The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers all stand at 3-0 in this young season. Granted it is just that, young, but I digress and we go on. Now how many of you before I told you (Panthers fans, put those hands down) that the Panthers were among those undefeated teams? For insert reason here the national media just doesn’t seem to want to give them their proper due. Oh sure, they are unbeaten but critics chalk it up to a “soft schedule” yet the vaunted Falcons have had to come back in EVERY game they’ve won, so does that equal them being the beneficiaries of other teams choking? No, you don’t hear that you just hear about how great the Falcons are. What of the Cardinals, who beat two of their three early opponents handily, yet struggled against the Saints, whom Carolina just defeated? Or the Broncos who wouldn’t be unbeaten if Jamaal Charles didn’t develop a case of the 4th quarter butter fingers and who’s defense saved the day against a mediocre Baltimore team in week 1? What about the Bengals, who barely beat the aged Philip Rivers in week 2 after crushing the Raiders in week 1, and who squeaked out a late in against the Ravens at home? The Patriots, well..for arguments sake I’ll just say Tom Brady is playing pissed off because he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar (nope, no deflategate detour here, sorry) and as a result the Patriots are simply outplaying their opponents much to the chagrin of Roger Goodell.
Yet, despite playing impressive defense (without defensive captain Luke Kuechly for two games) and Cam Newton taking the team on his shoulders, the Panthers get no love, even worse, no respect, from national media. Despite losing Kelvin Benjamin for the year in the preseason, starting the season without Star Lotulelei and dealing with other myriad injuries now the team has stood strong. True to the teams’ motto, they have embodied the Keep Pounding spirit. They have grinded out 3 tough (yes for Panthers fans heart-stopping at times) wins against the lowly Jaguars, perennial AFC south bridesmaids the Houston Texans, and yesterday the division rival Saints, led by Verizon spokesman Luke McCown.
It is that drive to keep going (Keep Pounding), to never giving up no matter what that has helped propel the team to its first 3-0 start since the Super Bowl season of 2003-04. They got some minor media attention with yesterday's trade for Jared Allen from the Bears and the whole Cam Newton/Ed Hoculi (and his biceps) debacle. But yet they aren’t mentioned among the unbeaten, they are like the side orders for the main course that are under-cooked, the crust around the macaroni and cheese at a buffet bar. It makes you wonder just what the team has to do in order to get recognition, to gain respect.
How to Earn Respect
Maybe if they keep winning, if they keep pounding, media will come around. The next few games (after Tampa Bay of course) will go a long way towards proving the teams’ mettle. A post bye week trip to the great Northwest against the evil SeaChickens, followed by a three-game home-stand with visits from Chip Kelly’s traveling circus from Philly, Andrew Luck and his beard (which may have reached full maturity by then) before welcoming Aaron Rodgers and the Jordy Nelson-less Acme Packing company.
No one knows what the remainder of the season will hold, not even the pundits, experts or psychics, but Panthers fans know that their team will not go quietly. They’ve laid claim to the NFC south for two years running, and aren’t going to let go without a fight. They’ve developed a taste for winning dating back to last season, and like a panther with prey in its claws, they like it. It’s not pretty but sometimes the hunt isn’t, but in the end it’s worth the prize.
Posted by: Jay Holman