Panthers 14, Eagles 3
We’re goin’ to the Super Bowl, bay-bee!!
It was an excellent overall effort, the kind of game this team has been capable of all year.
The defense kept McNabb unsteady — he wasn’t looking all that hot even before he got hurt — and the offense got in when it needed to. I’d been afraid that the game might turn on how well kicker John Kasay could negotiate the swirling winds in the end zones on field-goal attempts, but it didn’t. And since Kasay missed three attempts in the game against the Eagles earlier this year, I’m sure he was just as happy not to have to be The Man tonight.
Carolina’s secondary was the team’s biggest question mark at the beginning of the season, and it has been unfairly maligned all year. One would have thought that the game corners Terry Cousin and Reggie Howard had last year against New Orleans would have silenced the doubters, but no. But Mike Minter is one of the league’s better strong safeties, a ferocious hitter. Deon Grant is developing into an outstanding free safety. And rookie Ricky Manning Jr., who stepped in at corner after Howard got hurt, has turned into a huge playmaker, with 3 picks tonight to go with the game-saving one he had against the Rams last week. The corners also exposed the weaknesses of the Eagles’ receivers, playing a very physical game against them at the line that kept them from getting position and getting open.
The Panthers’ two touchdown plays were spectacular. In the first, Delhomme, under pressure, lofted one into double coverage in the end zone, in effect, saying to wideout Muhsin Muhammad, “Moose, I’ve done all I can do — I’m putting it up and you’re going to have to jump for it.” And Moose did, and he came down with it.
The second play will go into the books as a 1-yard touchdown run by DeShaun Foster, but that simple notation doesn’t begin to describe Foster’s performance. It might have been the greatest 1-yard touchdown run in the history of the league. He took the toss around right end and got met by Eagles linebacker Mark Simoneau. He knocked Simoneau over, then ran into another linebacker, Nate Wayne, against whom he pushed until he was close enough to stick the ball out over the goal line and break the plane. He got that TD on sheer will, and the play marks Foster’s emergence as a big-time running back.
It’ll be an interesting Super Bowl. The Pats won it just two years ago, mostly with the same team they have now. Most of the Panthers have never even been; only two Panthers were with the team the last time it went to the playoffs. But these teams are very much alike: Both of them bear out the old adage that offense might win games but defense wins Super Bowls, and both tend to beat up opponents’ wideouts. Fox’s Jimmy Johnson gives the edge to the Patriots in every area except special teams, but the Panthers’ defensive talent and defensive play calling from Mike Trgovac might make the difference; I only counted two plays tonight on which the Panthers’ D was caught completely flat-footed.
Before the Panthers began play in 1995, team owner Jerry Richardson promised a Super Bowl victory to Charlotte within 10 years. Jerry ain’t getting any younger and already has had to fight prostate cancer, so if the Panthers keep his promise a year early I suspect that neither he nor I will mind.