Playing Peete at QB makes Panthers even bigger joke

September 08, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - And now, starting at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, Rodney Peete. ...

At first, it seemed like a joke. Or maybe new Panthers coach John Fox was trying to confuse the Ravens last week when he made the announcement. But it's true. Out with old Chris Weinke, 30, in with the older Peete, 36 going on 55.

That in itself, tells you about the state of the Panthers: losers and heading further south. Marvin Lewis must be chuckling these days about the Panthers rejecting him in their search for a head coach last offseason.

Carolina has become one of the NFL's most incompetent franchises. The Panthers have lost their past 15 games. They had the league's worst offense a year ago, and the second-worst defense. During the offseason, they signed such high-profile free agents as Lamar Smith, Terry Cousins and Peete.

Who?

And you thought the Ravens had problems with 19 rookies on the roster. ...

Imagine being the marketing director of the Panthers and trying to sell a lifetime assistant making his debut as a head coach (Fox) and a quarterback whom many thought was sitting on the porch playing bingo with Elvis Grbac.

The last time Peete started a game was Nov. 2, 1998. The last time he threw a pass in a real NFL game was 1999. Someone joked that game film of Peete might appear on ESPN Classic or The History Channel.

Even the Compu Coach doesn't have any film on Peete in his extensive, digital, satellite, filing system.

"We don't have any film on him at all," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis told the Charlotte media in a conference call this week. "But one thing about that is we never look at that much film no matter what quarterback we are going against, unless we are playing a quarterback like Brett Favre, who we really have to watch out for. Rodney, in my opinion, is on the downside of things."

Ouch.

There was more.

"Which Classic Sports is he on?" Lewis asked. "The `Where Are They Now' Classic Sports?"

Of course, Lewis is crossing the line of respect. He should remember that saying about letting an old dog lie, but most of us have questions about this Peete thing.

Like, how is your wife (Holly Robinson-Peete) doing? Where did they find Peete, selling cars, or insurance, or was he a high school coach in Shreveport? Did the arena league close down?

Peete seemed to have been out of pro football so long that the NFLPA should have filed a missing person's report.

But that's life in the NFL these days. It's filled with average Joes like Bobby Joe, Billy Joe, and the Bubby Bristers of this world. So, why not another Rodney who gets no respect?

"I don't think I ever faced Rodney Peete," said Lewis. "I was probably too young when Rodney Peete was playing."

Oooo, another shot.

It's hard to keep a straight face. It's a fitting combo: Peete and a franchise that has had only one winning season since the franchise's 1995 debut. Maybe the Panthers are having second thoughts about selecting defensive end Julius Peppers over "franchise" quarterback prospect Joey Harrington last April. Peppers was No. 2 overall, Harrington was the No. 3 selection, by the Detroit Lions.

The Panthers apparently felt that Weinke, the former Heisman winner, was their quarterback of the future. He lasted four preseason games, completing 35 of 59 passes for 270 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Some future.

This is not the first quarterback controversy in Carolina. There was another failed experiment a year ago when Jeff Lewis was pulled for Weinke 10 days before the regular-season opener. Weinke finished with a rating of 62.0 last season, the second lowest in the NFL.

Apparently, owner Jerry Richardson's vision of the future is obscured by the dark, ominous cloud that hangs over his franchise. Now the Panthers are using Peete, who missed much of training camp because of a knee injury, the birth of his third child and the death of his father. He played about only two preseason quarters, completing nine of 19 passes for 68 yards.

But the Panthers went with Peete because of his 14 years in the league, and his connection with new Carolina offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Henning was the Lions' offensive coordinator when Peete played in Detroit in 1992 and 1993.

"He's been in the offense. He's got a past with Dan Henning," said Fox. "He's a veteran. We've got to remember that Chris Weinke is a second-year quarterback in this league, and five weeks into this offense. That's why the decision was made. "

Peete isn't here for the money. He is a competitor. Carolina might enter with a conservative game plan, but Peete will audible and take chances.

"I'm just here to try to do whatever I can to help this football team win," said Peete. "What concerns me is what we have to do on Sunday. That's all I'm focused on. One thing I am going to do is play with a lot of confidence, and always be upbeat."

The Ravens should be concerned. There are no Deion Sanderses, Mel Blounts or Ronnie Lotts in their secondary. This group was beat up in the preseason as much as the U.S. basketball team lately.

Peete's career numbers are OK. He has thrown for 13,686 yards with 61 touchdowns and has a completion rate of 57.1 percent.

But you also have to remember that he is now playing for his sixth team. Some of his best years were in Detroit with a running back named Barry Sanders, not Smith, who gained 6 yards on six carries against the Ravens last season in the playoff game against Miami.

Peete has had only limited practice time, and is playing for a franchise that recently signed former XFL star running back Rod Smart, a.k.a. "He Hate Me."

It just keeps getting funnier.

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