Sorensen: Panthers overcome Redskins, expectations for long-awaited victory

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comNovember 4, 2012 

— Washington gained seven more yards than Carolina, picked up six more first downs and held the ball 10 minutes and 40 seconds longer.

The Panthers won anyway. They won because they made fewer mistakes and more big plays. Despite the loud crowd at FedEx Field, they didn’t allow themselves to come undone.

Although neither team turned the ball over, the Redskins collected mistakes. They committed 13 penalties for 97 costly yards, the Panthers seven for 60.

Carolina, which was so mistake-prone in so many losses, played as if it was on a business trip. The theme was simple: Play hard, play smart and leave the field with a victory. The Panthers won 21-13.

Although Carolina hadn’t won in seven weeks, players reacted as if they expected this. As Ron Rivera spoke in one room, his players celebrated across the hall and behind closed doors in another. Voices carried. They were more calm than crazy.

“Relief,” says Panthers receiver Steve Smith.” It was relief. You know, everybody can talk about they (the Panthers) did this, they didn’t do this, they didn’t do that. It doesn’t matter. We got the win.”

The Panthers last won Sept. 16 in Charlotte against New Orleans. They had lost five straight, the last four of which they could have or should have won.

So when the Redskins kicked a field goal, the only points of the third quarter, to cut Carolina’s lead to 14-6, there was a sense of foreshadowing and foreboding and here they go again.

“If only there was no fourth quarter,” one fan texted.

And then, on the Panthers’ first offensive play of the final quarter, on first and 10 from their 9, Cam Newton threw deep left for Armanti Edwards. And suddenly the Panthers weren’t in suburban Washington. They were in Boone. And they weren’t playing the Redskins. They were playing Delaware or Georgia Southern or Western Carolina.

Edwards, who led Appalachian State to two national championships, sprinted down the left side, picked up a devastating block from Smith and took the ball 82 yards to the Washington 9. After a run and a penalty (again on the home team) Newton scored.

But foreboding and foreshadowing are ingrained, failure expected. The Redskins scored their first touchdown with 2:54 remaining and Carolina’s lead was down to 21-13.

And then Smith caught the onside kick, the Panthers ran three times into the line and when the Redskins got the ball they were on their 17 with no timeouts and 17 seconds remaining.

What would happen?

What happened is what should have happened. Washington ran one play and quietly expired.

“We kept saying it (a victory) would come and come and if you start seeing it you can start believing it,” says tackle Jordan Gross. He quickly adds: “We have to finish games and win a lot cleaner.”

Carolina is 2-6 with half a season to play.

Now what?

“Guys know that we’ve still got a long road,” says long snapper J.J. Jansen. “We’ve dug ourselves a pretty big hole. But we still have dreams of going to the playoffs.”

Jansen was an accounting major at Notre Dame so he understands numbers and probability. His Fighting Irish are undefeated and his Panthers finally scored more points than their opponent. So why not believe?

What I believe is that if the Panthers have the talent to lose close games they have the talent to win them. They have a compelling game at home next Sunday against Denver. John Fox, who coached the Panthers nine seasons, will bring his Broncos to Charlotte. They’ve won three straight by an average of 13 points, and two of them were on the road.

The Panthers have lost games they should have won.

Beating a team they aren’t supposed to would be a fine way to begin the second half of the season and the first game of the rest of their lives.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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