Indeed, this has been a truly miserable season for the Carolina Panthers.
Remember how dominant they seemed last season? Remember how they raced off to an incredible 14-0 start, one of only four teams in NFL history to have lasted so long with an undefeated record? Remember how they became only the seventh team in NFL history, along with the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2007 New England Patriots, and the 2011 Green Bay Packers? Remember how they shot out to a 31-0 lead against Seattle, and how they dismantled the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, before being beaten and bruised by the Denver Broncos defense in the Super Bowl?
Well, the Panthers have been quite bad this season. It started off with a heartbreaking loss at Denver that went down to the final seconds, although it was not obvious that the Panthers would suffer through such a terrible season.
After six games, however, they had a 1-5 record, and almost all of their playoff hopes had been dashed. Their star quarterback looked more vulnerable than usual, and their biggest defensive star was also hurt. The team was not playing anywhere near the level that they had played just months before, during their Super Bowl run.
The Panthers never recovered. Not fully, anyway.
Still, we saw a glimpse of how much better they are capable of playing during last night's Monday Night Football contest in Washington. Interesting to note that Washington has lost 16 of the last 17 games played on their home field, a streak that surely goes back many years now.
In any case, Carolina looked a bit more like the team that we expected them to be this year, as they methodically beat down Washington, in a game with playoff ramifications for both squads. That said, Carolina's playoff hopes were slim to virtually none, although they do have a chance, however remote. As for Washington, they actually entered the game in a favorable position, as Tampa Bay's loss this past weekend had opened an opportunity. But with this painful loss, Washington now has an uphill battle to qualify for the playoffs, and their chances of making it are starting to feel more remote. The loss assured no better than a third place finish in the NFC East, and also assured that they no longer control their own destiny. If Tampa Bay wins one more game apiece this season, Washington will be eliminated, as Washington is assured of finishing behind the Giants, even though New York has not officially clinched a playoff berth yet.
Surely, Carolina will not ride the coattails of last night's victory into the playoffs this season, as that is almost impossible.
However, I would be willing to bet that the Panthers will be back in a big way next season. Watch out!