Columns & Blogs

For Carolina Panthers fans, Sunday night will feel like a reward

Now that the Greg Hardy issue has been resolved, at least temporarily, we can try something new – football.

The Carolina Panthers play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium. The game will be televised by NBC, which means Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels. It also means Michele Tafoya, who long ago did radio in Charlotte.

It means multiple shots of Charlotte’s skyline, which I don’t tire of seeing. Because Carolina-Pittsburgh is the only game played Sunday night, fans will get a better idea of who we are or, at least, who our skyline is.

There are seven undefeated teams in the NFL and the Panthers might be the quietest. The coverage of Hardy, who on Wednesday was placed on the league’s inactive list, dwarfed coverage of Carolina’s victories against Tampa Bay and Detroit.

That’s understandable. New makes news, and Hardy’s July convictions for domestic violence and communicating a threat were, if not new, unconventional.

If you read about the NFL or Panthers, or listen to televised and broadcast reports about the NFL and Panthers, you probably know more about domestic violence than you did two weeks ago.

And if you’re a potential perpetrator, maybe you’ll think before you act. And if you think, why would you act?

About football: The Panthers look like the team that last season went 12-4. They rank 28th in rushing yards per attempt, 25th in rushing yards per game, 25th (they’re tied) in third-down efficiency, 23rd in total yards and 22nd in sacks per pass play.

Yet they’re undefeated. The Panthers are undefeated because when they had to score they did. They trailed only once the first two weeks, 7-6 in the third quarter against Detroit. They drove 72 and 70 yards for touchdowns, ran off 18 straight points and won 24-7.

They play a little defense, too.

The Panthers have given up fewer points than all but one team. Their defense is fifth in total yards per game, sixth in rushing yards per game, ninth in sacks per pass play and 12th in net passing yards per game.

The defense imposes itself and the offense does enough to win.

That’s how we think of the offense – good enough. But the Panthers did score 30 or more points six times in 2014.

The Steelers, meanwhile, ran to a 24-0 lead against apparently hapless Cleveland and needed a late field goal to win 30-27.

If the Browns were hapless, however, they wouldn’t have beaten New Orleans last week. The Steelers were pounded 26-6 by Baltimore.

The Panthers are favored Sunday, as they were against Detroit. They were underdogs against Tampa Bay. They upset the Buccaneers to the extent a team can upset the Buccaneers.

More than odds and more than statistics, however, Sunday feels like opening night. Whether the Hardy episode was resolved the way you want, it has been, at least for now and perhaps the season, resolved.

Sunday night is not about who isn’t there. It’s about Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin, rookies and veterans and stars and underdogs under the lights.

It’s the Steelers, the rare team that comes not just with a name, but an image. You think of the Steelers, you think of a team that plays football so old school its games could be televised in black and white.

Welcome Pittsburgh. Welcome back Carolina.

Sunday night feels like a reward.

We earned it.