Keep Pounding

As I settled into my chair to watch Sunday's game versus the also struggling San Francisco 49ers I could not help but reflect back on this very disappointing season. Our offense has struggled in every category imaginable. They say games are won and lost in the trenches. If you have been following Panther football this season you would have quickly noticed that our offensive line has been about as effective as the French Infantry was defending the Ardennes in 1940.

To some, this was somewhat of an expected turn of events due to the off-season moves. However the injury bug that has turned our training room into the 4077th M*A*S*H could not have been foreseen. The net effect this has had on the offense along with our OC's rather steadfast desire to not change has largely contributed to the lackluster performance on the field.

The more vexing thing us Panther fans have been forced to witness is the complete collapse of the defensive unit. We may have only lost one player of note on the defense to injury in the form of Kris Jenkins. But by the way the front four has been playing this season you would think we lost a bulkhead on the Titanic. Team tackling, or lack thereof, has been taken to comedic lows. I know the Panthers coaching staff likes to play that bend don't break defense. But someone left the rubber band in the sun too long and we snap with ferocity with just the slightest amount of pressure. It was certainly not a mystery coming off a Superbowl appearance that the road to the playoffs would be challenging. But what is surprising is that even all the gloom and doom reporting by the sports media about how the Panthers would fall apart after Houston does not compare with the reality of this teams season.

But that is the past. This is a new game and the 49ers are at 1-7 just like the Panthers. As you go over the head to head matchups on all sides of the ball the Panthers look better at almost every position. Even the bandwagon fan who is scampering around Charlotte trying to find a Steelers jersey has to admit the Cats have a chance for a win today. The game starts and I begin watching one of the worst halves of football that I can remember. Tim Rattay and Kevin Barlow marching down the field against our defense and scoring at will has the Bay Area faithful seeing the ghosts of Joe Montana and Roger Craig roaming the damp muck of Candlestick Point. A catch and subsequent fumble by Colbert on the first play of our offensive series gives the 49ers another scoring opportunity. This Panther squad who has appeared to have the luck of Schleprock from the Flintstones for the year now just appears to be a really bad and unprepared football team.

I watch as the Panther formula for 2004 is once again played out and the 49ers get a 17-0 lead. The Panthers do manage to drive downfield once and get a John Kasey field goal. But for the first time all season there was no positive energy going into halftime. I really felt in my heart that all the bad mojo this team has faced in the course of the season had finally caught up with them and they were ready to just give up and throw in the towel. Nobody appeared to be willing to step up and give this team back the heart it used to have. As the team received and then fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half I just knew this was gearing up to be one of the worst games in Panther history. The voice of reason I have spent all this season suppressing began speaking and it sounded like Doctor Zachary Smith. I just kept hearing "Oh, the pain, the pain..." over and over.

Our D actually gets a stop after this mistake and we get the ball back and score another Field Goal. Yippie, another 4 of those and we can take the lead!! My sarcasm begins to take the best of me and is only further fueled by an injury to John Kasey on the kickoff. Why not? This is Panther football of course. Kris Mangum could not make the game. We lose Fordham in the 1st quarter causing the return of the dreaded Matt Willig. If there is something this organization can do well that is fill out an NFL injury report.

But then just when you think things have reached bottom of the tar pit. When hope is like a single dust mite in a mattress factory, the Panthers do something to change their fate. All season long we have waited and waited and waited for our defense to play like it did last season. They have been a keg of black powder all season with no one around to detonate. However with 9:52 to play in the 3rd quarter Mark Fields lit the match. He blasted into the 49er backfield and took down a very surprised Kevin Barlow for a 4 yard loss. He even stripped the ball and ran it into the endzone for a short lived score. However San Francisco coach Dennis Erickson challenged the play and got the ball back. But on the very next play Fields jumps in front of a Tim Rattay pass and intercepts it with a return to the 49er 1 yard line. Unknown 8th string running back Brandon Bennett runs in for a score and all of a sudden the Panthers are playing ball.

This turn of events was a catalyst for the rest of the game. Fields appeared to be a man that said enough was enough and brought some attitude to the game that became infectious to those around him. The defense began to swarm around the ball not like the 2003 team, but even better like the 2002 defense. Rattay and the 49ers looked like the terrible offense they really are. The Panther offense was not going to be outdone. Jake Delhomme and Mushin Muhammad began their best day ever together. Jake lit up the horrendous 49er secondary for nearly 230 2nd half yards and 3 TD's to Moose. It was the best football I have seen the Cats play since the NFC Championship game. My fandom was finally rewarded with a good victory and knowledge that no matter what else happens, we will not be a 1-15 team this season.

Hey I am not ready to predict an 8 game streak and Cinderella run to the Superbowl. This was a bad 49er team the Panthers defeated and the only thing one should take away is that this Carolina team is not the worst in the league. Each and every game going forward is going to be a challenge for this injury depleted roster. But going forward Mark Fields may have just started something special. This is a team that knows more about adversity than most and should for the remainder of the season never lose sight of that. It it a tough road ahead and it is very likely that even a winning record is out of reach. But that should not matter. It is time to Keep Pounding until the final game is played and let the rest sort itself out...

Marc Stanton is the owner and operator of PantherFanz.net


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