When you listen to a Carolina Panthers fan talk these days, you hear two words more than anything else.
Yes, but ...
As in: “Yes, the Panthers are 2-0, but the two wins were against pretty bad teams and the Panthers didn’t look that good in either game.”
Or: “Yes, the Panthers won Sunday, but how can they get a field goal blocked two weeks in a row?”
Or: “Yes, the Panthers defense has played well, but that was against Blake Bortles and Ryan Mallett at quarterback.”
You get the idea. And the Panthers are flawed, there’s no doubt about that.
Panthers fans with any memory beyond their most recent fantasy football disappointment must remember that the 2014 Carolina team also started 2-0 and then went 1-8-1 over its next 10 games. That team crumpled so thoroughly (until righting itself in December) that for two entire months the Panthers couldn’t win a single game.
I’m starting to think the Carolina Panthers are better than I gave them credit for when I picked them to go 8-8.
So is this 2-0 start a mirage or reality?
I vote for reality. The Panthers do not look like a Super Bowl team, but I’m starting to think they are better than I gave them credit for when I picked them to go 8-8.
They have a defense that has allowed an average of only 13 points per game (the second-best average in the NFL before Monday night’s game) despite not having middle linebacker Luke Kuechly healthy for six out of the season’s first eight quarters.
Besides Kuechly, they have big-time players starting at several of the NFL’s most important positions, including quarterback, No. 1 cornerback, center, outside linebacker and tight end.
Do they have issues? Of course they do. But outside of New England and Green Bay, who doesn’t?
There are five 2-0 teams in the NFC. One of those five quite likely will wind up in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, 2016. Green Bay is the cream of that crop right now and Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL, but Carolina fits right in with the other four.
Atlanta has won two close games on the strength of a fantastic receiver (Julio Jones). Dallas has won twice but already has lost its quarterback and best wide receiver for at least a couple of months because of injury. Arizona has scored a league-high 79 points in two games, but a lot of the Cardinals players are the exact same players Carolina beat up on in a playoff game in Charlotte less than 10 months ago.
In other words, Carolina fans, drop the “but” for now. It will resurface soon, although probably not this Sunday against an 0-2 New Orleans team that may be without quarterback Drew Brees. So why not enjoy what you have while you have it?
Dating back to the last time Carolina played New Orleans – a startling 41-10 romp for Carolina over the Saints in the Big Easy – the Panthers have gone 7-1 over their past eight games.
Will the 2015 Panthers go into a “one win in 10 games” tailspin at 2-0 like last year’s version did?
The Panthers are 7-1 over their last eight games dating back to last December. The only loss: a playoff defeat in Seattle.
I don’t think so. Last year’s team wasn’t as talented in the defensive secondary, had the Greg Hardy issue looming like a storm cloud and had a quarterback in Newton who wasn’t as sure of himself and had not had nearly enough practice following a series of injuries.
That’s not to say this Panthers squad is about to go 13-3. There are a lot of things that must be tweaked.
But Panthers fans may as well smile. How would you like to be a Miami Dolphins fan who just saw your team lose to Jacksonville? Or a Baltimore Ravens fan whose team started 0-2 and got upset by Oakland? Or a Chicago Bears fan who saw the team bring in defensive specialist John Fox as head coach only to allow 79 points in an 0-2 start? Or a Philadelphia Eagles fan whose head coach Chip Kelly says “I was embarrassed” by what happened Sunday vs. Dallas?
Those teams have PROBLEMS. The Panthers only have problems.
I thought Carolina needed to go 3-1 or 4-0 in this relatively soft first month of the schedule to have a real chance at the playoffs. Now it looks like they will do that.
An era of good feelings never lasts forever in sports. Prosperity and adversity alternate like sunrises and sunsets.
But when any team is undefeated – no matter how it got there, no matter how long it lasts – you may as well celebrate.
It will come to an end, yes.
But it’s not over yet.