Sunday, October 5, 2014

Panthers Get Last Laugh in Comedy of Errors

   Today's home game in Charlotte with the Chicago Bears started out bad, but ended really good, for the Carolina Panthers.  After giving up three turnovers (an interception and two fumbles) that contributed to a Bears 21-7 lead in the second quarter, the Panthers started a comeback near halftime, and then won dramatically, 31-24, with a late touchdown pass. 

   Former Bears player TE Greg Olsen deserves an MVP award as he scored the last touchdown in both halves, first bringing the Panthers within 21-14, and then scoring the winning touchdown with only two minutes to go in regulation. These two passes only accounted for 15 of his 72 total yards, but undoubtedly they were the most important.

   Another MVP should go to the defense, as they forced two fumbles and made two interceptions at key points in the game, most in their second half comeback, and produced a sack on the final Bears possession that sealed the win, giving the Panthers a winning record again at 3-2, sole possession of first place in the NFC South, and momentum going into next weekend's game against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals.

NEXT UP : Sun Oct 12 @ Cincinnati

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Tinge of Revenge

  Sunday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens was more like a military ambush than a football game.  Former player STEVE SMITH (#89) was one of four Panthers wide receivers who were let go, in one form or another, this past spring.  Many fans, including this reporter, were shell-shocked at watching our home team's receiving corps become totally depleted in the space of just a few days or weeks.

   Apparently, memories did not fade fast, as Smith publicly stated that he was going to "pay back" his old team when they came visiting this season.  The outcome must have been sweet for Smith, as he caught seven passes for 139 yards and (more importantly) two touchdowns. The two TD catches were dramatic and climactic, as they captured the momentum before halftime and kept it for the rest of the game, beating the Panthers, 38-10.

   To add insult to injury, Smith was seen on the sidelines mocking his former team by "putting nails in their coffin" and later remarked that they could go home and "mow his lawn."  A few days after the game, Smith called in to a Charlotte radio station and proceeded to verbally shoot down the Panthers coach and general manager for letting him go, stating that he was "left out of the loop".

   My own opinion is that the Panthers could and should have done whatever was necessary to keep Smith on our side.  I heard one TV sports analyst remark that the Panthers would've been nearly unstoppable if they had rookie Kelvin Benjamin (#13) on one side, and Steve Smith on the other.  I have to agree with him.

   Will the Panthers get over this humiliating game that put them back at Square One (2-2), and move forward for a successful season?   Not sure.  But for many, the unpleasant memory of what might have been still lingers on.

NEXT UP : Sun Oct 5 vs. Chicago

Monday, September 22, 2014

Panthers Blue Monday


   Mondays are not usually anyone's favorite day. It's the first day of the new work week.  The day that working people dread all weekend.  It's often a day that gives folks the 'blah's'.  But for the Carolina Panthers and their fans, today's not just an average run-of-the-mill Monday.  It's the gloomy day after the Steelers game, where they lost at home by 37-19. In fact, they didn't just lose...they got blasted!  It will be six long days until the Panthers have a chance to redeem themselves on the road against ex-Panther Steve Smith and the Baltimore Ravens.

  Picture with me, if you can, the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday.  It is Feb. 8, 2016. The Carolina Panthers have just returned from Santa Clara, CA from the 50th Anniversary Super Bowl game, winning the championship by a field goal in overtime.

 {This is for the most part fantasy.  So, neither do I totally discount the Panthers getting to the 2015 game in Phoenix, nor am I giving a "Joe Namath" guarantee of a Super Bowl win, especially several months in advance. But I like the "ring" of winning the 50th Anniversary game.} 

  The team bus is now pulling into the stadium parking lot, having just brought the team from the Charlotte airport.  Literally, thousands of screaming, cheering Panthers fans are on hand to greet their team and its players. Tomorrow, the team's victory will be celebrated with a ticker tape parade in downtown Charlotte.

