- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

STORY OF THE WEEK

PANTHERS ON THE PROWL

With all the fuss about the powerful NFC East quartet of the New York Giants, Washington, Dallas and Philadelphia, there hasn’t been much attention paid to the Carolina Panthers.

It’s time for that to start. After Sunday’s 31-22 victory against the hapless Detroit Lions, the Panthers are 8-2. That’s their best record through 10 games since their 2003 Super Bowl season and good for a strong second to the Giants in the NFC.

True, it came against the lowly Lions, but the Panthers ran for a franchise-record 264 yards to win their fourth in a row. Rookie Jonathan Stewart ran for 130 yards and DeAngelo Williams added 120. It was the first time in the franchise’s 14 seasons that two Carolina backs topped 100 yards. And it’s timely; the running game is offsetting a shaky season by quarterback Jake Delhomme.

“Whether he’s out there or I’m out there, you pretty much get the same guy out there,” Williams said. “[Stewart] can bash you up and if you let him break it, he can take it 60 or 70 yards. I feel that I can be that same back, too.”

Carolina’s defense has held four of its opponents to less than 10 points, including NFC South rival Atlanta, which it pounded 24-9 in Week 4 and faces again this week. The Panthers are 6-0 at home with just Tampa Bay (7-3) and Denver (6-4) still to visit Charlotte, N.C. Tough road tests remain against Atlanta (6-4), Green Bay (5-5), the Giants (9-1) and New Orleans (5-5), but it seems the Panthers are headed back to the playoffs, possibly atop the NFC South — which doesn’t have a losing team.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets are for real. A year after finishing 4-12, they’re 7-3 and in sole possession of the AFC East lead for the first time in six years. They edged five-time defending division champion New England 34-31 in overtime Thursday night.

The victory gave the Jets a rare road sweep of their division rivals. While New York has a tough test Sunday at Tennessee, games at lowly San Francisco and Seattle remain, along with a visit by defensively deficient Denver. In other words, the Jets should be playoff-bound.

That’s only natural for 38-year-old Brett Favre, who led Green Bay to the postseason during 12 of his 16 years there. Favre was 26-for-33 for 258 yards and two touchdowns as the Jets beat the Patriots for just the second time in the teams’ past 13 meetings.

FIVE THINGS LEARNED IN WEEK 11

1. The rookie coaches aren’t as special as originally thought. Jim Zorn’s Redskins (6-4) lost at home to the Cowboys. Mike Smith’s Falcons (6-4) were upset by the visiting Broncos. John Harbaugh’s Ravens (6-4) were pounded at home by the Giants. Only Tony Sparano’s Dolphins (6-4) won — and that was 17-15 against the awful Raiders on a last-minute field goal at home.

2. Chicago (5-5) is tied with Green Bay and Minnesota atop the NFC North but has big issues. After three straight home games (two victories and a close loss to Tennessee), Chicago was crushed 27-3 at Green Bay. A once-dominant defense was driven on all day. And gimpy Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton passed for just 133 yards.

3. Not that the defending champion Giants had much to prove, but Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward combined for 210 yards on 31 carries against the Ravens’ league-leading run defense in a 30-10 romp. Almost as impressive is that New York, which is likely to have homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs, is 6-0 at home.

4. Rookie Spencer Larsen became the first player in Denver’s 49-year history to start on offense and defense in the same game when he opened at fullback and middle linebacker for the Broncos in their 24-20 victory against the Falcons. Baltimore’s Orlando Brown was the last two-way starter, back on Dec. 14, 2003, against the Raiders.

5. If New England, which slipped to 6-4 with the loss to the Jets, misses the playoffs, it won’t be quarterback Matt Cassel’s fault. Totally untested before he replaced injured MVP Tom Brady in the opener, Cassel became the first player since the NFL/AFL merger to throw for 400 yards and run for 60 in a game. Cassel has passed for 2,200 yards, 10 touchdowns and an 87.3 rating.

NEXT MAN UP

Big injuries from Week 11:<

WR Antonio Chatman, Bengals (neck): He was carted off the field during the second quarter, but preliminary tests were normal and he had movement in his arms and legs. Chatman is a backup to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

OT Orlando Pace, Rams (knee): He injured a knee ligament in the first half against San Francisco and could miss significant time. He was replaced by Adam Goldberg.

G Richie Incognito, Rams (rotator cuff): He strained a rotator cuff in the second quarter. He was replaced by Brett Romberg.

CB Ron Bartell, Rams (knee): He tore a meniscus in the second quarter. Jonathan Wade could see extra time in his place.

QB JaMarcus Russell, Raiders (knee): Russell, who came into the Miami game with an ailing knee, left the game after being sacked twice in three series. Marques Tuiasosopo replaced him.

RB Earnest Graham, Buccaneers (knee): Graham came into the Minnesota game with a sprained knee, limped off early in the first quarter and didn’t return. Warrick Dunn, who was also ailing this week, replaced Graham.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 11 games:

4: Months of football that the Lions have been above .500 since the start of 2001. The Lions are 0-10 after losing to the Panthers on Sunday.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 11 puts them in the spotlight for next week:

DONOVAN MCNABB

Philadelphia’s 13-13 tie with Cincinnati, the NFL’s first in six years, could come back to bite the Eagles. Quarterback Donovan McNabb, who didn’t know regular-season games could not go past the first overtime, threw three interceptions in Cincinnati territory and fumbled deep in his own territory as the Eagles slipped to 5-4-1. Other than Cleveland, the remaining schedule is intimidating: at Baltimore, the Giants and Redskins and at home against the Cardinals and Cowboys. As well as coach Andy Reid and McNabb have done in their decade together, it might be time for at least one of them to go.

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