Any given Sunday for the Carolina Panthers. It’s a motto in the NFL meaning any team can win any given week and every week we are reminded of this. It’s why it can be so difficult to string together a winning season, so while every team can have great talent it still requires some fortunate bounces to put together a winning year.
Throughout this season the Panthers, who finished 12-4 and now prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers certainly had some memorable moments. I’ve covered the Panthers for many years, but I’m also a fan and want the team to do well and I certainly was on the edge of my seat on more than one occasion in the 4th quarter.
When all is said and done with all the spectacular scrambles by Cam Newton, clutch catches by Steve Smith and Tedd Ginn, Jr., and big sacks and defensive stops…which plays prove to be the most important in leading this Panther squad to an NFC South title.
#5) Carolina vs. Minnesota, October 13, Mall of America Field in Minneapolis, MN. 4th and 1 at the Minnesota 32 on the opening possession (Hello Riverboat Ron)
After electing to not go for a 4th and 1 and blowing the game against the Bills, and then a terrible offensive performance against the Cardinals, 2013 looked like more of the same for the Carolina Panthers. It was a 1-3 start and we were beginning to speculate who the next head coach of the Panthers might be. Then Rivera made a call that at the time didn’t seem like a big deal but would become the identity of this team over the next eight wins in a row. It was 4th and 1, very early in the game in a scoreless game, and Coach Rivera said let’s go for it. Mike Tolbert easily picked up the yard and an extra for good measure. Six plays later Newton hit Smith on a 2 yard touchdown throw concluding a 15-play drive that took 9:29 off the clock. Ron Rivera had confidence in his squad, the team rolled to a 35-10 win and through that confidence it has become the expectation that this team would go for it on 4th and short and would pick it up almost every time. That confidence around the team has certainly been the catalyst in 11 victories in the final 12 games of the season.
#4) Carolina vs. New England, November 18, Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC for Monday Night Football. 2nd and 15 at the New England 25 (Touchdown, Teddy!)
Ok so there was another play in this game that sticks out even more and I’ll get to that in a moment. But this play was a defining moment for the season for a couple reasons. Cam Newton had led a 4th quarter drive to win before, but this one was different. This was on national television on Monday Night Football. The Panthers were on a five game winning streak and coming off a road win versus San Francisco but people were still asking if they were for real. The Panthers got the ball down 3 with 6:32 left and Newton led them down the field in 13 plays covering 83 yards over 5:33. The final play, a connection to Ted Ginn, Jr. where he caught the ball and raced down the sideline for the touchdown.
#3) Carolina vs. New Orleans, December 22, Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. 1st and 10 at the Carolina 35, :55 remaining. (Teddy does it again)
I get that the touchdown catch by Hixon may deserve to be ahead of this one. But in my mind this is the play the won the game. Or gave them a chance to win. And to this point of the game the Panther offense had done almost nothing to give itself a chance. The offense had sputtered and outside of a long DeAngelo Williams touchdown run had done nothing all day. They got the ball back with :55 left after Ron Rivera had elected to punt it on 4th and 7 exactly one minute earlier. Carolina was only down 3 and the rain had eased up allowing for Gano to showcase his kicking abilities if given the chance. So all Carolina had to do at the least was get into field goal range. They did that on the first play. Newton hit Ginn over the middle of the field who took off in open space and stepped out of bounds 37 yards later at the New Orleans 28. Now the Panthers weren’t playing for the tie but going for the win. They got it four plays later on the catch by Hixon.
#2) Carolina vs. Miami, November 24 in Sun Life Stadium in Miami, FL, 4th and 10 with 2:33 to go. (Biggest Play of the Year?)
In an article written in the Raleigh News & Observer earlier this week some Panther players were polled on what they thought were the biggest plays of the year. Many of them thought this one was number one. I’ve got it at #2.
At this point of the season the Panthers were expected to win this game, by a large margin. Miami had struggled, was continuing to deal with bullying issues, and had lost their path to the post-season. But Carolina came in cocky and Miami came in on a mission to continue dominating Carolina in South Beach. Cue up Cam Newton and the Carolina offense again with a drive at the end of the game, but this 1st down pick up may be the most unlikely of the season. The Panthers had 4th and 10 on their own 20 with 2:33 to go. They hadn’t moved the ball a yard on the drive. In fact, they had worked to get back to the original line of scrimmage after an illegal formation and then a pass to Ginn for -3 yards. Steve Smith time. The veteran receiver came across the middle of the field right at the first down stick, hauled in the catch, and then pulled a defender for a ride over the next nine yards on the 19-yard pick up. Eight plays later the Panthers scored with under 1:00 to go to keep the winning streak alive.
In doing this list I realized there were 6 season defining plays… both of which illustrate why getting the right bounce is much needed from time to time to go 12-4 and win a division championships.
#1 B) Carolina vs. New England, November 18, Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. 2nd and 3 for New England on the Carolina 18 (The last play of the game… throw the flag, ref!!!)
This play may not have been the Panthers, or Luke Kuechly’s, shining moment. But it showed Panther fans that sometimes, the calls can go your way.
I personally still agree with no pass interference. There is no way Gronk could’ve come back to make that catch and Robert Lester was 5 yards in front of him picking the ball off. But defensive holding? Yea that should’ve been called. But it wasn’t. So the game was over and the Panthers won. Deal with it Tom Brady. This play was argued about all over the country the next day which as they say, any publicity is good publicity. Because of this one play the Carolina Panthers had now drawn the attention of the entire NFL and were officially a contender. Plus they now had back to back down to the last second wins over the Patriots and the 49ers. In my preseason prediction where I said they’d go 10-6… I picked them to lose both games.
#1A) Carolina vs. Atlanta, December 29, Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia. 1st and 10 for the Falcons on the Atlanta 43. (Fumble!!!!)
This turned out to be the last significant play of the year and to appreciate it’s value you have to understand the history of Carolina playing in Atlanta. Last year Carolina had Atlanta pinned inside their own 1 yard line with less than a minute to go and no timeouts up by 2. Couldn’t get it done. Matt Ryan threw a Hail Mary from his end zone to put Atlanta in field goal position and kick their way to the win. That was the difference between last year, and this year. This time Matt Ryan had his team, down 1, with no timeouts and they were driving with less than a minute to go. Ryan completed a pass to Harry Douglas to get to the 43-yard line. They were 20 yards from field goal position with over :30 left to play. But the Panther fan base came to the call.
An inordinate number of Panther fans had made their way into the Georgia Dome that day. On 1st down with Ryan and the Falcons threatening to knock Carolina from the #2 seed to the #5 seed in the final minute of the season, Ryans center snapped the ball too early because when Ryan was calling out an audible he thought he was calling for the ball. The ball flew past Ryan 16 yards behind him. All he could do was run back there and fall on it. A couple of heartless failed pass attempts later the Panthers took over on downs and took a knee to win the NFC South and earn a bye in the playoffs.
The Carolina Panthers are renovating Bank of American Stadium. CLICK HERE to read about the changes.