  [Now, WAKE UP!]
__________________ {musical interlude} _________________

An Empty Panthers Stadium
   I happen to be staying in Charlotte this week with my Dad, who is in the hospital.  I got out today for the second time in three days for a nice walk.  My nice walk ended up being almost three hours and six miles, and took me to downtown and to Panthers (Bank of America) Stadium.   A few joggers and walkers passed by on the sidewalk.  A mother  strolling with her baby.  But Panthers fans?  They were long gone.  An enthusiastic crowd from Sunday night was nowhere to be found.  They had faded from view immediately after the devastating loss.  And they will continue to be lost from view for at least the next two weekends.

   While head coach Ron Rivera was quick to point out Sunday's devastating loss to the Steelers as being a team issue, rookie Philly Brown was "singing the blues" after the game, and asked Rivera to let him give a one-man apology to his teammates.  Coach Rivera refused, stating the obvious : no one man, or one play, was the reason for the Panthers' defeat- it was a total team meltdown. 


   However, there were a couple of key plays that helped spell the Panthers' terrible fate.

   At the beginning of the second half, QB Cam Newton was sacked and fumbled the ball at the Carolina 17.  Five plays later, after a Panthers penalty on a field goal attempt gave them a first down, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a 7-yard touchdown pass.

   The other, probably more critical, was Brown's kickoff fumble in the fourth quarter, which then was re-fumbled into the end zone, and recovered by a Steelers player for a quickie touchdown.  This is not a play that was in anybody's playbook.  It was somewhat akin to Peyton Manning's fumble on a hike in last year's Super Bowl, a real game-changer. It changed the mood and motivation of the entire night. It came just after a Panthers score [which brought the Panthers to within 10 points], and a defensive stop.  It also ruined an otherwise good performance by Brown, who caught six receptions.

   This last critical error gave the Steelers a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter, and they simply coasted from there to the finish.

   The Panthers could not have looked any more different from their first two wins and this third game loss.  They were dominating in parts of those games.  They looked helpless in this game vs. the Steelers.


   Instead of 3-0, a perfect record, and atop the NFC South standings, the Panthers stand 2-1, and in a tie for the division lead with their arch rival Atlanta Falcons.  Carolina probably is facing their toughest stretch of games in the next "half-season"- eight games against top league opponents : @ Baltimore, CHICAGO, @ Cincinnati, @ Green Bay, SEATTLE, NEW ORLEANS, @ Philadelphia, & ATLANTA. 

(Wow!  That's a handful!)

   It's entirely possible for Carolina to have a losing record by their BYE during Thanksgiving week.  Let's hope the Panthers will instead bounce back and look significantly better than they did on Sunday night, more like the 12-4 division champion team from last year, or the 2-0 team of just a short week ago.  There's no doubt in most people's minds that this team can beat any of those eight opponents, if they are playing up to their highest potential.  This was the 2nd-highest rated defense in the NFL a year ago, and they had the Defensive Player of the Year in Luke Kuechly. 

   There's no telling where the next eight games will take us.  But let's hope it's down a different road than the one we travelled on Sunday night.

NEXT UP : Sunday, Sept. 28 @ Baltimore


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Panthers Black and Blue

   Heading into Sunday night's nationally televised home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Panthers' chances are good as gold toward making it 3-0, but several of the regular starters are feeling black and blue, nursing injuries.  

Panthers going after 3-in-a-Row
  Carolina is one of only seven NFL teams that are undefeated after two games.  Some of them are major surprises, like Buffalo and Houston.  The Panthers are only a mild surprise after going 12-4 last year and winning the NFC South Division title.  But Tampa Bay was actually favored in the opener, and many analysts picked Detroit to beat them also.  While we know that being undefeated may not realistically last for long, there is no reason to doubt the team's ability to continue the streak now.

  Defensive star Greg Hardy has been suspended pending outcome of his domestic violence court case.  Several offensive players, such as running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, and receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, are nursing various injuries and may not be available for Sunday's game.

  Carolina's unofficial team motto "Next Man Up" certainly applies in these team injury situations. In the home opener, backup QB Derek Anderson stepped up in a big way, leading the Panthers to several scores.  Then last week, backup DE Mario Addison took over for Hardy and registered 2 1/2 quarterback sacks.  As a team, Carolina has seven, and led the NFL last season with 60 sacks.  RB Jonathan Stewart, while technically not a sub, has stepped in for Williams, reversing the roles of the past two years when Stewart was on the bench.

