For obvious reasons, it appeared logical that the Panthers had laid an ominous egg, ruining any chance of a division title and home playoff games. But sometimes logic is not reality. Lo and behold, here we are, a week later, tied [again!] with the Saints at 10-4, and facing the second "do-or-die" game in two weeks! It's one thing to control your own destiny, it's another thing entirely to have your rival hand you an unexpected Christmas gift. But the kinder & gentler New Orleans Saints did just that- granting us a great favor by losing to the St. Louis Rams in a huge upset, 27-16. The team that devoured us the week before in a 31-13 trouncing looked completely vulnerable, losing three turnovers and being held to a meager 61 yards rushing.
It's not often that you get a legitimate second chance like this, to once again prove to yourselves and the world that you are the best. The Panthers honestly looked less-than-the-best in New Orleans, but the team bounced back this week with a convincing win over the New York Jets, 30-20, which effectively eliminated the Jets from the playoff race.
Three exciting and dramatic plays were game-changers. First, RB DeAngelo Williams made a terrific play in the second quarter, scoring on a 72-yard screen pass play, outrunning all of the defenders, and broken by a great block from teammate Brandon LaFell. This score broke a 6-6 tie, and got the ball rolling. Next, in the fourth quarter, with the game at 16-13, the defense (which looked ferocious again) stalled the Jets, and forced a 4th down punt. The kick was BLOCKED! --by backup LB Jason Williams and the Panthers took over at the Jets 14-yard line, and three plays later, FB Mike Tolbert scored to give the Panthers a 10-point cushion at 23-13. Shortly thereafter, DB Captain Munnerlyn denied the Jets any hope of coming back by intercepting a pass and #41 returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to make it 30-13.
Now there's -NOTHING- left for the Panthers to focus on, at least this coming weekend, except the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints. All indicators show that the Panthers have rebounded well from the Saints defeat, are confident but not cocky, and more than ready to face the Saints again, but this time in Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium...and I'm doubly excited, because I will be there [see tickets], rooting the Panthers on, with about 73,000 other Panthers fans in the stadium on Sunday.
It's easy to get over-emotional or high about Panthers games when you are a devoted fan like myself. But in all honesty, I cannot think of a bigger game since maybe the 2003 Super Bowl. Other games (like the 2005 NFC Championship Game vs. Seattle, or the 2008 Divisional Playoff game vs. Arizona) might have been -as big- at the time, but ended up in a loss, and so, they diminish in relative importance.
--POSSIBLE PANTHER PLAYOFF SCENARIOS--
Yes, this game is huge! It has a lot of implications to our playoff hopes. It will mean a lot to win this game, for it would basically raise our aspirations from a 5th wild card seed to a division champion and 2nd seed, with a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game. I took a look at the NFC playoff seedings and brackets, and it appears that if we lose against the Saints, we will probably be 5th (wild-card) seed and travel to Chicago to play the Bears. If we win, and also win next week at Atlanta, we will win the division title and a 2nd seed, playing the winner of a probably San Francisco-Philadelphia game.
Stay tuned-- with hopes that the next POST will be one of extreme celebration!