Who are the Carolina Panthers?
The Carolina Panthers are an expansion team that was founded in 1993 and played their first season in 1995. The Panthers are just one of 13 teams that have not won a Super Bowl. However, they have made the playoffs 7 times since their debut and in just their 2nd year of existence, the Panthers managed to make it to the NFC Championship where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers. They did not have another winning season until 2003, where the Panthers reached the Super Bowl and lost to the Patriots 32-29. The Panthers did not reach the Super Bowl again until Super Bowl 50 in 2015, which is this weeks topic of discussion.
The 2015 Season
The 2015 Carolina Panthers were the league’s most exciting team to watch. They were the leagues highest scoring team which led to Panthers starting quarterback, Cam Newton, winning his first NFL MVP. The Panthers also sported a top 10 defense featuring enigmatic players like linebacker Luke Kuechly and corner back Josh Norman. Though they were the most exciting team to watch, they were also the most controversial. As silly as it sounds, Cam Newton dancing in the endzone after scoring managed to get under a lot of people’s skin. This included one woman from Tennessee who felt inclined to write Cam a letter regarding what she thought about his offensive dancing.
There was also the game against the New York Giants, where Panther’s players allegedly walked the sidelines with baseball bats during pregame warmups to try to get under Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s skin. This led to multiple on field incidents between Josh Norman and Odell Beckham Jr., which eventually led to a suspension for Beckham.
Let’s not forget about the game against the Falcons where the Panther’s blew out the Falcons 38-0 and at one point, felt comfortable enough to take sideline pictures during the game. Despite these many controversies and most analysts deeming the 2015 Panther’s as the “worst undefeated team” when they were 14-0, the Panthers finished the season with a 15-1 record and the #1 seed in the NFC. Would their bad sportsmanship come back to bite them?
The Divisional Round
In the divisional round, the Panther’s faced off against one of the leagues best defenses in the league, the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks were the hardest team in the NFL to score against. They led the league with just 277 points scored against them on the season. However, that did not seem to matter to the Panthers as they racked up 31 on the Seahawks in the first half while keeping the Seahawks off the board.
In the second half, it seemed that the Panthers had taken their foot off the gas and tried to play it safe. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks rallied in the second half with 2 touchdowns and a field goal to get them within a touchdown of tying the game. They would come up short, missing the onside attempt kick with just 1:16 left on the clock. Cam Newton and the Panthers were moving on to the NFC Championship game against the NFC West champions, the Arizona Cardinals
The NFC Championship Game
In 2009, the Carolina Panthers played the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional round of the playoffs. This is a game that many Panthers would like to forget. Despite leading the Panthers to an 8-0 record at home (4-4 on the road), Jake Delhomme melted down and turned the ball over a mind boggling 6 times. 5 interceptions, some in the endzone, and a a fumble. The turnovers proved too much to overcome as the Panthers fell to the Cardinals 33-13.
This time around, The Panthers would find their redemption. Cardinals starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, would end up throwing 4 interceptions and fumbling twice. 6 turnovers. This had to be a sign. The Panthers easily rolled over the Cardinals 49-15 and were headed to Super Bowl 50 against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Super Bowl 50
The Panthers were rolling and it didn’t look like anything was going to slow them down. At the time of kickoff, even Vegas could not deny their dominance and had them as 5.5 favorites over the Broncos. The Broncos, however, had different plans…
The First Half
Peyton Manning led the Broncos down the Carolina 16 yard line on the opening drive and put his team on the board with a field goal from Brandon McManus. Broncos lead 3-0. After exchanging a few possessions, Von Miller would make his presence felt with a strip sack of Cam Newton deep in Carolina’s territory. Malik Jackson would recover it in the endzone for a touchdown. 10-0 Broncos. Jonathon Stewart put the Panthers on the board with a 1 yard touchdown to open up the 2nd quarter, putting the Panthers within 3 of the Broncos. Halfway through the 2nd, McManus would tack on another field goal making it 13-7 Broncos. After a quick 4 and out from the Panthers, Peyton Manning was driving again and deep in Carolina territory, looking to increase their lead, when a pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders was picked off by Kony Ealy. The Panthers were unable to capitalize on the turnover and the 1st half would come to close with the Broncos leading the Panthers 13-7.
The Second Half
Would this be when the #1 offense in the NFL would show up? Down just 6, the Panthers were not out of this game. Not by a long shot. The Panthers opened up the second half with a drive that got them down to the Broncos 26 yard line. However, Graham Gano would miss the 46 yard field goal keeping the score at 13-7. On the ensuing drive, the Broncos added to their score with another field goal from McManus, making it a two score game at 16-7. The very next drive, Cam Newton would drive down to Bronco’s territory yet again. Down to the 28 yard line, Cam fired a pass intended Tedd Ginn Jr., but he overshot him and was picked off by T.J. Ward. Yet another failed opportunity for the Panthers to get on the board.
