday.
Hello, cheerful voice of sober expectations; you are needed. I must admit, after DJ Moore's touchdown my expectations were a bit higher than sober (Dad joke), and then combining that with the fact that we scored 34 points on offense (which felt a lot like scoring 40 in the fourth quarter), and CJ Henderson made a what-I-thought was a game-clinching interception. Things were really, really great, albeit roller-coaster-esque, for about 15 minutes in my living room. And then they weren't. How do I hold onto any hope for the rest of this season now? — John, Matthews, NC
John knows I'm not in the hope business, but all I can tell you for sure is that there's no way to anticipate what's coming next. I've always hated picking games, mainly because it just sets you up to look like a sucker and have people laugh at you later. I would have been wrong each of the last two weeks, but I was also astonished at the way the last two weeks unfolded.
You buys your ticket. You goes to see the show. And what a show it's been lately.
I'm not in the sales department, but after the last two weeks, I can tell you the emotions in that locker room are genuine, and they're playing the way you want a team to play. That makes for an entertaining product, at least.
All I can say is that the Panthers made eye-popping plays on offense and defense all day long, and, except for a couple of bad bounces and unfortunate calls, it was a good outing for all. DJ Moore, PJ Walker, and D'Onta Foreman made it fun and competitive to watch. Not to mention the defense! Shouldn't we turn Walker and Foreman loose? — Mark, Fort Mill, SC
It's possible that I was being sarcastic the other week when I tweeted, "Let PJ cook" early in the Buccaneers game. Or prophetic, one way or the other. I report. You decide.
But honestly, after they handcuffed him to keep him from making mistakes against the Rams in his first start, it's the way they ought to go.
What is there to lose by taking a shot downfield? A game? They're 2-6.
At the same time, there's a very real sense of confidence in Walker from his teammates. It might sound weird, but it's tangible.
The bomb to Moore was great, but the other four passes of 20 yards or longer in the second half were the real eye-opener of Walker's performance. He's dealing right now, and they're probably going to roll with him until he isn't.
I didn't envision saying any of that three weeks ago.
Darin! Hope this finds you and yours well! My question is something I picked up on in your story covering the Atlanta game over the weekend. Donte Jackson says that one of the biggest changes in the locker room attitude now is that Steve Wilks has their back, and from watching the vast improvement in the team, it makes me wonder, what was the main difference in the attitude of the locker room? (If nothing else, it makes owning PSLs fun again as it's night and day different) — Rick, York, SC
One of the things that happens when a coach gets fired is everybody blames everything on the guy who's gone. It's easy. The hot-take artists can rip somebody and never have to face him, which a lot of them do anyway because they're cowardly. But it's also disingenuous sometimes.
Multiple things can be true at once. Players respond well to Wilks. Most of them also responded well to Matt Rhule. But the results weren't there. If they don't win again this year, we'll look back much differently at that postgame locker room where everybody was loving on Steve.
But the belief is genuine, just as the overall improvement of the roster that Rhule oversaw was.
When you're in a foxhole, the people in that foxhole with you tend to be your closest friends since your survival can depend on them. That happens a lot in football. The Panthers are in a spot where no one outside that room has any expectations of them. That's bringing them closer together. Wilks is a big part of that. What does it mean for the future? No one knows.
Wilks hasn't gotten dragged into questions about his future because he has no good answers. He also knows it doesn't matter and that dealing with the thing in front of you is the only way to proceed.
I know the rules are the rules, but don't you think there should be a rule of reason as well? With only a few seconds on the clock, the game was essentially over. In any sport, you hate to see the outcome overtly changed by a single call from off the field of play. — Dick, Woodstock, GA
I probably agree with most Panthers fans at the moment that it stinks when officials insert themselves into the play (Not that a Hochuli would ever do that. Is Cam Newton old enough to get that call yet?). At the same time, this isn't 'Nam; this is bowling, there are rules. Also, DJ Moore wasn't the only helmetless Panther celebrating that play, as tight end Stephen Sullivan was also out there bare-headed and freaking out with the rest of them.
I get it; it's maddening to hear the explanation from one former officiating director (Terry McAulay) saying it shouldn't have been called, only to hear another (Dean Blandino) acknowledge that it was justifiable. There were also many chances in regulation and overtime for that play not to matter, and since teams have no recourse in this argument, there's no use yelling about it.
I get that fans feel like it's a quibble, an unnecessary application of an unnecessary rule (which might be stupid anyway). But it's a rule, I guess. Football is really hard. To do it as well as DJ Moore did at that moment is incredibly difficult, but suppressing the emotions that come with doing a hard thing well is likely even harder.
Rather than wade into the particulars of this case to give an unsatisfactory answer to an emotional populace, I will say that I think celebration rules are generally made by and for people even older than me. I'm pro-fun. Fun is good. Sports, when fun and good, are the kind of real-life drama anyone would want to watch, whether they like sports or not. Some people hate fun though. When I'm in charge, celebration penalties will be significantly changed. You will only be penalized if your celebration is lame. If it requires props or planning, that's 15 yards.
