When Matt Moore takes the field Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, he’ll be facing a lot more than the Tampa Bay defense. He’ll be facing a pressure much different than that of defensive ends and linebackers looking to tear his head off.
For the first few years of his career, Moore has been looked at as the “golden boy” by a good majority of the fans. Those who were ready to see Jake Delhomme pack his bags and hit the road lobbied for the Moore era to begin long before it did. When Moore led the team to a 4-1 finish last year in a season that began so horribly, it sealed Jake’s fate and seemingly ushered in the first changing of the guard at the quarterback position since halftime of the opener in 2003.
Things haven’t gotten off to the greatest start since Delhomme left for Cleveland in March, though. Management made it pretty clear that Matt Moore was the incumbent starting quarterback for the Panthers, but then reneged that declaration in April’s draft, using the 48th overall pick to snap up Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen. Panthers general manager Marty Hurney made the statement that the team couldn’t pass up a talent like Clausen at that time in the draft. I agree with that statement, but the team had more glaring needs than quarterback—if indeed Moore was the quarterback of the future they were touting him to be. That is another argument for another time.
I completely agree with the fact that you have to do whatever you have to do to make the team better at all times. With that being said, though, if you make a statement like that, you have to follow through with it. Outside of making a couple of solid draft choices, the Panthers did absolutely nothing to improve the team this off-season. Owner Jerry Richardson’s agenda in regards to the upcoming collective bargaining debacle was painfully obvious, and has left many of his most loyal supporters scratching their heads at some of the decisions, or lack thereof, that were made leading up to this season.
After Clausen was drafted, the front office continued to re-iterate the fact that Moore would be the starting quarterback, even with the unfamiliar presence of a media darling unlike any the Panthers have seen in recent years. Moore has been the epitome of a cool customer during the entire situation, which in my eyes speaks volume to his confidence and his class. He feels as though he belongs where he is, and has not let the added pressure of a national media story waiting in the wings behind him rattle him.
Or has he?
This is the pressure that Moore will feel Sunday. The man is bright, he knows what’s going through the minds of Panther fans right now. For the second year in a row on opening day, we saw our starting quarterback throw a heap of interceptions, and took a loss rather squarely on the chin. The only difference this year is that this is the guy we wanted to see in there all along. This is the name that has been called for two years. This is the grass we have been eyeing on the other side, so to speak, and so far it’s not too much greener.
For clarification, this is not intended to be a piece declaring my pressing of any panic buttons. I firmly believe Matt Moore can be a solid quarterback for this team. My issue is that I’m not sure whether he’ll ever get the proper chance he deserves to do so. The standing argument against Moore before he became the starter was that he was an undrafted, unproven kid. Nobody wants to be the guy who pulled the trigger on throwing a player like that out there and had it blow up in his face. In this day and age, it’s more common for the under-the-radar type players to be successful, but it’s still no ace in the hole, especially for a franchise coming off a 12-4 season and a division title.
Clausen doesn’t have that onus against him. He has shown he can hurl the ball pretty darn well in his time at Notre Dame, and on top of that worked in a Charlie Weis offense (though the Irish version never worked as well as it did in Foxboro) while doing it. The kid comes from a football background and has the brains it takes to be an NFL quarterback. Moore has said himself that Clausen is way ahead of where he was as a rookie, mentally speaking.
Moore sat through a great deal of mistakes made by Delhomme, because Jake was the proven vet and had a history of leading the Panthers to victories. It wasn’t until Delhomme was forced out by injury that Moore got a chance to show his stuff. Will Moore be afforded the same long leash that Delhomme was? Clausen was projected to be a high first round draft pick, presumably for a reason, and that fact is one that will not ever be forgotten.
Zooming back in on the present, Sunday will be huge for Moore. It is his first home start with his name neatly affixed at the quarterback position on the depth chart. He will be facing a Buccaneers defense that will look much different from the Giants unit he was battered by last Sunday, and which should present a few more opportunities for success.
He will also be recovering from the mild concussion he sustained late in last week’s game, and will be looking to overcome a performance that included three red zone interceptions. To Moore’s credit, his receiving corps look like a casting call for “The Replacements” at this point. Outside of the perennial threat in Steve Smith, it doesn’t seem like anybody wearing a Panthers uniform can get open. Moore’s interceptions, from what I recall, were on balls where he tried to force the action. How can you blame him for wanting to force the issue a bit? He can play calm, cool, and collected in front of the cameras all day long but, being a football player, you know his competitive side has to be burning in the face of what could end up being a short-lived career as a starting quarterback here in Charlotte.
Knowing the history and tendencies of the Bank of America Stadium crowd, a poor start on Sunday will not be met with too much kindness. It is imperative that Moore control his mistakes and make better decisions—even if it means throwing the ball away on third down occasionally. The running game should be more effective against Tampa Bay, which may create some situations where the Panthers receivers can get a bit more room with which to make plays.
It feels odd to be talking about a game having so many implications in September, but a sluggish start for this year’s squad would lead to a deja-vu-like scenario where the starting quarterback becomes the pariah of the town, and his understudy becomes the next great thing. There are already a fair amount of fans around that are calling for Clausen to take the reins. That’s to be expected with a player of his caliber riding the pine, but the scary part is that a lot of those folks are the same ones who were lobbying so hard for Moore about this time last year.
There is an enormous amount of football to be played this season, even after Sunday, but the importance of a quality start from Moore is impossible to overlook.