Panthers Ron Rivera: New England game a measuring stick for Panthers
Mention the New England Patriots to any NFL fan and they will have an opinion. Headlined by their Bill Belichick-Tom Brady killer combo for the past two decades, the Patriots have been too good for too long to be ignored.
Mention them to a Carolina Panthers fan and the feelings are mixed. Carolina lost a thrilling Super Bowl to the Patriots 15 years ago, but the Panthers also have had some exceptional moments against New England.
For teams that aren’t in the same division or conference, these two meet up a lot. Thursday night’s preseason game at New England will be the fifth time in the past six years the Panthers and Patriots have played an exhibition against each other.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera likes the frequent matchups.
“They’re the gold standard,” Rivera said of the Patriots. “They’ve been the gold standard for quite some time. ... And it really is a good measuring stick as to who we can be as a football team.”
As the teams prepare to play again in the “dress rehearsal” game of the NFL exhibition season, I give you the eight most significant things that have ever happened in the Panthers-Patriots rivalry. The years listed below refer to the NFL season when the moment occurred. The events are listed in chronological order.
Kasay’s kick (1995)
The first Panthers’ road win came in Carolina’s eighth game ever, when John Kasay won the contest in overtime, 20-17, with a 29-yard field goal. The quarterbacks? Kerry Collins and Drew Bledsoe.
The Seifert Bowl (2001)
The last game of the forgettable George Seifert era came at home against New England. The Pats pummeled Carolina, 38-6, before more than 50,000 empty seats in Charlotte. Carolina started the season 1-0 before losing the final 15 games of the season; New England went on to win its first Super Bowl. Now 42, Brady was only 24 at the time.
The Super Bowl (2003)
Twenty players from that 1-15 Carolina season still remained on the roster when Carolina challenged New England in the 38th Super Bowl. The Panthers scored touchdowns the last three times they had the ball — all on Jake Delhomme touchdown passes — and it still wasn’t enough. Brady led a last-second field-goal drive for a 32-29 New England win as he started to cement his reputation as the best Super Bowl quarterback ever.
A little redemption (2005)
Winning a regular-season game against New England and Brady two seasons later hardly made up for a Super Bowl loss, but the 27-17 victory did provide the first real indication that the 2005 Panthers were a strong team. Carolina finished 11-5 that season and won two playoff games.
Immaculate Perception (2013)
OK, it was probably pass interference.
In fact, it was originally called as pass interference, as Luke Kuechly clearly gave Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski a bear hug in the end zone on the game’s final play before the ball ever got there. But the officials huddled and decided the ball — which Brady had underthrown and was intercepted — wasn’t catchable. So the Panthers won on Monday Night Football, 24-20, in a game that some call “Robbed Gronkowski” and that many Panthers fans still believe remains among the best — and loudest — home victories ever.
LaFell’s quote (2014)
There has never been a ton of overlap between New England and Carolina in terms of personnel, but Belichick did sign former Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell as a free agent before the 2014 season.
LaFell soon told a reporter that the Patriots “work a little harder” than the Panthers in the offseason, which ruffled feathers in Charlotte. LaFell had his best career year with New England (74 catches, 953 yards) in 2014, but the Patriots grew tired of his drops and reduced production in 2015 and released him after the season.
Newton’s rib (2014)
Look no further than this game to bolster my recent argument that playing Newton a single snap in the preseason is not worth the risk at this point in his career.
In a 2014 preseason game against New England, Newton started scrambling and then botched an attempted slide. He instead fell face-first to the ground and took a knee directly to his back, which caused a hairline rib fracture that made him miss the regular-season opener. (You may also remember that Newton landed on his head after a scramble and a tackle — but missed only four plays — in last year’s New England preseason game.)
Gano’s kick (2017)
The last time the two teams played in the regular season produced another beauty of a game, which Carolina won, 33-30, on a 48-yard Graham Gano field goal on the final play. Newton outdueled Brady, throwing for three TDs and running for a fourth.