The last time the Panthers played on national television, they were coming off a home win against New Orleans, their fans were excited and the defending Super Bowl champs were in town.
Then 36-7 happened.
The Panthers allowed the New York Giants to score a touchdown on their opening possession and fell behind 23-0, sending the home fans scurrying for the exits early in the fourth quarter and prompting many of those watching the NFL Network broadcast at home to change the channel.
The loss was the first of five in a row for the Panthers and proved they weren’t ready for prime time, let alone the Super Bowl, as center Ryan Kalil had pledged in the preseason.
Two months later, the Panthers (2-8) get a shot at redemption in a “Monday Night Football” matchup against Philadelphia (3-7) that looked promising when the NFL’s TV schedule was announced. That was before both teams went on losing skids to put their head coach’s job in jeopardy, and when it was assumed Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy would be playing.
Now, in the words of Panthers wideout Steve Smith, it’s more like “the battle of the bads.”
But in front of a national audience, it’s at least an opportunity for the Panthers to save face after the Thursday night dud against the Giants in Week 3.
“It was (our) only game on TV. It’s not like we have a couple,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. “It’s a game we were off, got swacked, and have to make up for it. I guess this is redeeming time.”
The Panthers have won just once since getting blown out by the Giants. Former general manager Marty Hurney pointed to the Giants’ loss as part of the reason he was fired a few weeks later. Coach Ron Rivera’s future with the club is also in doubt.
Rivera said the Panthers did not handle their first prime-time game well.
“One of the things we talked about after we came together following the loss was that we did not handle those circumstances very well,” Rivera said this week. “If you want to learn from somebody, learn from the Giants and how they handled it, their business-like approach. They’ve been on the big stage, and it was a big stage for us and we did not handle the situation and circumstances well. We missed an opportunity.”
The Panthers face an Eagles’ team that is floundering, as well. Philadelphia has lost six in a row – its longest losing streak under embattled coach Andy Reid, whose 14th season in Philly could be his last.
Plus, the Eagles are expected to be without Vick and McCoy, both of whom are recovering from concussions. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles, expected to make his second career start, was sacked four times and intercepted twice in last week’s 31-6 loss to Washington.
Defensive end Charles Johnson said the Panthers want to prove a point Monday – regardless of who plays quarterback for the Eagles.
“Hopefully, we can show up and show out. When the lights come on, you should play your butt off. The whole world’s watching, so just leave it all out on the line,” Johnson said. “We definitely have to show the world what Carolina Panthers defense is about. Hopefully, we can do that and come out with a W.”
The Panthers, 5-4 all-time on “Monday Night Football,” haven’t played on a Monday night since a 21-7 loss at Dallas in 2009. They are 10-16 overall in prime-time games.
The Eagles are 52-39 all-time in prime time.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, is looking forward to the spotlight.
“Playing football for as long as a lot of guys have been playing, ‘Monday Night Football,’ the song just plays in everyone’s head when you talk about the NFL,” Newton said. “Prime-time game, everyone’s going to be watching. It’s the iconic stage that everyone would like to be on. I think it’s going to bring the best out of a lot of players.”
Hardy said he is one of them.
“I love showtime. I’m going to act a fool and do my thing – what I do when I’m not on TV, when I’m at home by myself. Be me,” Hardy said. “Have a good time and hopefully get a crap-load of sacks and break some records.”