When the Carolina Panthers entered Bank of America Stadium, they were in their house. They were preparing to dominate another opponent that had wandered into the den of destruction. The Green Bay Packers would be that victim Sunday afternoon. It's time to stop making excuses and recognize the Panthers as the team to beat in the NFC. The road to Super Bowl L runs directly through Carolina.
The Panthers powered past the Packers 37-29, and didn't look back. On a short week, the Black and Blue came out inspired and ready to do battle with one of the league's best. Aaron Rodgers had just been beaten by the Broncos and would be looking to avenge that loss. He was held to 77 yards passing and had a very uncharacteristic 69.7 passer rating.
The Panthers would be facing the anger of a Green Bay defense had its pride snatched away on Sunday Night Football. Julius Peppers would be coming back to the place that allowed him to create his legend. The game had taken on different meanings for both the Panthers and the Packers. Both teams had high expectations going into the struggle.
Even when the Panthers were 4-0, there were critics that claimed the schedule was soft. The reasoning submitted was simple. The Panthers would finally come back to earth when they faced the powerhouse part of the war. Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Green Bay would put a stop to this "undefeated" nonsense and expose the Panthers as posers.
The critics were wrong, as usual. The Panthers sit alone atop the NFC South at 8-0, and have established themselves as legitimate contenders in the race for a Lombardi trophy -- the one named after the Green Bay Packers' coach. The team the Panthers took to the woodshed Sunday afternoon.
Yes, it's safe to say the road to Super Bowl L must run through the home of the Panthers. There are still analysts that want to point out the mistakes and near misses, but that's what cements the character of a championship team. The ability to snatch victory from defeat is not a flaw. It's something to be embraced. That same ability has guided the Panthers to an undefeated record.
It's time to stop making excuses about Carolina's opponents not showing up or bringing their "A" game. The Panthers are causing fear across the line of scrimmage. The defense is intimidating, and so is the big arm of a healthy Cam Newton.
Aaron Rodgers was the latest to fall under the spell of panic and alarm. As reported by ESPN, Rodgers was disgusted over his feelings but admitted to feeling the emotion.
"We had an opportunity for a pitch-and-catch touchdown, and I got scared by something. I can't explain. It was a mistake for me, and something I'll think about on the ride home. I don't know who was in my face; all I know is I had Randall wide open for a touchdown."When your opponent admits to fear, that's the epitome of intimidation.
According to CBS Sports, the Panthers have won their last 12 regular-season games dating back to 2014. The last loss was November 30, 2014, against the Vikings. The lone loss over that stretch was a 31-17 playoff loss to the Seahawks in Seattle. The Panthers exorcised that demon with a Week 6 comeback surprise.
The Carolina Panthers are a team built to win. They don't do it with finesse or trickery. They come at you with massive bodies and determination. They dare you to win. Eventually, the rest of the league will realize what just happened during the Panthers' winning streak. They casually defeated three of the four championship game contenders. The Panthers keep pounding and keep winning.
It's time to realize the Panthers are for real. They have become the team to beat -- in the NFC -- and an obstacle on the path to the Super Bowl.
[Photo by Grant Halverson / Getty Images]