  One of the several keys to this game with the Steelers will be providing pressure on the quarterback, and not allowing big plays in the secondary.  If the Panthers defense continues playing at the level they have in the first two games, then this is definitely a possible scenario.

  While the Steelers are a worthy opponent, I'd still "bet the house" that they beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night to stay a perfect 3-0 and maintain their division lead. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014



   The Carolina Panthers were only one-point favorites to beat the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. The oddsmakers went down with the naysayers this week, as the Cats blew by the Lions, 24-7, on the way to their first 2-0 start since the 2008 season. Not many people, outside of diehard Panthers fans, expected this to happen.

   Last year at this time, the Panthers were 0-2 and looking for answers. Shortly thereafter, they went on a record-setting win streak of eight games and 11 out of 12, winning the NFC South Division. The 2-0 start in 2014 doesn’t guarantee any fairytale ending, but it does put Carolina in the division lead with positive momentum for the rest of the season.

   On Sunday, the Panthers started slow, but finished fast.  They only held a slim 6-0 lead at halftime on two Graham Gano field goals.  But in the second half, the Panthers came out ready to dominate and rule the game.

DE Mario Addison
   QB Cam Newton came back with a vengeance, showing signs of brilliance after sitting out last week with a rib injury, hitting on 22 of 34 passes for 281 yards and two TD’s. RB DeAngelo Williams sat out with an injury, but his running mate Jonathan Stewart performed admirably, breaking a 22-yard run and then scoring one of the two Panthers touchdowns. Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, and Jason Avant were standout receivers.

   The defense forced three turnovers and held the Lions scoreless in the first half, and to one touchdown for the game. DE Greg Hardy was named Inactive prior to the game, but replacement #97 Mario Addison contributed as he registered 2.5 sacks.

   The Carolina Panthers look poised now for another playoff run. Actually, their 2-0 start provides a needed buffer for a tough upcoming schedule. Their October schedule includes back-to-back games at Cincinnati and Green Bay, as well as home games with Seattle and New Orleans, followed by an early November game at Philadelphia. It will be a tough test for the Panthers, but one they are capable to overcome.

NEXT UP : Sunday, Sept. 21 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Panthers vs. Bucs : 2014 Opener a Success

The Panthers won their first home opener in seven years.
   For the first time in 48 games, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sat on the sidelines during a regular season game, nursing a rib injury that he suffered in a preseason game.  And for the first time in seven years, backup QB Derek Anderson started a regular season NFL game. 

   For those in the know, it was time to panic.  The team wanted to get off to a fast start in 2014, setting aside the precedent of a combined 3-14 start the last three seasons.  The Panthers had not won an opening game since 2008. 

   Most of the naysayers were picking the Bucs to topple the Cats.  All of those naysayers were wrong.

QB Derek Anderson
   Anderson told coach Ron Rivera that he was ready.  That was the understatement of the day, as he went out and threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions.  TE Greg Olsen and rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin each caught a TD pass, while defensive ace LB Luke Kuechly had three sacks and forced a key fumble.  New Panthers DB’s Roman Harper and Antoine Cason each intercepted Tampa Bay passes.

   Even though Newton was in street clothes and would not play in this game, it did not keep him off of the field.  In the second quarter, during a timeout, Cam sprinted out onto the field to join the Panthers in their huddle, giving all of his teammates an encouraging word.  For his brief escapade, referees gave Rivera a warning to keep Newton off of the field.

   While the final score (20-14) might normally indicate a close game, it was far from that.  The Bucs’ two scores came later in the game, after the Panthers had built a 17-0 lead.   Carolina dominated the first three quarters of the game, and was never really threatened.

   The next time that Cam goes out on the field, it will be official.  He has been announced as the starter for the Panthers home opener on Sept. 14 vs. the Detroit Lions.

