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News » Panthers' must-win Monday


Panthers' must-win Monday


Panthers' must-win Monday
CHARLOTTE -- Let's state the importance of the Carolina Panthers' next game -- against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on "Monday Night Football" -- very simply.


First of all, it's the most significant regular-season home game the Panthers have ever played. And if they don't win it, they're not going to win the NFC South.

That's my opinion, not a mathematical fact. Here's why I believe it.

Carolina and Tampa Bay have 9-3 records. A Tampa Bay win puts the Bucs at 10-3 compared to Carolina's 9-4, but the Bucs would hold the tiebreaker edge. Carolina would basically be two games down to Tampa Bay with three to play.

Factor in the Bucs' soft closing schedule, you can kiss a home playoff game goodbye in that scenario. With a loss Monday, a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs would be the best Carolina could do.

If the Panthers do win Monday night, they still might not win the South. But they'll have a much better shot not only at the division title but the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs (the New York Giants are a near-certainty for No. 1).

"People remember what you do in December," Panthers coach John Fox likes to say.

So is this the most important game the Panthers have ever played in Charlotte? Not quite. In my mind, it would still trail Carolina's two home playoff games against the Dallas Cowboys in 1996 and 2003. After all, the playoffs are truly do-or-die. This isn't.

But no regular-season game the Panthers have ever played can top it. So it's fitting that "Monday Night Football" will be here to lend some glitz to the proceedings. The gleam off Tony Kornheiser's bald head, the way Bank of America Stadium glows under the lights, the fact that Tampa Bay creamed Carolina 27-3 in their first meeting -- all of that adds some sheen.

It's very rare that Panther players start talking about their next opponent right after they finish a game, particularly if they just won that game in dramatic fashion. But that's exactly what they were doing in Green Bay moments after that 35-31 victory.

"We get to play Tampa Bay Monday night and their defense is as solid as any in the NFL," running back DeAngelo Williams said.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme said, "It's a great rivalry and a team I have a great deal of respect for. And it is set up perfectly."

That's true. "Monday Night Football" doesn't get the flex-scheduling benefit that the Sunday night NFL game does. So it occasionally gets stuck with a dog like the Jacksonville vs. Houston game it had Monday -- two 4-7 teams headed straight to nowhere. That's why MNF -- as well as NFL fans around America -- will appreciate a jewel like this one.

"Everyone's fighting to get into the same 12-team tournament," Fox said, referring to the playoffs. "Once you get in that, it's whoever gets hot."

Both these teams have been relatively hot most of this season. This game will determine whose December is most likely to get doused.

MOMENTOUS HOME GAMES

Charlotte Observer sports columnist Scott Fowler picks the five most significant home games in the Carolina Panthers' 14-season history:

1. DALLAS, JAN. 4, 1997: It's never as good as the first time. Carolina's first-ever home playoff game was a 26-17 win over a Dallas team that included the fab four of Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

2. DALLAS, JAN. 3, 2004: The Panthers began their run to the Super Bowl with a 29-10 whipping of the Cowboys; Steve Smith set the tone with a 70-yard reception on Panthers' first pass.

3. TAMPA BAY: Coming this Monday night, a December home game under the lights, with two 9-3 teams and bitter rivals fighting for NFC South superiority. Extremely significant no matter how it turns out.

4. PITTSBURGH, DEC. 22, 1996: Chad Cota's end-zone interception -- which was hard to see from any vantage point -- clinches 12-4 season and Carolina's first division title.

5. NEW ORLEANS, JAN. 2, 2005: Panthers would have made playoffs with a win after 1-7 start to season but stunk it up in a 21-18 loss to the Saints.



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 3, 2008

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