Today I'm looking for the silver lining in the black cloud.. the light at the end of the tunnel.. the kernel of gold in the pan of dirt.. there's good to be found somewhere in the bad, but it's hard to make it out. My view is a bit fuzzy today as I try to make sense of what would've been a great celebration of victory, but ended up being a huge letdown.
If you didn't see the game on Sunday Night Football between the Panthers and Saints, don't go looking for a replay on your or your friend's DVR. It just probably isn't worth watching. I know that the Panthers coaches and team will be watching the game in detail, going over and over what they did wrong and trying to make sense out of it all. I deleted the game, and am trying to erase the memory from my conscious mind.
There were truly no real highlights of the game from our perspective. Saints QB Drew Brees threw for four touchdowns, and Panthers QB Cam Newton was sacked five times. We started the game ahead 6-0, but those two field goals were all the points that we could muster until late in the fourth quarter when it really didn't affect the outcome of the game any longer.
Things have gone fantastic for the Carolina Panthers during their recent eight-game winning streak. The chiseled a piece of history out of the middle of their season. The team looked horribly inconsistent their first four games, going 1-3 and seemingly without hope of any chance of a berth in the NFL postseason. Then, all of a sudden, something happened that lit a fire underneath this team and they took off on a magnificent ride, knocking down anyone in their way in the process.
We had hoped for something better for the Panthers in their last four games. Granted, what they've done already has almost surely opened the door to a playoff berth. But we had hoped for something more. We had dreamed of our Panthers winning the division, coming up from behind to catch the Saints and knock them off of their first place pedestal. As it stands, the Panthers look solid for a wild card berth, but this only gets them into the playoffs. It does nothing to help them gain an advantage over the other teams that they will meet there.
Had the Panthers won on Sunday, they would've gained control of first place in the NFC South. If they had won their last three games, including one more against the Saints, they would've won the division, and gained a first-round BYE, plus a second-round HOME playoff game. But it just wasn't to be. Instead, it appears that the Saints, without some unforeseen catastrophe, will emerge as the team with these postseason perks.
It often seems a bit unfair that in a division like the NFC South, both the Saints and the Panthers have amassed great records. I recently surmised from scanning over the NFL that the Panthers would be in first place or tied for first place in six out of the eight NFL divisions. There are some divisions in which the first place leading team is barely over .500. Such is the burden we carry. Nothing we can do about it. Except move on and do our best. We can only accept the results of our efforts, knowing we left it all on the field.
Here's one silver lining for you : I heard one sports announcer remark about the great turnaround from a year ago. When we entered the thirteenth game a year ago, we were 3-9, and ended the season on a four-game winning streak to finish 7-9. This year, when we entered the game with the Saints, we were 9-3, a completely positive flip-flop from last year. We have shown more consistency and ability to pull out close games. The team has bonded and played more as a team this year.
If and when we clinch a playoff spot, it will most likely be the 5th or 6th wild card spot. We will no doubt be playing most, if not all, of our games on the road. There will probably be no NFL playoff games in Charlotte this year. But we can all still take pride in our Panthers team and what they have accomplished this year, up to now, and also what they will accomplish from here on out.
There have been other teams that have made (and won) the Super Bowl as a wild card team. They did it by going out and beating who were considered better teams on the road. So it is not impossible. More difficult ? Definitely yes. But impossible ? No. It's been proven possible before, and so we know that we can do it too.
We get to hang out in Charlotte now for the next two weeks.. Next up.. the New York Jets.. then the Saints come a-knockin' on our door.. this time at home. Hopefully, we'll be more ready for them this time. It would be sweet if we could giving them an early Christmas present and send them back home with a "L" in their column.
OK- so the ride's not over yet. Buckle up. Let's get back on track this week and then see what happens. The Panthers are still on the prowl. The Panthers have not lost their growl. The silver trophy and gold ring may still await us on the horizon.
So don't lose hope.
Keep on pounding, Panthers!