NEXT UP : Sun Sept 14 vs. Detroit

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pics from Panthers Past


Me @ Panthers FAN FEST a few years ago

Me & Fred with Sir Purr


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Panthers 2014 Schedule

Newton, Williams & Stewart Ready to Go

   Word in the Panthers camp is that QB Cam Newton, and RB's DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are ready for action and will play at least a half in the Panthers' next preseason game on Sunday, August 17 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. 

   I don't know about you, but this Panthers fan is ready to see that Triple Threat back on the field.  While Carolina had spurts of brilliance in their narrow loss to Buffalo, "nothing could be finer" in Carolina than to have these three back in pads again.

   Also- look for a deep throw sometime in the game on Sunday from Newton to rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin.   While Benjamin only caught one pass against the Bills, it was a 29-yard circus touchdown catch in the end zone, and caused both fans and sports people to stand at attention.  Also, keep an eye on Tavares King, claimed off waivers from Denver this year, who caught five passes and looked spectacular.

   We're posting the Panthers Schedule today, so look it over for your favorite games and to make a prediction for the Panthers season.   If you're lucky enough to correctly predict the Panthers regular season record, you will be eligible for a drawing to win a Cam Newton autographed Panthers ball cap.   Look for the post entitled "Cam Contest."  All of the "Official Rules" are there for you.   Only the predictions entered as a blog comment on this post will be considered.   Go & enter now !

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Are You Ready for Some Football ?

© 2014 by Bob Wingate

   Hank Williams, jr. used to get fans excited by kicking off Monday Night Football  TV broadcasts with this song.  After over seven months of “vacation”, the NFL and the Carolina Panthers kick it off again for their 2014-15 seasons.  

   it’s about time, don’t you think ?

   The Panthers got about as close to the Super Bowl as they’ve been in a long time last year, winning eight straight and 11 out of 12 games on the way to the NFC South division championship and a berth in the playoffs for the first time in five years.  The last time they made it to the postseason, it was a fiasco (a lopsided loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals in which QB Jake Delhomme was personally responsible for six turnovers).  Last year wasn’t much better, as the 49’ers played “payback” in beating the Panthers [we had beaten them earlier in the year on our winning streak].  One again, it was a humiliating defeat on our home field.


   Sometimes I have trouble remembering what happened yesterday, but if memory serves me correctly, the Panthers’ best times included : the NFC Championship game (vs. the Packers) in just their 2nd season (1996);  a trip to the Super Bowl in their 8th season (2003); and a Divisional Playoff game in their 13th season (2008).  But unfortunately for us, all of these pinnacles of success ended in season-ending defeats.

   This year, our 20th Anniversary season, the Carolina Panthers come back more determined than ever to repeat in their own division, and move on in the playoffs.  Easier said than done, the Panthers will have a tough road, with a tough schedule (see blog “Panthers Schedule”). 


   The season-before-the-season started last night, with the Panthers hosting the Buffalo Bills in Charlotte’s Bank of America stadium. 

   Don’t believe anyone who says “the preseason doesn’t matter.”  While it may be true that the games are not taken as seriously as the regular season, our team does not easily forget what happened the last time they met the Bills.  Buffalo drove the field and scored a touchdown in the last second of the game to win, 24-23.  At the time, the loss left things looking pretty dismal for our season at 1-3.  No one really could have imagined then that we would go 8-0 in the middle of the season, finish at 12-4 and get in the playoffs.

   Not surprisingly, it was announced at game time that starting QB Cam Newton would not play in the Panthers’ first preseason game, still recovering after having off-season surgery on his left ankle.  Newton is entering his fourth year as a pro, and he will only add to his growing legacy.  He is the only player in the NFL to have passed for 10,000+ yards and run for 2,000+ yards in his first three seasons.  This year, he will no doubt pass 100 TD’s rushing and passing.

   After a relatively quiet first quarter, in which a Bills field goal was the lone score, the Panthers came alive on the first play of the second stanza with backup QB Derek Anderson (#3) hitting rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin (#13) in the end zone on a beautifully executed 29-yard touchdown pass.  Strangely enough, with a new experimental PAT (extra point) from the 15-yard-line, they missed the kick and the score was doubled at 6-3.


