This is a joyous time of year around the NFL. No one has lost a real game for seven months. Hope sprouts around America.
But if you’re a Carolina fan, you know what too often has happened next. The Panthers – who will host Seattle on Sunday at 1 p.m. – as a whole have been horrible on opening day. They have gone 6-12 in their 18 previous season openers. They rank dead last among the 32 NFL teams in opening-day winning percentage.
There have been many Panthers Sundays in September that set up almost exactly like the one we’re about to see – a high-profile home game against a difficult opponent. Too many times, the Panthers have fallen flat on their helmets in such games. They have lost their past four opening-day games in a row.
Certainly, you can recover from a bad opening day. The problem is the Panthers usually don’t.
I’m not going to load this column up with statistics, but here’s an important one. When the Panthers have won their opening game, they have made the playoffs 50percent of the time (three out of six). When they have lost it, they have made the postseason only 8percent of the time (one out of 12).
With that in mind, here’s my list of the three best and three worst season openers in Carolina history.
1. 2003 – Down 17-0 in the third quarter, the Panthers rally at home behind reserve quarterback Jake Delhomme. On fourth-and-11 from the Jacksonville 12, Delhomme throws a touchdown pass to a leaping Ricky Proehl and Carolina wins 24-23. The Panthers go on to make the Super Bowl.
2. 2008 – In San Diego, Delhomme threads a 14-yard strike to tight end Dante Rosario on the final play of the game. Carolina wins 26-24 and goes on to a 12-4 regular season and the last playoff berth the team has captured.
3. 1996 – Paced by dominating linebackers Lamar Lathon and Kevin Greene, the Panthers destroy Atlanta at home 29-6. The margin remains the largest ever in a Panthers opening-day win and sent the team blazing toward the NFC championship game.
1. 2009 – “Bad Jake” shows up, to the home crowd’s dismay. Philadelphia scores 28 points in the second quarter and cruises to a 38-10 victory. Delhomme ends up throwing for only 73 yards and four interceptions, which closely mimicked his terrible playoff-game performance against Arizona at the end of the previous season that after this game no longer could be considered a one-time fluke.
2. 2004 – On “Monday Night Football” in Charlotte, the Panthers lay a huge egg coming off their Super Bowl season. Green Bay is up 24-7 in the third quarter and ends up winning 24-14 as the Panthers quickly reveal themselves as a team that won’t be able to follow up the previous season’s success. To make matters worse, Steve Smith breaks his leg and misses the rest of the season.
3. 2012 – With high hopes for Cam Newton’s second year, the Panthers go down to Tampa and get beaten by a mediocre Bucs team 16-10. Tampa Bay never trails and leads 13-0 at halftime. Newton throws for 303 yards but can only get the Panthers into the end zone once.
The bottom line is that for the Panthers, winning on opening day has been very significant with only one exception – when Carolina won on opening day in Minnesota in 2001 and then lost 15 in a row.
When starting 0-1, Carolina has made the playoffs only once. That was in 2005.
You want one bit of good news? Seattle isn’t very good on opening day, either. The Seahawks rank 30th out of 32 in winning percentage, ahead of only New Orleans and the Panthers.
Don’t get me wrong. Sunday isn’t a “must-win” – that term is overused and definitely not true for any season opener.
For Panthers fans, Sunday will be the day the 2013 syllabus gets passed out – an outline of most of what they are in for the rest of this season.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler