If you suggested a month ago that the week three match up between Carolina and Atlanta was a 'must win' game, you probably would have been laughed at. Now the concept seems absolute as the 1-2 Panthers desperately need to keep in step with the Atlanta Falcons if they have any hope of reaching the playoffs, let alone their lofty guarantee of Superbowl.
They're not even close to being mathematically eliminated, and let's face it– most fans pegged the Panthers for a 1-2 start (though with losses to New Orleans and New York, not Tampa), but it's the way Carolina has lost their two games that is alarming. Pair this with their only win coming over a now-proven dud, and it understandable why malaise has set in.
Some are pointing back to 2010, but this same embarrasment and uneasiness was a lot more recent than that, we've just forgotten. In early November, 2011 the Carolina Panthers were 2-6, and there way a quiet undercurrent that despite Cam Newton's breakout season, that we could be seeing yet another 2-14 season from the organization. Optimism was high heading into a game against the Tennessee Titans at home. Coming off a bye week it was thought the vaunted offense would snap the necks of the Titans, and take the Panthers over their hump to their third win.
On that Sunday the Panthers lost 30-3, and the roof caved in.
Murmurs about whether Cam Newton was all flash and no substance abounded, concern about the coaching staff, talent evaluation, and leadership were all brought into question; fear, for the first time in a while, fear became the modus operandi of fans, even if they didn't want to admit it. There was legitimate concern that for all the suffering, all the cap-cutting, and even with a no.1 overall pick the Panthers were a doomed organization.
Nobody picked the Carolina Panthers to beat the vaunted Detroit Lions, nor should they. After all, the Lions were cruising on the year and the Panthers were floundering. However, what Carolina did manage to do was play the game close. They lost by 14 pts, but were competitive the whole game. Following this up with back-to-back wins, and another competitive game against Atlanta allayed fears, and satiated the fan base.
So the Panthers sit at 1-2. Maybe this isn't a 'must win' game, but it's a 'must compete'. Should the Panthers get blown out by 20+ pts again it will break the fragile back of fans, and further sink the public perception of the Panthers. This week we'll see how close they can keep the game, and here on Cat Scratch Reader we'll look at how Carolina achieves this.