The Carolina Panthers, winners of eight of their first 10 games this season, have been here once before.
In 2003, after beating the Washington Redskins 20-17 at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers' record also improved to 8-2.
Then something bad happened to the Panthers: They lost three consecutive games.
But then something good happened: They won their next six – including three in the playoffs – and advanced to the Super Bowl, the peak moment in franchise history.
Is there a lesson there for this season's Panthers?
“Sure,” said fullback Brad Hoover, one of six starters this season who played on the 2003 team. “It shows that you can be 8-2 and still go in the tank.”
The 2003 and 2008 editions of the Panthers got to 8-2 in different ways.
In 2003, the Panthers won their first five games, which remains the fastest start in franchise history.
They went 6-5 the rest of the regular season – including consecutive losses to Dallas (24-20), Philadelphia (25-16) and Atlanta 20-14 in overtime) – to finish 11-5.
This season's Panthers are riding a four-game winning streak (after starting 4-2) to reach this point.
There are other similarities – aside from the fact that the Panthers still rely on players like quarterback Jake Delhomme, Hoover, offensive tackle Jordan Gross, receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad and defensive end Julius Peppers.
The Panthers have been less-than impressive in recent victories against league bottom-feeders Oakland and Detroit. In 2003, Carolina won nine regular-season games by six or fewer points.
In the middle of that came the three-game losing streak. All of a sudden, the Panthers were 8-5 and reeling.
“We hope to avoid that by learning from it,” said Hoover. “We lost our consistency then and we've still got to find it this season. I wouldn't say we thought the season was slipping away.
“We knew we'd jump out of it. And when we did we clinched the division.
“It's tough, though. As easy as it is to go 4-0, you can easily have four go in the ‘L' column.”
Cornerback Ken Lucas wasn't with the Panthers in 2003.
He played with the Seattle Seahawks then, his third season in the league. He's aware now of the Panthers' mid-year problems of that season.
“I assume they lost some of the fire and edge that got them to that point,” said Lucas. “This team can learn from that.”
Panthers coach John Fox doesn't see any similarities.
“Every year has a new personality,” said Fox. “The team is different, the coaching staff is different. I don't think that will come to too many of these players' minds.”
Something else of interest: Two of the Panthers' playoff victories in '03 – against the Cowboys and Eagles – avenged losses during the three-game losing streak.
“I guess if history repeats itself, it's not always bad,” said Smith. “I'm not worried about it. We went to the Super Bowl then. That's the end result. It's the same every year. Winning the Super Bowl is all I think about.”
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less