   The pendulum of momentum swung back with the Bills, scoring ten points before halftime.  After a fumble recovery, Buffalo scored on a 1-yard run with four minutes to go in the half.  Then, with seconds left on the clock. they kicked a second field goal to go up by 13-6.  The Panthers had spots of brilliance, sandwiched by two offensive turnovers that led to Buffalo scores.  

QB Joe Webb
   Late in the third quarter, CB Josh Norman saved a touchdown with an interception in the end zone.  But on the next play, a costly holding penalty brought back a  Panthers 52-yard pass play, and backed them up to their own 9-yard line.   At this point, QB Joe Webb (#14), acquired in the spring from the Minnesota Vikings, and in a battle just to land a roster spot, looked impressive in driving the team down the field, both throwing the ball downfield to WR Tavares King (#12) and eluding defensive pressure with his footwork.  It was capped off by a 6-yard touchdown run by RB Darren Reaves (#36).  A two-point conversion failed, and the Panthers still trailed by one, 13-12, with 11:32 left in the game.

   Just as quickly as we inched back into the game, the Bills took it back by executing a drive of their own, and suddenly it was back to an eight-point lead, 20-12.   With their backs against the wall with a fourth-and-10 at the two-minute warning, the Panthers got a break with a defensive holding call that resulted in an automatic first down.   That’s all they needed, as a couple of plays later, Webb hurled a line-drive to WR Brandon Williams (#86) for six.  Down 20-18, and going for two and a tie, the Carolina roller coaster took another nosedive as a pass bounced in front of the receiver.


   Game Over.. right ?   Not yet.  The ensuing onsides kickoff was bobbled, and recovered by the Panthers.   Made and missed opportunities were the story of this game, and this continual pendulum swing meant the Panthers had one more mistake to make.  Webb’s pass bounced off of his intended receiver, and was intercepted with only 0:53 on the clock.  The Bills would then just run out the clock, and the game ended too close for comfort, 20-18.


·        (+)  It’s only the first preseason game ;
·        (+)  After losing our entire receiving corps (four players) from last year, WR’s Benjamin and King played extremely well ;
·        (+)  Although we may not really need a third QB with Cam Newton and Derek Anderson already on the roster, JOE WEBB made an impressive show.

·        (-)  Yhe offense totally overshadowed our #2-ranked defense ;
·        (-)  We gave the ball away to the Bills way too much ;
·        (-)  We LOST… it’s never good to lose, even in the preseason.

NEXT UP:  New England Patriots (Aug.22)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ask and You Shall Receive

Matthew 7:7 : "Ask and you shall receive."

     The Panthers front office may end up praying this prayer before the beginning of the next NFL season.  What started as an unresolvable personnel issue with 15-year veteran star receiver Steve Smith has mushroomed into a much bigger and seemingly unsolvable problem.  As Smith's release and subsequent rapid signing by the Baltimore Ravens was being announced, an equally rapid series of exits took place, the Panthers suddenly losing Domenik Hixon to the Chicago Bears, Ted Ginn Jr. to Arizona, and Brandon LaFell to the New England Patriots.  

     What began a few weeks ago as a bad situation has soured into a bottomless pit for Carolina's receiving corps.

   We Carolina fans got a whole lot more than we bargained for in this past season.  Toward the end, we were a little disappointed, but for the most part, it was a year with more highlights than drawbacks.  We saw a team that went on a roll, winning eleven games in a row, winning the NFC South division championship, and going to the playoffs for the first time in five years.  Once again- we were denied a chance at the Super Bowl, but overall, we had a lot to make us glad and happy.

   After several years of struggle, LaFell had come into his own, gelling as the Panthers' legitimate partner to Smith at wideout.  Ginn had been touted as one of, if not the, fastest player in the league.  And Hixon, although he only caught seven passes in 2013, might be nominated for MVP, as one of those seven catches was a circus touchdown catch in the end zone with seconds left to win against the Saints to virtually wrap up Carolina's NFC South division championship.

   But now, all that seems a distant memory of the past, as once again, we are left with only faint hopes of a revisit of last year's success.   Once again, our beloved Panthers are in rebuilding mode...

