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".