On a rainy, rumpled, remarkable night for Carolina Panthers fans and players – as “Monday Night Football” became “Tuesday Morning Football” and sleep became an afterthought – no one symbolized the Panthers’ 29-26 overtime victory over Indianapolis better than tight end Greg Olsen.
Like the Panthers, Olsen had an elevator night – up and down, up and down. Like the Panthers, Olsen ended up going the right way as Carolina won an overtime game at home for the first time in the team’s 21-year history.
The game was so slipshod, so untidily epic, that it didn’t end until 12:20 a.m. Tuesday. It finished on a 52-yard field goal from placekicker Graham Gano – whose missed extra point had helped the Colts force OT in the first place.
Said Olsen afterward: “The great teams … when you look back on their seasons, you’ve got to win games like this. These are momentum games. These are what you build on. You’re not going to play great 16 times a year. This game is too difficult. This league is too competitive. You’ve got to find ways to be able to rally, scramble, fight and just scratch and claw and find a way to win. Today was a great example of that.”
Carolina’s victory pushed the Panthers to 7-0 – easily the team’s best start ever. Now the 6-1 Green Bay Packers come to Charlotte Sunday for yet another huge game, and this one could well determine homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the Panthers (7-0) can beat Green Bay (6-1) at home Sunday, they would hold the tiebreaker for the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed if the two teams were tied at season’s end. A No. 1 seed in the playoffs guarantees one home playoff game. The No. 1 seed gets a second home postseason contest if it wins the first.
Olsen was all over the place Monday night. Panthers fans are mostly used to seeing only “Good Greg,” but this time he was joined by “Bad Greg.”
Good Greg: Olsen made a difficult, 27-yard touchdown catch in the steady rain in the third quarter to extend Carolina’s lead to 17-6.
Bad Greg: Olsen dropped what would have been at least a 25-yard gain on a wide-open wheel route. “I probably won’t get an easier catch than that all year,” he said.
Good Greg: Olsen made a stunning, one-handed catch with a Colt draped all over him in overtime for 19 yards. That play came immediately after Ted Ginn Jr. dropped what would have been a 56-yard touchdown pass that would have won the game, and it perked up an entire stadium after all the groans directed at Ginn.
Bad Greg: Late in the first half, the Panthers got Ginn open for a catch-and-run of 28 yards to the Indianapolis 4. But hold on – Olsen was called for offensive pass interference on the play, and Carolina ultimately got no points out of the drive.
Good Greg: Despite the Colts trying to take him out of the game – Olsen had only two catches for 8 yards in the first half – he kept pounding and ended up with six catches for 79 yards. Both were team highs.
Bad Greg: On a third-and-5, Cam Newton scrambled for 17 yards. But wait … here was yet another penalty on Olsen. The offensive holding call negated another first down.
“It was tough,” Olsen said. “But it’s a long game. This is a game for big guys, for tough guys, for guys who are mentally strong. Not everything is always going to go your way. You’ve got to put your head down and keep going.”
From Olsen’s viewpoint, the conditions were the toughest he had ever seen in his five years with the Panthers.
“This was as bad as it gets because it never stopped,” Olsen said of the rain. “At least the Tampa game (on the road) this year was off and on. The Jacksonville game everybody talks about from a couple years ago? That was like one quarter (of pouring rain). The Saints game (a home win from 2013), it came in waves but kind of stopped. This was never-ending. It was in your face for nearly the entire game.”
After posting his first 1,000-yard season receiving in 2014 (with 1,008), Olsen has 518 yards already this season. He is on pace for a 1,184-yard season through seven games in 2015.
Olsen said his reaction to Gano’s game-winning field goal in overtime was simple: “Oh, thank God.”
“It was a fight,” he continued. “It was not pretty. First half was a mess. Second half resembled pro football a little bit better. … You’re not going to play 16 perfect games in a season. Obviously today was not one of our best games, but I think we showed a lot of character. That’s a good team, its quarterback got hot and we were able to hold on and do just enough.”
“Just enough” means that the Panthers are the only undefeated team remaining in the NFC, and that their sleep-deprived fans got out of bed a little easier on Tuesday.
“This city right now is abuzz with Panther mania,” Olsen said. “They’re excited, and we’re happy they’re enjoying it. They deserve it.”