With hometown wrestling legend Ric Flair recently announcing he left his heart in San Francisco, it might be time for the Carolina Panthers to adopt a new rallying cry. Flair (whose real name is Richard Fliehr) has apparently been a closet 49ers fan this whole time, and "his" team's recent success inspired him to announce his desire to see San Francisco win it all, even adopting his well-known wrestling persona to pump them up ahead of the Green Bay game by encouraging them to be "limousine-ridin' and high flyin'..." all the way to the Superbowl. Many times we've seen (or heard) Panther players celebrate a win in their lockerroom by calling for, "Two claps and a Nature Boy...whooo!" While that's all well and good, it may be time to set aside that good-"natured" acclamation for something new.
Beyond the motivation to outplay and outlast Flair's newly-favored team, the Panthers should have further bulletin board material for their game on Sunday in the form of Colin Kaepernick's post-game interview after defeating the Packers. He was asked about the opportunity for avenging themselves on both the Panthers and the Seahawks (in Seattle), all but indicating that the media already expects the NFC South to completely crumble so the Niners can face off with their division rival again. Apparently, that makes for a better story. In his answer, Kaepernick acknowledged he believed San Francisco "owed us one," giving little credit to the play of the Panthers in beating them 10-9 on the road at Candlestick, and basically explaining their loss as a letdown on the Niners' part moreso than any kind of excellent play from us.
If I'm Sean McDermott, I'm using this material to motivate our defense to raise their play even further. From Flair to Kaepernick to the sports media, it seems everyone needs a reminder of just what these Panthers can do. San Francisco never scored a touchdown on Monsterz, Inc. We sacked Kaepernick six times. We held them to just 10 first downs and a third down conversion rate of 15% while containing Kaepernick to 16 yards on 4 rushing attempts and a measely 46 yards of net passing. San Francisco proponents are quick to point out Michael Crabtree's absence and Vernon Davis' early concussion helped create that outcome. Thus, all the more reason for the Panthers to go out and do it again just to prove this defense once more to all the doubters and naysayers.
In the meantime, Carolina's detractors are also quick to point out the decline in offensive output from the Panthers over their last few games. San Francisco fans believe Aldon Smith will become a difference maker for them now that the Niners have regained their form. Yet, these pundits have also failed to recognize some of Carolina's struggles on offense resulted from the absence of Steve Smith due to his PCL sprain. Smitty has already announced on Instagram that he's running pain-free now and expects to play. We have the same situation in place for Jonathan Stewart, a fresh, dominating RB returning from an MCL sprain. And we've had an extra bye week to rest everyone else while San Fran is still thawing out from the bruising cold of Lambeau field where Aaron Rodgers gave them all they could handle in a slug-fest.
Bottom line, there's one more motivational element at play for the Panthers this coming weekend...and that's the chance to finally create some noise in the playoffs and make a run at the Superbowl. Some may downplay the importance or likelihood of that, but this team is both young and hungry. The defense is solid. So are the special teams. And the offense has proven it can play ball control (especially if Cam is turned loose to run), while mixing in explosive, clutch plays when they need them. They're also battle-tested. They've shown they can come from behind. And those are the exact qualities you want in a Superbowl contender. So, here's to hoping the Panthers seize this opportunity. Give Rivera the ultimate validation as Coach of the Year. Showcase our defense as the best in the league with what we do in the playoffs, starting right now. Get a ring for Smitty! Claw our way through the NFC West. And gimme two claps and a Superbowl!
My two cents,