The Bucs game was a blow-out. Our defense shined, once again shutting out the opposing team in the second half. Our offense, without much opposition, drove down the field several times for key scores, one coming on a 4th-and-1 on a keeper by QB Cam Newton. Newton, imitating Superman, dove through the air and crossed the plane of the goal line before the Bucs had a chance to stop him.
Well- the Bucs now swept convincingly (the Panthers two wins were by 31-13 and 27-6), the next big game -is- in fact, the Big Game. The Saints helped to put even more significance and create even more hoopla surrounding this game by losing on Monday night to the Seattle Seahawks in dramatic fashion, 34-7. This trouncing both served to point out some glaring deficiencies in the Saints team, while also demonstrating the power of the league-leading 11-1 Seahawks.
I was secretly pulling for the Saints. While most people follow the principle (and I usually do) : "The enemy of your enemy is your friend," on this occasion, we already hold the destiny of the NFC South within our hands. Win or lose, the Saints would have only been at best one game ahead of us, with two games in three weeks looming ahead with the Panthers. However, the one and only chance for us to have any hope of catching the Seahawks was for them to lose Monday night against the Saints, and to lose again next week against the 49'ers. And then- possibly lose again. It didn't seem feasible or likely- and now it is almost impossible. So- even though I was looking forward to us hosting a championship game in Charlotte- whether it is us or the Saints- the road to the NFC Championship will most likely run through the city of Seattle.
But no matter which way the game came out, it ultimately was a "win-win" situation for the Panthers. Now we are in a TIE for the division lead with the Saints at 9-3 heading into OUR BIGGEST GAME of the season, maybe the biggest game in the last ten years.
I've got my "Keys to the Game" for Sunday.. and by the way, this game will be the NBC Sunday Night Football "Game of the Week", broadcast nationally. Another big-time game for our Panthers to showcase their talents.
So, anyway, here are my Keys to the Game :
- No (or few) penalties. The Panthers came within a hair of losing a couple of games recently due to penalties or even penalty flags that were ultimately recalled. The Panthers can't afford to push their luck against the Saints. A crucial penalty here or there could make the difference.
- Getting to QB Drew Brees. Our defense has been almost flawless over the last several weeks. We lead the NFL in points allowed (13 ppg). But I feel that if the Saints QB is allowed time in the pocket, he will make some big-time plays down the field. So we must apply pressure, and get some sacks.
- Running Game must do Better. Hopefully, we will have DeAngelo Williams back; if not, then Jonathan Stewart must pick up the pace. Kudo's to FB Mike Tolbert: he was phenomenal the past couple of weeks, backing up and then replacing Williams in the backfield. He had 89 total yards in the Bucs game.
OK-- the Big Easy-- may not be so easy for us. But there's a lot riding on this week's game- sole possession of FIRST PLACE in the NFC South division. I do have faith that the Carolina Panthers will pull it out. Now let's all tune in and watch them do it.