Early in the 4th quarter, Kony Ealy would sack Peyton Manning and force a fumble and recover it at the 50 yard line. Down just 9 points with a whole quarter to play, the Panthers would have yet another opportunity to close the gap in this game. They would end up walking away with just a field goal after a pass intended for Tedd Ginn Jr. is punched out by Bradley Roby. Some points are better than none though because the Panthers were back within a score with 10 minutes still left in the game. After two quick 3 and out from both teams, the Panthers had the ball and 4:5 left on the clock. They could take the lead on this drive, and this drive would be one that would be talked about for months after the game, but for all the wrong reasons.
On 3rd and 9, Von Miller fought through the Panthers line again and slapped the ball away from Cam Newton just as he was cocked back and ready to throw. The ball dropped down near Cam’s feet and he ran towards the ball but inexplicably hesitated before trying to jump on the ball. The Broncos recovered the ball on the Panthers 4 yard line. And just like that, the Broncos would put this game away with a CJ Anderson touchdown plus a two point conversion. The leagues #1 offense and arguably the most electric was completely shut down in Super Bowl 50.
Was Cam worried about getting hurt? Did he just have a mental lapse? With the Super Bowl on the line, something many players dream of playing in, why would he not sacrifice and jump on the ball? He later explained his reasoning for not jumping on that ball….
Cam Newton – “I don’t dive on 1 fumble because the way my leg was– it could have been (contorted) in a way. OK, you say my effort. I didn’t dive down. I fumbled. That’s fine. But we didn’t lose that game because of that fumble. I can tell you that.”
Cop out? Or legitimate concern for a lasting injury? You be the judge.
Shout out to the Panthers Subreddit for assisting me in this weeks moment of heartbreak. Here’s a few of their other moments of heartbreak they experienced.
Reddit user hd186 – The two Super Bowl losses are too easy of an answer for me.
January 10, 2009: 33-13 loss to Arizona in the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions and lost a fumble, and the 12-4 second seeded Panthers got stomped on by Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals. The Panthers went up 7-0 early and then just about every possession after that seemed to end with a turnover.
P.S. One of my proudest moments as a fan was the national anthem performance five years later when the Panthers finally made it back to the playoffs.
Reddit user cgd2061 – this
Reddit user christianhashbrown – Obviously the Super bowl but I felt like shit the day we released Steve Smith
Reddit user MortisTE – Aside from Sam Mills’ passing? Kasay kicking it out of bounds with 1:08 left in SB38.
Reddit user Slamela – Steve Smith getting shown the door, I lost a big part of my childhood when he left.
Reddit user RocketPunches – I’m not big on the whole defend Cam thing, he made plenty of garbage throws that should have been easy in that game, but I think the fumble shit is pretty vapid.
1) He wouldn’t have won that fight, also ended up right over the ball anyways right before it got knocked away, so he probably ended up in a better position to try to recover it at the end of the day. In fact, the only reason he didn’t end up with the recovery is probably because Von Miller borderline illegally advanced the ball before Cam could get a good grip on it.
2) You don’t react in a profoundly logical way in heat of the moment situations like that. Can’t name the number of times I’ve seen a player in a football game react to a fumble like a cat having some yarn waved in front of them. Let alone when people are flying at them.
3) I’d rather have Cam not dive into a situation after a fumble and get seriously injured like Melvin Gordon. Super Bowl or no Super Bowl. There are players, like Peyton Manning for example, who wouldn’t have even tried to get that fumble and no one would have said shit. Manning would have been headed to the sideline before the whistle even blew, or chatting on the defender who “blocked” him after the opposing team recovered it.
4) Cam Newton didn’t get worked by Von Miller on the edge to begin with. The fumble’s Remmer’s fault – or at least Shula’s for not keeping a back in to protect so late in a game where his tackles got worked – but where was Remmers? He should have been in prime position to dive on it. The ball even came out of Newton’s hand in his direction.
There’s just too much going on at any given moment on a play for me to be mad at Newton over something like that. It isn’t like he didn’t make an attempt to get the ball at all, he just failed to fight an instinct for basic self preservation.
Reddit user net_403 – At risk of drawing the ire of people defending Cam, the specifically heartbreaking part for me is seeing Cam shy away from the ball and keep asking myself “why?”, felt like a let down. Regardless of the reasoning I’ll always have that lingering feeling.
Want to experience more heartbreak? Check out the past moments of heartbreak.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.