Continuing with the Carolina Panthers’ top 25 best moments, our No. 23 entry examines the Panthers’ 2014 season where the team reclaimed the NFC South Championship.
If you haven’t already seen it, feel free to read up on our previous entry in the Carolina Panthers Top 25 Moments: John Kasay Retires as All-Time Scoring Leader.
Heading into 2014
The Panthers entered into the 2014-15 season as the reigning champions of the NFC South, finishing 2013 with a 12-4 regular season record. Despite falling short against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round, the Queen City’s football team felt confident heading into the next year.
Kelvin Benjamin entered the fold after getting selected No. 28 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, and the Florida State product looked to be a solid weapon for Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton along with the other key cogs in the offense: the reliable tight end Greg Olsen and the stalwart running back Jonathan Stewart. All of that added with the impermeable defense led by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive end Greg Hardy, and cornerback Josh Norman led fans to believe that the Panthers could predictably replicate its success from the year before.
The Season Itself
The romanticized ideal year for Carolina was, in reality, akin to the infamous Miracle on the Hudson: something incredibly disastrous that actually had a happy ending.
First, the Panthers entered Week One against Tampa Bay without Hardy and Newton as the defensive end was exempt from competition due to domestic abuse allegations while the star quarterback had been injured in the preseason. The Panthers won that game with Derek Anderson behind center, and Newton returned the next week against Detroit.
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After starting the year with a 3-2 record, the Panthers saw its fortunes reversed as Carolina went on a seven-game winless streak thereafter. Entering Week 14 with a 3-8-1 mark and both New Orleans and Atlanta atop the division at 5-7 each, the Cardiac Cats downed all four of its last regular season foes, including all three NFC South competitors. The winning streak down the stretch is especially impressive considering Newton became injured due to an automobile accident prior to the Week 15 game, giving Anderson the start against the Buccaneers yet again. The regular season culminated with the Panthers earning the 34-3 victory on the road in Atlanta in Week 17. Had the Falcons won, Atlanta owned the tiebreaker over the Saints and would have claimed the divisional crown. However, Carolina negated the Birds’ home field advantage to become the NFC South’s first back-to-back division winner.
With the 7-8-1 record, Carolina became the second team in NFL history to win its division despite holding a mark below .500, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks. Carolina continued its winning ways in the playoffs as the No. 4-seed with an 11-point win over fifth-seeded Arizona in the Wild Card Round. However, the Cats’ chances at its second Super Bowl appearance were dashed at the hands of the eventual NFC Champion, Seattle.
What It Meant for the Panthers
To say the 2014-15 Carolina Panthers season was a rocky one would be an enormous understatement. The Queen City’s resident football team took a hard tumble in the heart of its schedule, but the Panthers took advantage of a relatively lackluster division to turn their year around and find themselves in the playoffs yet again.
Looking back, this season would be a forgotten campaign considering what lay ahead, but the groundwork for what came next was cemented in the heart of Uptown Charlotte. Those greener pastures would come the next year, and it just may show up later on in our Top 25.