Panthers Held On For Dear Life
January 21, 2016
The Carolina Panthers are starting to develop a dangerous trend. It is a trend that needs to be addressed now that they are deep into the playoffs and are only one game away from the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance.
The trend resurfaced last week in playoff action. The Panthers dominated the Seattle Seahawks in the first half before getting hesitant and tentative enough to allow the Seahawks a measure of hope. Fortunately for the Panthers, Carolina’s first-half productivity was enough to hold off a Seattle surge, and the Panthers advanced with a 31-24 victory.
Carolina followers can single out a number of similar games this season where the Panthers let an inferior opponent back in the game before holding on or rallying themselves to pull out a win.
It did not take Carolina long to take control on Sunday. It took the Panthers less than four minutes to establish a two-touchdown lead on two-time defending NFC champion Seattle. Actually, it took three minutes and twenty-two seconds in which Carolina combined a Jonathan Stewart 59-yard run and a Luke Kuechly pick-six.
The ‘what could have been a rout’ continued the rest of the opening half as the Panthers led 31-0 at halftime.
As a Panthers fan, I would normally turn the game off at this point because I would not want to witness my team blow a lead like this one. After all, we were told that teams trailing by 31-plus points in the last 15 seasons are a combined 0-325. But since I picked the Seahawks to upset Carolina, I stuck with this game.
And I ended up getting a game.
Seattle scored on their two opening possessions of the second half. The Panthers remained conservative and the Seahawks got to within 10 points with six minutes remaining when Russell Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse on a remarkable scoring pass. Carolina punted the ball away three minutes later and Wilson marched the Hawks deep into Panthers’ territory before the defense stood up one last time, limiting Seattle to a short field goal to make it a seven-point game. But linebacker Thomas Davis recovered the ensuing onside kick, and from there, Carolina ran the clock.
The Panthers survived and will now welcome the Arizona Cardinals for the NFC championship.
NFL Conference Championship Matchups
Let me start with the AFC matchup that gives us the 17th meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. New England will travel to Denver to meet the Broncos.
These were the top two seeds in the conference, and they earned their spots in the title game with solid play over the weekend, especially the Patriots. They dominated Kansas City with an aggressive passing game that highlighted Brady once again as a dominant playoff performer.
The Broncos used a good defensive effort to slow the Steelers and got a late touchdown to take the lead to win 23-16. Manning wasn’t great, but he was good enough. He will have to be better if the Broncos are to have any chance to beat the Patriots, which they did earlier this season when Brock Osweiler was at quarterback. The Denver defense will have to get after Brady to slow him down in this one. New England doesn’t have much of a running game so the matchup to watch has to be the New England passing game against the Denver secondary. That also means keeping Denver’s pass rush, which was the best in the league, off Brady. Another interesting matchup will be how the Broncos try and take away Rob Gronkowski.
Historically, Brady has gotten the best of Manning in the playoffs, but the last two times they played with a shot to go to the Super Bowl, Manning won both. This could be Manning’s last run, while Brady still has plenty of good football left in him.
Carolina and Arizona could be a classic. They are the top two scoring teams in the league, with Carolina first and Arizona second. And the defenses are pretty good as well. Carolina was sixth in scoring defense and Arizona was seventh. They’ve been on a collision course to this game all season as the top two seeds in the conference.
Arizona won in dramatic fashion Saturday night against Green Bay in overtime 26-20, while Carolina hung on to beat Seattle 31-24 after nearly blowing a 31-0 halftime lead.
They met in the playoffs last year with Carolina winning 27-16 in a game where Ryan Lindley played quarterback for Arizona. That was also in Carolina, where this week’s game will be played.
It will be a much tougher game this time around for the Panthers. Carson Palmer has been injury-free all season for the Cardinals and he was instrumental in Arizona leading the NFL in yards per pass. He will be throwing against a Panthers defense that was second in yards per pass.
Palmer is on the spot for Arizona. He has never won a road playoff game and didn’t win his first playoff game until beating the Packers. He didn’t play great against Green Bay, so it will be interesting to see how he plays here.
I am 7-1 thus far in picking playoff games. I think I have learned not to pick against the Panthers so I will take them along with New England.