Where did that come from?
The Carolina Panthers stunned the Atlanta Falcons, 30-20, Sunday in Charlotte, winning a grudge match against their Interstate 85 rival and demonstrating to the NFL what might have been in a lost season.
“This shows exactly what we are capable of,” said coach Ron Rivera, whose team improved to 4-9. “That’s the sad part.”
The Panthers’ best game of the year began in a drizzle and ended in brilliant sunshine, as the 50,000 or so fans who showed up were rewarded in numerous ways.
The afternoon started with a good omen. The Panthers won a coin toss for the first time in 14 tries this season, generating a huge roar from the stands.
The Panthers chose to receive, quarterback Cam Newton led a touchdown drive and the Panthers were off and running. They never really stopped, leading by at least 10 points for the final 40 minutes and paying the Falcons back for a last-second loss in September.
Newton was nearly perfect. He didn’t make a turnover for the fourth straight game. He threw for 287 yards and ran for 116 more – including a remarkable 72-yard touchdown run in which he did a front flip into the end zone after a block from Steve Smith that took out three Atlanta defenders like bowling pins.
The Falcons (11-2) are still headed to the playoffs. Carolina – by virtue of clunkers like its loss to a one-win Kansas City team only a week ago – is going nowhere. Rivera’s job status beyond December is still very much in question.
But for one Sunday, all was right in the Panthers’ world.