Picture this scenario: Cam and the gang walk out of Sunday’s game 0-2, losing to the Packers 31-20, and Panthers fans are still happy. What!? Who is happy about starting off the season 0-2? If we come out of Sunday’s game looking like a team with something to build, on I will be happy. Last week in the loss to Arizona I was still pleased with how the Panthers looked. Give me a solid game against a much better opponent this week and I still have nothing to hang my head about as a fan. Keep in mind we were 2-14 last year – it doesn’t get much worse than that.
Thursday night, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” one of my favorite television shows, returned with its season premiere. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s about five friends who run a bar and get themselves into different types of predicaments before things actually turn out OK for them in the end. The group has a very slanted look on life, but somehow between dressing up as Green Man, accidently kidnapping an immigrant family, and even a failed marriage proposal during the “Nightman Cometh” musical, they are able to find the positive. At least in their warped view on life, things are for the better. I’m tempted to carry over the “It’s Always Sunny” philosophy to the Panthers this week. By regular NFL standards an 0-2 start is a bad predicament, but in the 2011 Panthers view things might turn out OK in the end.
Try this one on for size. The Panthers start the game with the ball, drive down field on their first drive, and Cam Newton hooks up with Steve Smith for the touchdown. The home crowd goes nuts, things are good, and we are all happy to be back in Bank of America stadium, a.k.a. “Cam-elot.” At this point, I am so excited I jump out of seat with nachos still in my lap and knock both those and my $8 beer all over me. I have a nice cheese and beer substance running down my leg and still don’t really seem to care – why should I? What is better than seeing a Smitty touchdown live?
Green Bay will of course answer with a touchdown of its own. I’m thinking Aaron Rodgers to any one of the twenty wide receivers he likes to get involved in the game. The rest of the quarter is pretty much uneventful, with both teams fighting a field position battle. My enthusiasm is curbed only a little bit, and I have managed to clean the nachos off my leg, but my spirits are still running high. The quarter ends 7-7.
In the second quarter the Panthers sputter a little bit. The Packers offense proves to be too much for our weak secondary to be able to contain. A Greg Jennings touchdown drive, during which Rodgers and company look unstoppable marching down the field, puts the Packers up 14-7. The Panthers follow up with a few three and outs, followed up by another long drive from Green Bay with James Starks punching it in from the five, and we are now down 21-7. Carolina is able to put together a last minute series ending in an Olindo Mare field goal. Reality has set back in for me, and once again I realize this is Green Bay we are playing here and we aren’t supposed to win. It’s probably a good thing that the Packers have opened it up, because I am now reconsidering getting my face painted like Panther-man at halftime. Score at the half: 21-10 Packers.
The Panthers defense comes out of the half ready to rumble, and they force a three and out. With pretty good field position, the Cats are able to capitalize with a Gregg Olsen touchdown, making it 21-17. At this point the home crowd is raucous – we have the defending Super Bowl champs within a touchdown. I was able to resist the temptation of getting my face painted at the half much to the delight of my lady friend with me at the game. However, somewhere in the excitement I happened to spike her hot dog onto the stadium floor. I apologize to any food enthusiast – I realize a lot of nourishment is subject to abuse due to my happiness. I am proclaiming to anybody within earshot, “We can do this, we can do this!” The noise levels are deafening, making it hard for the Packers to put together any type of drive. A heavy dose of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are able to keep Green Bay off the field for the rest of the third, with it ending 21-17.
The fourth quarter begins with an inevitable Panthers turnover that gives Green Bay the opportunity to add a field goal, giving them a little more breathing room. After a great return by Mike Goodson, we start the next series with good field position. Cam and company aren’t able to come away from the series with any points, but they are able to pin them back far in their own territory. The defense is able to hold strong with a bend-but-don’t-break attitude, and we are able to get our offense back onto the field with five minutes left in the game. Cam Newton is able to connect on a couple of nice throws, and we are able to add another field goal, making it 24-20. Green Bay proves to be too much for our defense in the end, scoring the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown ending the game 31-20.
Much like the game against Arizona, the Panthers looked solid in this scenario. They weren’t able to come away with the win, but they looked like a solid football team with something to build on. There are two other scenarios. In the first one the Packers are able to come out and just manhandle us, handing out some crazy 42-7 beat down. After watching the game last Thursday, I wouldn’t be totally shocked if that did happen. Look, the Packers are a good team – they are supposed to beat the Panthers, and no one is debating that. Of course, the second scenario is that the Panthers in some type of “Cardiac Cat” fashion pull off the upset and beat the defending champs. I would be shocked by that – ecstatic, yes – but shocked nonetheless. But for this game, I stand by my 31-20 prediction – and if the Panthers play well like I expect, I will walk out happy with the Panthers, and the sun will still be shining on Carolina.