COLUMN: Lots of "Firsts" on Opening Day

<strong>In the Panthers opening day when there where a lot of firsts. Panthers open the season with a win.</strong>

CHARLOTTE, N.C.- For the first time in 364 consecutive days, the Carolina Panthers won a regular season NFL game.  John Fox made his first appearance as a head coach in the NFL, and acquired his first win on the same afternoon.  The Panthers won their first home game in over a year as well.  There are really too many firsts that happened on Sunday to name (the local TV blackout being another one), but the one that makes the biggest difference: The Carolina Panthers got their first WIN of the season.

This game was previewed as being an ugly, low scoring affair, with not much excitement, but if you had been in the stadium on Sunday, you would have thought quite the opposite about the excitement part.  Fans were on their feet for the majority of the game when Carolina was on defense, and for the first time in recent memory, an actual chant of "DEFENSE" began to take over the crowd.  If you are a true Panther fan, it would have almost brought a tear to you eye.  The Panthers defensive team was on the field jumping up and down, raising their arms to pump the crowd up, and the crowd responded.  Yet another first: It actually felt like the Panthers had their 12th man back. 

Carolina defeated Baltimore on this afternoon, by a score of 10-7.  It was true that this game wasn't one made for ESPN SportsCenter highlights, as only a few key plays determined the outcome.  In the first quarter, Baltimore opened the scoring with a nice drive, capped off by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Redman to Johnson.  The fans in the stadium held their breath to see if Carolina would respond.  In a drive that would last only two minutes and seven seconds, the Panthers did just that.  Taking the ball from their own 20 yard line, the Panthers drove straight down the field in just 4 plays, resulting in a 20 yard touchdown pass from Peete to Walls, tying the score at 7-7.  The only other offense in the game came on a John Kasay field goal with 9:40 remaining in the second quarter.  Carolina appeared to have scored their second touchdown of the afternoon, after Muhsin Muhammad scooped a low Rodney Peete pass off the ground and ran untouched into the endzone.  The play was overturned by replay, after it was shown that the ball touched the ground and was incomplete.  That's where the Carolina defense took over, and shut the Ravens offense down.  Carolina ran a conservative, yet effective offense for the remainder of the game, and kept the defense off of the field, giving them time to rest.  They controlled the time of possession 33:51 to 26:09, a direct result of the ground game.  Carolina also outgained the Ravens on the ground with a total of 145 yards, compared to the Ravens 77.   The final play of the game that actually made a difference came from this season's first round pick, and last years.  Julius Peppers blasted off the line and got into Redman's face just as he was releasing a pass.  The ball was tipped by Peppers almost straight up into the air, and fell into the arms of MLB Dan Morgan, who raced down to the 22 yard line before being hauled down by Jamal Lewis.  Ericsson Stadium was electric as everyone realized that the Panthers had won the game.  It was also the first time in a long, long while, that Panthers fans had watched their quarterback, whomever it may be, take a knee to finish off a game.


In all essence, it was an ugly game, but a beautiful one to any Carolina Panthers fan.   There was a different atmosphere surrounding this team yesterday, and it actually began with the player introductions.  One by one they came out of the smoking tunnel, shimmying, dancing, jigging, etc…  And the Ericsson Stadium crowd roared (no pun intended) with approval.  One other notable first: When was the last time you saw the Panthers defensive coordinator riding the shoulder of his 1st round draft pick???  It became a first yesterday.

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