Cleat Geeks

The Panther Post: Anatomy of a Comeback

The Carolina Panthers are in their 21st year of existence in the NFL and have never had back-to-back winning seasons.  That cold reality keeps things in perspective for the fan base as well as the national media.  It’s why nobody feels quite comfortable enough to declare the Panthers a favorite to win the Super Bowl.  It’s why even the most die-hard fans at Bank of America Stadium or in front of their TV’s every Sunday have that “t-shirt with the itchy tag feeling.”  They just can’t quite get comfortable with the idea that this team–winners of 11 consecutive regular season games–might just be the real deal.  It’s hard to feel comfortable in this role when all you’ve ever known after the joys of a playoff (or even Super Bowl) season is the let-down of a disappointing season to follow.  But watching the resiliency shown in a 29-26 overtime victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night made one thing very clear:  this team is different.  This team is good.  This team is damn good, and they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.Carolina Panther Team Shot

Naysayers this week have pointed to the fact that the Panthers allowed the Colts to erase a 17-point deficit with less than eight minutes to play to not only force overtime, but follow that by actually taking the lead in overtime.  After much film study (and I say that tongue-in-cheek because it just means that I watched the game over a few times), there are multiple reasons why the Colts comeback should never have had the chance to happen.  Call me a conspiracy theorist, but here is the extremely coincidental timeline of events in the fourth quarter that led to overtime:

10:55 remaining in regulation: Andrew Luck is 5-for-16 passing for 40 yards in the game.  This is a mismatch in every sense.

7:11 remaining:  Andrew Luck finds Andre Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown pass.  Replays show Johnson clearly pushes off on CB Bene Benwikere before hauling in the pass.  No call.  23-13 Panthers.

5:25 remaining:  Facing 3rd-and-5 from their own 25 yard line, Cam Newton scrambles 17 yards for a first down to the 42 yard line.  At the very least, the Panthers have a new set of downs and force the Colts to start using timeouts.  Offensive holding is called against TE Greg Olsen.  I think I’ve watched this play 15 times.  There is no clear shot that shows Olsen holding, but both he and LB Erik Walden are engaged the whole play.  As they disengage, Walden takes a swing at Olsen.  It was obvious he was not trying to hit him, but it was a blatant swing nonetheless.  As the penalty flag is thrown, Olsen claps his hands and gestures that Walden was holding him inside the front of the shoulder pads.  The call goes in favor of the Colts and the Panthers are forced to punt two plays later.

1:43 remaining: This is where the game should have ended.  The Colts faced a 4th-and-10 from their own 40 yard line.  They are out of timeouts, so a failure to convert means that the game is essentially over.  Andrew Luck finds Griff Whalen over the middle for a diving 12-yard catch.  Replays showed the ball hit the turf between Whalen’s arms as he went to the ground.  Ex-NFL official Gerry Austin was asked his opinion by the announce team of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden.  Austin says the call should be overturned as the ball clearly hits the ground.  Both announcers agree, but “not 1000% sure”.  The call of a completion is upheld, a stunning decision to say the least.

NFL: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers:41 to :31 seconds remaining:  Luck again hits Whalen on a short out route to the Carolina 19-yard-line.  Whalen goes to his knees and is touched down by S Roman Harper.  Whalen then slides a full two yards out of bounds where the side judge inexplicably waves his arms to stop the clock.  Whalen was touched down on his knees well within the field of play.  The clock stoppage allowed the Colts to actually run four more plays (one was a spike) to try to score a winning touchdown.  At the very least they should have been forced to rush to the line and spike the ball with somewhere around 15 seconds remaining.  Of all the plays listed here, this was the only one that was not and should not have been a judgement call.  It was simply bad officiating.

OT:  Well, you know the rest.  Indy wins the toss and drives for a 50-yard Adam Viniateri field goal.  Panthers fans watch in horror as Ted Ginn Jr. drops a perfectly thrown touchdown pass from Cam Newton.  Graham Gano ties it with a 42-yard field goal.  Luke Keuchly intercepts Luck on the next Colts possession to set up Gano’s 52-yard game-winner.  It was as exciting a game as you could hope to have on Monday Night Football.

It just shouldn’t have been.


This Week:  The Panthers welcome the Packers to Charlotte.  The Pack is coming off a 29-10 drubbing at the hands of the Broncos in which Aaron Rogers threw for only 77 yards.  In years past, I would say this was set up as a recipe for disaster for the Panthers.  Not this time.  The party continues:  Panthers 23, Packers 20.

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