WELL-- the Panthers went fishin' down in Miami this past week, and came back with a hard-earned, but much-deserved, win..
Our Panthers are now 8-3.. and still chasing the 9-2 New Orleans Saints for the NFC South division title.
As has been the case in several games of late, the game came down to the last seconds of the game, Carolina scoring a one-yard TD pass from QB Cam Newton to TE Greg Olsen with only 0:43 left on the clock. This came on a long drive, highlighted by an earlier 19-yard completion to Steve Smith on a 4th-and-10 "do-or-die" play.
The game was not executed perfectly, the Panthers falling behind 16-3 late in the second quarter, before coming back to score a late first-half field goal, and the last 17 points of the game.
Our league-leading defense (1st, NFL, PPG allowed) held the Dolphins scoreless in the second half. Notwithstanding this great performance, we often seemed aloof or willing to "give the game away", allowing one long TD pass and nearly another to Dolphin wide-out Mike Wallace, the last near-miss, which would have lost the game, coming just seconds before the end of the game.
The reoccurring theme and "modus operandi" for this year's Panthers seems to be tight wins during a record-tying seven-game winning streak. While I'm sure we would all be content with blow-outs, the reassuring feeling is that this year's version is capable of pulling out these close ones with an apparent new confidence.
As was the case last week, and probably even more so, fans, analysts and oddsmakers alike are ready to hand the Panthers their eighth win in a row this coming Sunday against the last-place Tampa Bay Bucs. However, the Bucs are surging, having won three games in a row themselves, and three out of four since losing to us on October 24, their sole loss coming in a squeaker, 27-24, to the powerful Seattle Seahawks.
So this one, as the Miami game, is not a "gimme". Fortunately, we've got the Bucs at home this time. And even though the last game was a blow-out (31-13), this is definitely a different Bucs team, by evidence of their winning streak and performance over the last four games. After going 0-8, they may have hit their low point, and are now rising above the ashes to salvage something out of this otherwise disappointing season. Hopefully, we will not be another victim to their resurgence.
This game, although not crucial, is very important. With a win, we will not only win our eighth game in a row (a Panthers franchise record), but more importantly, we will go to 9-3, and go into New Orleans for the nationally televised showdown on December 8 no worse than one game behind the Saints. The good news is- (drum roll!) if we get by the Bucs on Sunday, the Saints play on Monday night in Seattle against the Seahawks. The Seahawks will be favored, and if the Saints do lose, we will be in a dead tie with them for our divisional matchup the next week.
There's always a thorn in the roses, a fly in the ointment, something bad in everything good. I'm as excited as anyone that we are 8-3, on a seven-game winning streak, and appear destined to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. However, the thing that may do us in (if we do eventually fall) may lead us back to opening day. I was there in Bank of America Stadium, when DeAngelo Williams fumbled on the eight-yard line, on an apparent Panthers winning touchdown drive, and we fell to the Seahawks, 12-7. Our three losses this year have been by a combined 22 points.. a mere touchdown per game. But the first one may have cost us the most, for even if Seattle were to lose to the Saints, and to the 49'ers the following week, they would still only have three losses, and if we end up in a 13-3 tie with them, they would win the tie-breaker based on their opening day win. So- then- if we both made it to the NFC Championship game, it would be played in Seattle, and not Charlotte.
Oh- well.. too much ado over nothing.. we've got a ways to go before we get there.
So.. first things first.. the Bucs.. and then.. the Saints !