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Carolina Panthers are still flying high: You don’t stumble into 8-0 in the NFL

The Carolina Panthers did something Sunday they had not done all season. They beat a team with a winning record. They beat the Green Bay Packers, who came into Bank of America Stadium 6-1.

If you beat Seattle in Seattle, and Philadelphia and Indianapolis at home, I would contend that you did something. Beating the Packers anywhere enhances Carolina’s credibility.

But when were the Panthers not credible? You don’t stumble into 8-0. You play offense, defense and special teams, you make plays large and small, and after Sunday’s 37-29 victory against Green Bay there the Panthers are atop the National Football Conference standings.

When was the last time you were 8-0?

“Never,” says tackle Michael Oher. “That’s tough, especially in the NFL.”

Oher never went 8-0 in high school. What about in college? Oh. Sorry man. You played at Mississippi.

“Exactly,” says Oher, laughing. “Especially when I was there.”

Greg Olsen, when was the last time you were on a team that was 8-0? It must have been when you were a Miami Hurricane, right?

“Never in Miami, never 8-0, I don’t think,” Olsen, the tight end, says. “Probably my last year of high school.”

How about you, Ryan Kalil?

“College,” says Kalil, a center who played at Southern California.

Man, I had planned to write about how rare 8-0 is.

“Sorry,” Kalil says.

[Box score: Packers versus Panthers.]

[Carolina Panthers report card 11.08.15.]

Sunday’s victory featured players you might not have anticipated. You wouldn’t have started them on your fantasy team because they aren’t on your fantasy team.

Philly Brown caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton even thought he was held as he ran his route. You’ll recall that there was a movement in Charlotte in the preseason to ship Brown out of town because he dropped several passes in games that don’t count. But that was never who he is. He’s the player who was targeted four times Sunday and caught two of them for 50 yards.

“He’s really a true Philly kid,” says Panthers coach Ron Rivera as he walks through the locker room after the game. “There’s a toughness about him. There’s a lot going on for him.

On first and 10 from the Carolina 38 Newton dropped back and threw off his back foot to rookie Devin Funchess, who had run a deep post. Defensive back Damarious Randall was so close to Funchess it was as if Funchess was wearing a cape.

What could go wrong?

As it turned out, not a thing. Funchess made a nice, nice catch for 52 yards, and in the fourth quarter caught a 14-yard touchdown pass, his first touchdown since October 2014, when he played for Michigan.

“I was just waiting for the moment and it came today,” Funchess says.

Kalil was not surprised by the work of Funchess or Brown.

“These are guys we brought in because we think they’re talented players,” Kalil says. “I think everybody likes to bring up the fact that there’s not a Hall of Famer name out there, the go-to guy that we target every time.

“But I would argue that by not having that big name you give a lot of you give a lot of guys opportunities to get experience and get better. You create names that way. There are a lot of really good football players in (the locker room) who work harder every week. These wins are the result of that.”

Kalil makes a great point. Some of us insist that the Panthers lack a No. 1 receiver and a No. 2 receiver and even a No. 3 receiver, as if there’s a receiver protocol they have to undergo before they are assigned a number.

Regardless of their number, Carolina receivers caught 297 yards worth of passes Sunday, three of them for touchdowns.

I ask Olsen what is the best quality of being 8-0, which unlike Kalil he never was in college.

“Winning,” says Olsen. “Winning in the NFL is tough. You saw that (Sunday).”

Adds Olsen: “And when you’re around a great group of guys in a great environment, a place where you enjoy coming to work, winning is even better.”          

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