When I'm the commissioner (LOL), as long as it's organic, anything goes. So pop that helmet when you catch a ridiculous 62-yard bomb with 12 seconds left. Dance like no one's watching when you drill a penalty kick, because everyone's already watching. Flip your bat when you hit a walk-off home run. Shimmy when you hit a 30-foot jumper to win a game. Be real because that's the stuff we want to see.
But you also have to be ready to see the other guy do it too.
Any news on how Jeremy Chinn is getting on with his recovery? He's almost been on IR for four weeks now, so he would be able to return soon. Is he ready to play, or should we expect him to be out for a few more weeks? — Matt, Frome, England
Matt's right, Jeremy is eligible to return this week. Whether he will is another question.
There are a few things complicating this one, beginning with the fact it was a more serious hamstring strain than anyone (including Chinn) realized when he pulled it trying to make a tackle in the first quarter of the Cardinals game.
"When it first happened, yeah. I thought I was going back in the game," Chinn said recently. "The next thing I know, I'm getting an MRI, and I'm on IR.
"Initially, it was worse than what I thought it was on the field. But I'm a pretty fast healer, and I take pride in taking care of my body. I knew whatever it was if it was something keeping me off the field, it's not something small."
The schedule also gives them something else to consider regarding Chinn's return. With a second straight road game followed by a short-week home game against the Falcons, the recovery time he'd have after a first game back is another thing to think about.
He's not ruling himself out, and he said his recent workouts have been more intense as they try to ramp him up. But he's also a long-term asset; having him right is more important than having him right now.
Am I the only one feeling like a sad ex who can't stop following their former partner while watching CMC ball out in San Fran? — Nate, Grand Prairie, TX
Don't cry because it's over, Nate; smile because it happened.
And even though you two crazy kids enjoyed some good times, you were starting to need different things out of the relationship, and when it becomes clear that someone is a transitional partner, sometimes it's best to let them go.
Now, look at him out there, living his best life, trying new things, and throwing passes for touchdowns. (Which reminds me of one of the best Onion stories ever.)
It's good that he's happy. He deserves to stay that way. He works hard at football, and he is good at it. But the Panthers still needed the extra draft picks the next couple of years more than they needed a premium contract at a non-premium position. It's hard to put what feels like a relationship into a balance sheet and attach economic values to particular people, but it's a business sometimes.
It just doesn't always feel that way when you develop any level of emotional attachment, which is what fans do with players. You'll always have the memories, Nate. But seriously, you have to stop driving by his house. That's weird.
Who did not think D'Onta Foreman could run the ball? News flash - he can catch too. — Kevin, Texas City, TX
Texas City sounds like a fictional place. Kind of like Texas State, which everyone remembers as the school where Paul Blake, Andre Krimm, Manumana The Slender, and Lucy Draper shocked the world by defeating the hated University of Texas Colts. It's certainly not an actual college that played Appalachian State this year; that was also a figment of someone's imagination.
I'm sorry, where were we? Oh, Foreman. Yeah, my god, what a game he had.
One of the shames of Sunday's outcome in Atlanta is that memories of his outburst will eventually fade. He had 26 carries for 118 yards and three touchdowns, perhaps the only player in the world with as many fantasy points as McCaffrey last week. (Too soon?)
Part of the key was he was the lead back again, the way he was when he was subbing for an injured Derrick Henry in Tennessee last year. Foreman just doesn't appear to be one of those guys who can spot in for a play or two and provide peak form. He needs time to let it breathe and develop. He's capable of big plays, but his running style might best be described as cumulative. Over the last two seasons, when he gets single-digit carries, he's only averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry once.
But in the last two weeks, when he has had 15 and 26 carries, he's averaged 7.87 and 4.54 per carry. So it's fair to call him a volume runner.
I'm not going to dispute Kevin's claim of his ability to catch passes, we've just never seen as much evidence of it. He had two receptions against the Buccaneers, but none last week when he was bludgeoning the Falcons front. He has 20 catches in five seasons. Part of that's opportunity, but it may not be an accident. He's also not as known for his prowess as a pass-blocker, and if Chuba Hubbard comes back from his ankle injury this week, they'll have another option in the backfield.
Could they have used him more before the McCaffrey trade? Maybe. But I'm also not sure giving the ball to a Not McCaffrey was a good idea, especially since they suspected Foreman was a guy who needed a few reps to get into a groove.
It's never fun to lose, but what a great game against the Falcons! I feel like I'm watching real, actual football again since Steve Wilks has been made the interim head Coach, PJ Walker is looking like a real quarterback, D'Onta Foreman is running people over, and so is Bradley Bozeman! Since that isn't really a question, I will pretend I am on Jeopardy and put this in question form:
Since so many great things are happening with the above-noted changes, ...
1) When will the "interim" tag be removed from Wilks title?
2) When will the Panthers name PJ Walker the permanent starter and quiet the shameful "Tank for Whomever" fanbase?
3) When will the Panthers extend D'Onta Foreman's contract?
4) When will the Panthers extend Bradley Bozeman's contract?