    The above Receiver Stat Comparison shows the vast gulf that exists, now that four of the leading Panthers receiver have set sail for other horizons.  The stats on the left, of the ex-Panthers receivers, are stats from the 2013 season.   The stats on the right, of the receivers that are currently left in the Panthers corral, are not season stats, but CAREER stats.  As you can see, it was not necessary to have a TOTAL line at the bottom.  Most kindergarteners can add up those stats in their tiny little heads.

   Now, Carolina's big-game QB Cam Newton has very few, if any, targets to throw to, and after the announcement that Newton was undergoing ankle surgery and would be out for 4-5 months, any chance of first securing a group of quality receivers and then Newton having any chance of developing any kind of a rhythm with them is virtually nil and void.

   Over the last few days, headlines have surfaced in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet spelling doom for the Panthers and their offense.  A squad that seemed adequate at times, but not very powerful or able to launch an aerial assault, was often carried along by Carolina's vaunted and Top Five defense.  The Panthers led the NFL in sacks, but were near the bottom in offensive plays over 20 yards.  These recent circumstances only serve to drop the offensive stats to an even lower level of potency.

   In addition to these receiver exits, the Panthers also lost G Jordan Gross to retirement, and S Mike Mitchell in free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

   Did the Carolina Panthers "drop the ball" in so far as their talented trio of Smith, LaFell and Ginn are concerned ?    This writer thinks so.. what about you ?  When four players, especially at the same position, leave that quickly, it is definitely a sign that something deeper than salary caps is involved.    Who knows ?  All I do know is :  The Panthers have a lot of "catching" up to do.   


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Book All Panthers Fans Should Get


  I'm presently reading the new book by Charlotte Observer sports reporter Scott Fowler, titled "100 Things Panthers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die".   What a Title !

  I can hardly wait to get into this book and see just what goodies are in store for me.. and all other Panthers fans. 

 If you haven't got your copy yet, you can order you a copy through or other book retailers, or contact the author himself at

Monday, February 3, 2014

There Was Nothing

   We were on a mission.  An eight-game winning streak.  11 wins in 12 games.  The only glitch along the way was a loss in New Orleans, and that was redeemed with a home win two weeks later.  Then another division championship.  A home playoff game.  Hints of past glory... three NFC title games… a trip to the Super Bowl.  And then.. there was nothing.

  There was nothing to show for our effort.  Sure- we could say it was a good season, even a great season, by anyone’s standards. Our regular season record was an impressive 12-4.   Our best record since 2008.  But our season ended with a sour taste, a similar one to five years ago, when we also had a 12-4 season, a division championship, and a home playoff game.   But then.. there was nothing.

   We lost then, to the Arizona Cardinals.  And again this year, to the San Francisco 49ers.  Neither team that beat us would go on to win the Super Bowl.  Which basically means that both of these losses were in vain.  Fans would go on and on about scenarios in which we would’ve won Super Bowls in both seasons, had we just been able to get by this one playoff game.

   And so, there’s a bit of a void here tonight, as I watch the Big Game, Super Bowl XLVIII, between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.  I’ve been hesitant to even pick a winner, because in reality, I just don’t care.  I still feel like our team should’ve been there. If it were not for a lackluster second half against the 49ers, we would’ve made it.. and won.

  But then.. there is nothing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hoorah's & The Blahs

    I heard the "hoorah's"... the loud noise of the crowd in Bank of America Stadium... the voices of the players on the jumbo screen, asking for the crowd's yells and screams... I heard and saw the players, celebrating after touchdowns and first downs... I heard the announcers, saying that the Panthers had what it takes to get to the Super Bowl.

   I heard it all.  All of the hoopla of the games, and the TV shows, and the fans... it energized us, it spurred us on, it motivated us to believe in the team and the players.

  And now I feel the "blah's"... the blah's still almost a week after the "big game"... there were so many big games this year, I've already talked about... biggest of which was (up to our playoff game) the Saints game at Charlotte where we took control of the NFC South, and eventually won the division.  It's something to celebrate, something to be proud of our team.  They had a great year... almost... an even greater year.

