ROSINSKI:Series with Falcons has been strange

With the Falcons coming to Bank of American Stadium Sunday I thought I might detail some of the wild and wacky happenings in the I-85 rivalry that started in the first regular season game for the Panthers back in 1995 at the Georgia Dome.

First, Carolina scored on its opening drive culminating with a Frank Reich to Pete Metezellars TD pass. Atlanta fumbled the ensuing kickoff; the Panthers recovered, and got a field goal out of it. WOW! 10-0 Carolina in the first quarter. The Falcons would rally and have the lead in the fourth quarter when the Panthers scored late and an extra point would tie the game. Dom Capers the teams head coach decided to go for two points. I think they would have converted but an offensive lineman flinched before the snap and the five yard penalty changed Capers decision and the Panthers tied it with an extra point kick. The Falcons would end up winning in overtime.

The second meeting in '95 came in December at Clemson and once again the teams exchanged scores in a tight game that was decided when Kerry Collins threw a bomb to Willie Green who outraced the Falcons secondary for the winning TD. One side note to that game: The Falcons needed a win to clinch a playoff spot. Since the powerful 49ers were coming to Atlanta for the regular season finale many figured they were finished. That included Falcons linebacker Cornelius Bennett. He showed up for that 49ers game with a U-Haul attached to his car. Bennett figured like many others the Falcons would lose to San Francisco and their season would be over and he could leave town. The Falcons won the game, made the playoffs and Bennett had to unpack.

In 1996 the Falcons came to Charlotte to open the new stadium in the regular season's first game. Remember, the Falcons were coming off that playoff trip in'95. The Panthers had added Kevin Greene and Eric Davis to the defense and Wesley Walls to the offense and steamrolled Atlanta 29-6 The Panthers started 3-0 that year but arrived for the rematch at the Georgia Dome with a 5-3 mark. The Panthers lost that day 20-17 leading to a players only meeting the following week. Players let each other have it in a verbal sparring match that got pretty heated. It must have worked because the team would never lose again that season until the NFC title game in Green Bay.

The Panthers took both games from the Falcons in '97 but in 1998 the series took a sorry turn for Dom Capers and his staff. Coming off a 7-9 campaign the year before the Panthers were hoping for a good start to the season when Atlanta came calling for the opener. Carolina lost 19-14 prompting another meeting, this time called by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. He did not like what he saw from his club that day and let everyone know about. He knew trouble was looming and he was right. The Panthers were 0-3 when they went to Atlanta for the rematch. The Panthers were crushed 51-23 and that turned out to be Kerry Collins last game in a Carolina uniform. After that loss he told Dom Capers his heart was not in the game anymore. Collins was eventually released as the team went with Steve Beuerlein at quarterback the rest of the way. The team lost its first seven that year, finished 4-12 and when the season was over, so was Dom Capers reign as Head Coach. So as you can see in those early years there was always something interesting happening when the Panthers and Falcons got together. After losses to Atlanta there were two team meetings and one quarterback quitting. I guess things haven't changed much. Remember where Jake Delhomme was lost for the season with an arm injury last year? That's right, Atlanta. I skipped the Michael Vick years but why get depressed.

The I-85 rivalry continues Sunday so I guess we can all hold our breath.

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