Cautious optimism is in the air today here in Charlotte as Carolina Panthers fans, excited off of last week’s impressive-even-in-a-loss showing by rookie QB Cam Newton, in their first regular season home game of the NFL 2011-2012 season, take on defending Super Bowl champs Green Bay on a Sunday afternoon that so far feels more like a mid-October day than a late summer day. The Packers, of course, are coming off an impressive victory against the New Orleans Saints from Thursday before last.
Charlotte Observer sports columnist Scott Fowler writes today that the combined energy of Newton alongside Panthers WR Steve Smith is giving both the team and Panthers fans “something to build on”:
Carolina fans walking into the stadium toward the end of last season appeared resigned, as if they were about to stand in line at the DMV. The ones entering today will have a bounce in their step.
Newton and Smith made sure of that last week, when Newton threw for a startling 422 yards against Arizona – the most ever by a rookie quarterback in his first game. Smith caught eight of those passes for 178 yards and scored twice, as the old and new merged seamlessly in the Panthers’ first game under new head coach Ron Rivera.
There was the pesky fact that Carolina lost the game, 28-21. But Panthers fans are used to losing. The team went 2-14 last season, which allowed it to draft Newton with the No.1 overall pick in April. What Panthers fans aren’t used to is an offense that scores more than 10 points a game, which is why last week felt so refreshing.
“It’s only one game,” Smith said, “so you can’t throw a parade. But it’s something to build on.”
Smith has made a conscious effort this season to enjoy football more and worry less. He knows there aren’t many 32-year-olds still working as the No. 1 wide receiver for any NFL team. He also knows Newton could be his salvation, a quarterback good enough to extend his career.
Newton, meanwhile, knows having Smith along for this ride will make an up-and-down rookie year less bumpy. Newton may not locate him nearly as often today – the Packers will undoubtedly double-team Smith more than Arizona did – but he’s always glancing toward No. 89.
And with Newton and Smith looking so often for each other, things at Bank of America Stadium are looking up again. Finally.
I’m not making any bold predictions. In fact, in the office pool I’ve picked GB to win today – but my feelings wouldn’t be hurt at all if the Panthers won, or if at the very least they put on an impressive showing again. Any fan of a long-struggling sports team can identify with that feeling.
On a slighly nostalgic note, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was the Carolina Panthers’ first head coach. I liked him a lot. And Cam Newton makes me feel old. He was born the same year I graduated from high school.
Game time is 1 PM ET and it will be broadcast on Fox.
What games will you be watching today?
UPDATE – 6:09 PM: Newton had another monster game today but throwing 3 interceptions (plus a stupid turnover by Steve Smith) equated to bad news for the Cats as the Packers capitalized and won 30-23.