   The biggest game of all was always the "next game", according to Coach Ron Rivera.  But now there is no "next game", only months of waiting until the "next season" rolls around.  There's pain, there's emotion, there's a sense of loss and of potential...  all of these things are balled up inside.  

   It's just a game.  But a game and team that means a lot to us Panthers fans.  We almost feel a "part" of something big.   A Super Bowl championship for our team, one they've strived and worked for... for the last 18 years.  Will it -ever- come?   Well... logically, yes.. sometime.  But when ?

   Congratulations to the Panthers for a great year.   I wish that I could celebrate.  But it's not really a time for that.  It's a time for contemplation and restoration.   This loss took something out of me, and I'm sure a lot out of a lot of Panthers fans.  Time will heal.  We will come back and be a strong team again.   Let's look forward to next year.   And enjoy taking a few months to forget about what just happened.

   Go Panthers : Keep on Pounding !


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

    Our NFC divisional playoff game opponent in Charlotte this coming Sunday, Jan. 12 now has a name : the San Francisco 49'ers.   A little bit of a surprise, to tell you the truth.  Shouldn't be.   I had picked the Eagles to beat the Saints and come play us, but although it was a close game (most of the wild card game were),  I was wrong.   The Eagles, along with the Chiefs, Bengals and Packers, are now sitting at home watching the games, instead of playing them.   It's down to four games and eight teams.  Our rival New Orleans Saints travel up to Seattle, as big underdogs to beat the Seahawks and perhaps play us (or the 49'ers) for the NFC Championship.  And on the AFC side, the Colts battle the Patriots and the Chargers go against their division rival Broncos for a third time this season.

    As always, I'd like to be able to say that we are going to dominate and blow this game out, and win in convincing fashion, but suffice to say, if it were possible, I would predict an even closer game than last time, and of course, we won by one point in the Week 10 game in San Francisco, 10-9.  Time will only tell what will actually happen, but I feel that an overtime game is not out of the realm of possibility.  I'm hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.  It may come down to a field goal again, as it did in the earlier game.  Our kicker Graham Gano booted a 53-yarder with ten minutes to go, and then we held the 49ers to two punts and an interception.  Chances are this time that it will be just as close, and perhaps go down to the closing seconds, not minutes.

   Game conditions look to be very good, a lot better than the last home game, where the Panthers played in a downpour at times in beating the Saints to win the NFC South title.  Temperatures should be around 50 degrees, with a wind of 10mph or so.

   Reports are that 49er WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis, both out for most or all of the previous game with the Panthers, will be available and playing on Sunday.  As for the Panthers, WR Steve Smith, who left the Atlanta game with a knee injury, will be back on Sunday, as well as RB Jonathan Stewart and DT Colin Cole.  Both teams should be at "full force" for this ultra-important Divisional Playoff showdown.

   If.. no, when.. we beat the 49ers, our next opponent in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 19 will be either the New Orleans Saints or the Seattle Seahawks.  First things first- we have to beat the 49ers on Sunday, but next order of business is our next game's opponent, and this is a big deal as well.   The Seahawks are heavily favored, and if they do win, we would be heading off to Seattle to play them on their home field where they have not lost since last year.  They were a perfect 8-0 at home during the 2013 regular season.  Should the Saints pull an upset, they will have to come to Charlotte, where we will host our first-ever NFC Championship Game.  The Panthers have been in three NFC Championship Games previously, but all away, at Green Bay, Seattle, and Philadelphia.  Only one of those, at Philly in 2003, resulted in a victory and our only Super Bowl appearance.  It goes without saying that we would prefer to play this conference championship game at home in Bank of America stadium.
  So-- here's the rundown.. the race for the Super Bowl.. in a nutshell..  we play the 49ers;  if we win, we play the Saints or Seahawks;  if we win, we play either the Broncos, Colts, Patriots, or Chargers in the Super Bowl.

      So-- it's come down to this.. one win- we're in the NFC Championship.. two wins- we're in the Super Bowl.. & three wins- and we win it all!

     Sounds so Simple- but it isn't. 
 Go Panthers!