5) Why is Eastern-Style BBQ so much better than the roadkill they serve out West? — Mike, Southport, NC
Why you got to go and start a holy war, Mike? I don't need food fights in the Mailbag. There are enough crumbs on my desk as it is.
Like Ben McAdoo, I left my crystal ball in my other pants, so I can't give decent answers to the first four.
Especially that first one, though I can't imagine a situation where anything happens before the end of the season, and with so much season left, there's no need to rush it, which is why Wilks' day-by-day persona is perfect for the situation.
There's a difference between Walker playing well at the moment and Walker playing well enough to be considered the future. And the people who want to lose, you're not going to quiet them down ever because some people prefer to be miserable.
That's not the same as being blind to business realities. Drafting a quarterback makes sense. Not every drafted quarterback leads the team that drafts him to the playoffs.
Keeping Foreman and Bozeman around makes sense, as both are perfect fits. And since the Panthers don't have a long list of free agents this offseason (all the non-Corral quarterbacks, defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, Bozeman and Foreman, and JJ Jansen lead the list, and the rest are depth players), it's reasonable to want to keep them around.
But since they're free agents, they get choices too. Having a role and playing it well can often help frame the decision-making process for guys like that.
So we'll see. And for walking the line between agitating the populace and asking a few forward-thinking questions, I'm making Mike this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, and he'll receive the appropriate honorarium soon, just in time for the food fight.
Do you know of any support groups for mothers of hockey goalies, soccer keepers, and place kickers? Maybe a private Facebook group? We need a safe space to celebrate and commiserate. Seems like when kickers are making all their attempts, we need to share our superstitions, grouse about no one paying attention when our kids are doing well, to express our righteous indignation when they are blamed for losing a game (as if one player can lose a game in what you call "the ultimate team sport?"), feel superior about our good judgment in encouraging our offspring to choose a position with a low concussion rate, admit to our pre-game rituals (and sheepishly share the ones that work)? A forum for others who know our joys and our pain? Or maybe an emotional boot camp would be better? Does the NFL have one of those for moms? — Kate, Charlotte
Kate sounds like a good mom. Every kicker, hell every kid, should have a mom like her.
I think I'd rather go to an emotional boot camp than sign up for Facebook (unless the bad guys ruin Twitter, and I need a different outlet to make jokes), and I can't imagine anything I'd be worse at than an emotional boot camp.
It can be a nightmare sometimes watching your kids when they're in that spot. When mine were younger, they were keepers and catchers, maybe because they got the extra cool gear. But they handled the pressure so much better than I did while watching them. It almost drove me back to smoking, which I definitely don't recommend, but if your group wanted to sit outside on a porch somewhere, I also probably wouldn't object to a little second-hand now that I think about it. Watching your kid face a penalty, or someone stealing second is nerve-wracking stuff.
On a related note, everybody should lay off Eddy Piñeiro for a minute. Did he have a bad day at the office Sunday? He did. As Kate The Wise notes, it's hard to be perfect when everyone is watching everything you do for a living. And Eddy has been doing it better than most this year.
It's also worth having a little perspective on when they miss.
When Pineiro kicked for special teams coach Chris Tabor in Chicago in 2019, he hit a walk-off game-winner in Denver. The next week, he missed a field goal against Washington and came back and was money (three field goals and an extra point) in a 16-6 win over the Vikings the following week. He went through a slump later that year but bounced back and hit 27 straight field goals, a streak which continued until the 49ers game this year for Tabor and the Panthers.
That's a long way of saying kickers miss. It happens. Eddy has still hit 14-of-16 field goals this year. You'll take 87.5 percent (14th in the league among regulars). And so will his mom because, like Kate, she gets it.
Let's go lightning round to close it out this week:
"Let's go lightning round to close it out this week." You say this every week, though it's framed in a way to make it seem it's different from any other week. Why? Also, when I think lightning round, I think short questions with short, one or two-word replies. Your lightning round questions and answers don't seem terribly different from the rest of the questions and answers. Maybe a bit shorter on the answer side, but nothing I'd describe as "lightning." Anyway, just an observation. — Jeff, Fuquay-Varina, NC
Shut up, Jeff.
Who is the worst question-asker in Mailbag history? — Will, Rock Hill, SC
No, really, is anyone worse than Jeff? — Amy, Charlotte
Nope. He Jeffs everything up.
I bet all his neighbors hate him, too, don't they? — Bob, Fuquay-Varina, NC
Certainly. I have no doubt he fails to pick up after his dog or return borrowed tools, and he probably gave out raisins to trick-or-treaters last night.
Yeah, he did. Raisins are the worst Halloween treat, aren't they? — Ellie, Fuquay-Varina, NC
Confirmed. You'd have to be a real Jeff to give raisins to adorable children like Ellie.
Will you ever forgive Jeff? — Peter, Rome, GA
Is there anything worse in the world than Jeff? — Jeff, Fuquay-Varina, NC (if he's being honest with himself)
Only a trip to Atlanta. Thanks for ruining everything, Jeff. We blame you. It's all your fault.