Any room left on the Carolina Panthers bandwagon?
NFL teams don’t often win conference championship games by 34 point margins. In the process of their 49-15 demolition, the Panthers made a fine Arizona Cardinals team look absolutely Falconian.
Wait, that’s not fair. Hard as it is to fathom--and my brain sputters every time it confronts this notion – the Blank Men remain the only outfit to beat Carolina this season.
Perhaps it was the incredible nature of that loss, so stunning Carolina, that the Panthers re-focused with renewed intensity and vigor. Perhaps that’s what has enabled Carolina to waltz through the playoffs looking as unbeatable as Alabama in Athens.
Recall that just a week ago Carolina ended Seattle’s attempt to make a third straight Super Bowl appearance, in equally awesome fashion. They led, 14-0, barely three minutes into the game. By halftime, it was 31-0. And though the Seahawks spirited play closed the final gap to 31-24, the outcome was never seriously in doubt.
Taking those two performances together, it’s virtually impossible to imagine a scenario where poor, old Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos have a ghost of a chance in Super Bowl 50.
Apparently there’s still some Manning Mystique out there, along with some faith in Wade Phillips’ defense. The Panthers opened as only a 4.5-point favorite. That’s a line many odds players no doubt found enticing.
But as Lee Corso would caution, “Not so fast, my friends.”
We opened by noting the rare nature of the Panthers’ 34-point victory margin. During the Super Bowl Era, only four teams (out of 100) have won a conference championship game by at least 34 points.
Three of the four lost the Super Bowl.
The lone exception occurred just a year ago. The Patriots destroyed the Colts, 45-7, in the AFC Championship game, and went on to beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, 28-24.
Of course, in the end, it took a bone-headed play call on the goal line by the Seahawks, and a fabulous play by Malcolm Butler with an interception. Still, the Patriots reversed the course of history with their win.
Prior to that, we have to go back to the 2000 season to find such a slaughter. That year, the Giants edged the Vikings, 41-0. Kerry Collins spent the afternoon throwing for 381 yards and five touchdowns. It took the Giants four plays to score, and after 30 minutes it was 34-0. The Giant defense forced five turnovers, and held the Vikings to 114 yards. Total.
Two weeks later, the indomitable G-Men reversed roles, losing to the Ravens, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV. They amassed 152 yards of offense. Total. All 16 possessions ended with a punt or interception. Except the last one. Time expired. Mercifully.
Their lone touchdown came on a kickoff return, and they surrendered a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff return!
Then we have to fall back 10 more seasons, to 1990, when Buffalo trimmed the Los Angeles (ironically) Raiders, 51-3. Behind quarterback Jim Kelly and their novel no-huddle offense, Buffalo led, 21-3 after the first quarter. At the half it was 41-3. The offense piled up 502 yards. The defense forced seven turnovers and held Marcus Allen to 26 yards on 10 carries.
A week later, Super Bowl XXV famously ended “wide right” as Scott Norwood’s missed field goal enabled the Giants to escape with a 20-19 win. The Giants slowed the no-huddle by controlling the ball for 40:33. And they did it with their back-up quarterback, Jeff Hostetler.
The Bills never did figure out how to win a Super Bowl. They lost the next three by a combined score of 119-54.
Our final member of the Slaughterhouse Four takes us way back, to 1968, a time before the AFC and NFC even existed. The participants in the first four Super Bowls were the champions of the NFL and the AFL. The rival leagues wouldn’t fully merge until the 1970 season.
The Baltimore Colts emerged as champions of the NFL by defeating the Browns, 34-0. That avenged their only loss of the season, and sent Don Shula’s team into Super Bowl III with a 15-1 record.
The Colts defense held the Browns to 173 yards. The Browns crossed midfield twice. Colts halfback Tom Matte scored three touchdowns. One of them was captured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the declaration, “Those Irresistible Colts.”
Two weeks later, the Colts proved totally resistible. In perhaps the most famous Super Bowl of all, certainly the most significant, the upstart AFL-champion Jets beat the Colts, 16-7.
The game wasn’t that close. The Colts scored with 3:19 left to play. The Jets forced five turnovers, and held the ball for 36:10. And Joe Namath made good on his seemingly outrageous guarantee of a victory.
So before you leap onto that Carolina bandwagon, remember: they still have to be awesome for 60 more minutes. History tells us that’ll be difficult to do.