Friday, January 3, 2014

Countdown to Showdown

   It seems that this season has just been one big game after another.  First, there was opening day, where we blew an opportunity to beat the Seattle Seahawks.   Then there were the back-to-back games against the San Francisco 49'ers and the New England Patriots, both of which we won by a combined total of five points.  And finally, the two home-and-away games with division rival New Orleans Saints.   Each of these games had its own significance.  The Seattle game ultimately cost us first seed in the playoffs and home-field advantage.  The 49ers-Patriots games kept our winning streak and playoff hopes alive in the middle of the season.  And the second of the two Saints games [at which I was present!] sealed the NFC South division championship and elevated us from the fifth to the second seed, giving us a bye week and a home playoff game.

   We don't even know who our next opponent is yet, but what we do know is that whichever team we play in the NFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 12, this will be ANOTHER big game, for our opponent will be the team that stands between us and a berth in the NFC Championship Game, and eventually, a trip to the Super Bowl.  When the Panthers learn who this opponent is, they will focus in on preparing for this particular team.  But so far, their focus is just on themselves, and their desire and motivation to take this season on to its ultimate goal: a championship.  There are six teams in each conference that are still alive, but four of these twelve will go home after this coming weekend.  And then, there will be four teams in each conference.  And then, ultimately, two teams.. 

   As I thought over all of this, it became so clear and simple to me how extremely easy our job is : we only have to win –TWO- games, just two.. and we will be in the Super Bowl.  Three games- and we win an NFL Championship!  Do the Panthers coaches and players know just how very little we have to do to accomplish such a wonderful prize ?  I’m oversimplifying their task, it’s not so much the mathematical algorithms that make our job more difficult, but the fact that each and every team that’s left in this wild chase has the same set of goals and desires and motivations.  Each team is unique and different, but each team’s goal is the same.  And only one can ultimately win and attain this goal.  Kinda scary, isn’t it?  And exciting at the same time.  It’s do-or-die time.

    I found out during the past couple of days that I was slightly incorrect in announcing the possible opponents for the Panthers playoff game.  The first possibility is that we will play the Philadelphia Eagles, if they win against the New Orleans Saints.  If the Saints win, then we will play the winner of the 49'ers-Packers game.  I had forgotten the simple NFL Playoff protocol- that is, that the top two seeds will play the lowest and highest seeds that emerge from this weekend's Wild Card games.  The Seattle Seahawks, who hold the #1 seed, will play the LOWER seed among the two Wild card winners.  The Panthers, who hold the #2 seed, will play the HIGHER of the two wild card winners.

   My picks for this weekend's gamesNFC: Eagles over Saints, 49'ers over Packers.  AFC: Bengals over Chargers, Chiefs over Colts.  We'll see how I do.. if my predictions are accurate, we will be playing the Eagles next weekend.  But during the postseason, any team can beat any other team.  The competition is so much better than during the regular season, plus each team has the greater motivation of making a run to the Super Bowl.

   We've got the week off. Time to recuperate and rest.  Time for injuries to heal.  Next week, the Panthers will focus in again on beating their opponent, which will by then have a name.  My own personal opinion is not so much that we -WILL- win or go to the Super Bowl, but rather a more general perception: we have just as much a chance as anyone else.  Our defense is awesome, leading the NFL in several categories. Our offense has been adequate, with average stats, but the ability to make plays when it counted.  So now it does count- more than ever before.  We will see if we have what it takes.

     The excitement is building to a crescendo peak. I feel as if I cannot wait until our next game, but I know that I can and will wait, but not without great anticipation.  If we win next Sunday, the excitement will undoubtedly rise to an almost untolerable level, knowing that one more win will send us off to the Super Bowl. It's been ten long years!  Will it happen?  Maybe not. But maybe it will happen.  And if so, perhaps this will be our year to win it all.  I also realize that there are twelve teams out there now, and there are probably fans out there writing blogs for their favorite team, and probably writing similar words to what I am writing here. But- (ha) after this weekend, there will be four less teams doing that. I hope and anticipate that we will be the last team left to celebrate.  If so, then I will be writing the “Mother of all Panthers blogs”.  

    Now, let’s just play "wait and see".