Pride goeth before a fall, Proverbs says, and so does talk of going 16-0.
The tone around the Carolina Panthers took a distinct turn this week, and as a Panthers fan, I don’t like it one bit.
When the Panthers were 4-0, the expectations were just what they needed to be: Low. The worst 4-0 team in the league, pundits said dismissively. They had beaten the Jaguars, Texans, Saints and Buccaneers – hardly a murderer’s row. They’d get a real test, NFL fans knew, when they played at Seattle.
Then they beat Seattle on a last-minute play. A nice win, but the Panthers knew they still had a lot to prove. The Seahawks, after all, were just 2-4 at that point. The Panthers still hadn’t beaten anyone with a winning record.
All eyes were on the next trio of games – against the Eagles, Colts and Packers, all at home – but even then the Panthers were living the clichéd mantra of taking one game at a time. That was largely because the Packers came last in that threesome, and so there was a feeling that the Panthers wouldn’t really have passed the ultimate test until that game.
Well, you know what happened next. The Panthers beat the Packers to move to 8-0. And suddenly, it was: Look out, 1972 Dolphins.
The Observer’s Scott Fowler, on the front page, said the team had “climbed closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.” The win over the Packers, Fowler said, gave “a serious boost” to the Panthers’ chances of being one win from the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl, Fowler unhelpfully reminded us, is “on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif., by the way, if you’re planning ahead.”
How about the Panthers running the table, going 16-0, then winning the Super Bowl to finish 19-0? “Get back to me in December about that one,” Fowler said.
The next day, Fowler pointed out: “Listen. For eight more weeks, the Panthers really don’t have a single ‘must-win’ game. … They could go 5-3 in the final eight games and still post the best regular-season record in Panthers history.”
Now Miami Dolphins coaching legend Don Shula says he wants to see the Panthers go 19-0. The Observer’s Jonathan Jones on Wednesday looked ahead and pointed out the Panthers will likely be favored in each of their remaining games.
Fowler, Jones and others have all cautioned that going undefeated is a tremendous long shot. Still, the fact it’s even being discussed is nothing but trouble for the Panthers. No one was talking about it when the Panthers were 7-0. Anyone who watches the NFL knows “any given Sunday” is more than an empty pep talk. Almost anyone can beat almost anyone in this league.
Sure, the Panthers are off to a great start. And boy, is it tempting to look at the creampuffs left on the schedule. But suggesting they have the inside track for home field throughout the playoffs is like saying that about the New York Yankees because they have a seven-game lead in July.
The full Proverbs quote is actually “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Coach Ron Rivera says he’s still taking the games one at a time. If he can keep the players from having a haughty spirit, maybe we’ll be OK. – Taylor Batten