We watched the Carolina Panthers in training camp and exhibition games and impressed by their youth and size and their sudden athleticism.
But few fans above the age of 12 could have anticipated what they did on opening day. In 81-degree heat, beneath sunny skies, the Panthers upset San Diego 26-24.
They beat one of the best teams in football, and they beat them in Qualcomm Stadium, which is less a field than a fortress. The Chargers had lost here only once the past two seasons.
Carolina scored the winning touchdown, a 14-yard pass from quarterback Jake Delhomme to tight end Dante Rosario, with no time remaining (above).
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Rosario is 23, Delhomme 33, and their work is indicative of the afternoon. For the Panthers, this was a coming together of old and young, veterans and rookies, offense and defense and special teams.
The victory was one of the most exhilarating in franchise history and among the most impressive.
“We won't be able to sneak up on anybody anymore,” cornerback Ken Lucas says.