Monkey Off Their Back

It all started on September 3, 1995.<br><br> Ironically it was the first regular season game for the Carolina Panthers that not only began the history of the franchise, but also saw the beginning of a rivalry that goes on to this day.

The team the Panthers faced: The Atlanta Falcons.

The final score of that game: a 23-30 overtime loss. Throughout the history of the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons have always seemed to be the monkey on the backs of the team. Even last year, during the magical ride to the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers couldn't stop the return of Michael Vick. Every blue-blooded Panther fan knows the heartache they feel every time a Falcon fan says 71-0. If history is any indication, the Panthers have an uphill climb ahead of them. But then of course, history has a way of being rewritten on any given Sunday.

The Falcons lead the series 12-6, but the numbers don't tell the entire store. There have been some great and not-so-great memories every time the Panthers played the Falcons. Season two of the team saw a Panthers victory in the inaugural opener against the Falcons. Later on that same year, the Panthers lost to the Falcons, only to go on and rip off eight straight wins. The following year, the Panthers won with a game-winning field goal by kicker John Kasey. The years to come wouldn't be as kind to the Cats.

In 1998, the Panthers gave up a safety, a blocked kick, committed six turnovers and gave up the most points in team history against the Falcons, losing both encounters with their division rivals that year. During the 1999 season, the Panthers split the meetings between the two teams. Some highlights of the 1999 season include punt returner Michael Bates returning a kick off 100 yards to set a team record. Also, wide receiver Donald Hayes had five receptions for 133 yards and one touchdown.

The turn of the century didn't bring much luck or success to the Panthers as they lost six straight encounters with the Falcons, including two straight games where the combined score was the Falcons over the Panthers 71-0, causing the Falcons to become the first team in league history to shutout an opponent twice during the regular season. 2003 came with a renewed spirit as the Panthers started their run toward the Super Bowl, taking the first game over the Falcons, without their starting quarterback, Michael Vick and losing the second game in overtime when Kevin Mathis picked off a Jake Delhomme pass intended for Muhsin Muhammad and ran it into the end zone for the win.

All of this history brings us to the game on Sunday, where the next chapter in the long saga between the Panthers and the Falcons will take place. The Falcons have started off the season with an impressive 3-0 start, and the Panthers are coming off a by week, after a week two victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Here are some key points to watch in the game this Sunday.

• DeShaun Foster vs. the new Falcons defense – Will Foster be able to repeat his performance against the Falcons like he did against the Kansas City defense? Will Foster be enough of an impact to open up passing lanes for Jake Delhomme to find open receivers?

Keary Colbert vs. the Atlanta secondary - Can the rookie have another solid game against Atlanta's secondary? Can some pressure be taken off of Muhammad and Ricky Proehl

• The Vick factor – The Panthers are 0-3 against Michael Vick. However, they have never had a defense that has been completely healthy when they've played him. Can Dan Morgan and Mark Fields be the difference in containing the lightening fast QB or will Vick continue to punish the Panthers with 100 + rushing yards a game?

• Turnovers – Historically, turnovers have been a major concern for the Panthers against the Falcons. If the Panthers can keep mistakes to a minimum, they stand a better chance of winning the game.

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