CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - If you’re talking about the Carolina Panthers these days, you’re likely talking about the team losing three straight games. Or head coach Ron Rivera’s job security. Or Cam Newton’s foot. Or 28-yard field goals that go wide right.
It’s hard to say a lot positive about the 5-6 Panthers, and I haven’t attempted to lately. But it’s the week of Thanksgiving, so I’m going to say something nice.
No snark. No bull. Here are 10 things that all Panthers fans should legitimately be thankful for:
1. Christian McCaffrey. Leading the league in touchdowns, rushing and yards from scrimmage, McCaffrey has had an extraordinary third season. He’s the best running back in the NFL, and watching him juke a tackler in the open field is like watching Picasso pick up a brush. The team is fortunate to have him under contract through the 2020 season and will undoubtedly offer him a lucrative contract extension.
2. The 2019 rookie class. First-round draft pick Brian Burns is second on the team in sacks with 5.5. Second-round pick Greg Little has been starting at left tackle. Sixth-round pick Dennis Daley, another offensive lineman, also has four starts. And with the sort of record the Panthers have now, a first-round draft pick in the early teens and another impact player is very possible in the 2020 draft.
3. David Tepper. With the sort of relatability any political candidate would love to have, Carolina’s new billionaire owner has been refreshingly candid about what he’s thinking, what he wants and what he can’t stand (losing). He’s an extroverted leader who inspires confidence and is about to make another series of changes — many of them necessary for a team that has gone 12-15 since he took over and was imploding on the business side, to use Tepper’s blunt description.
4. DJ Moore. Have you checked out the second-year wide receiver’s stats lately? Moore ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 905. He played through serious elbow pain Sunday in New Orleans to come up with two touchdowns and 126 receiving yards. And he’s only 22 years old.
5. The quarterback situation. Wait, you say, what can possibly be good about that? Newton will miss 14 of Carolina’s 16 games this season due to a Lisfranc injury. Both his contract status and health are in doubt. In the meantime, backup quarterback Kyle Allen began his career with a 5-0 record as an NFL starter but now is 6-4.
But get this: The Panthers have more options at the game’s most important position than a lot of teams. Allen is a legitimate NFL QB, incredibly cost-effective and an exclusive rights free agent who’s not going anywhere. Carolina gets to make its own choice with Newton for 2020, depending on how his foot heals up. The Panthers might keep both. It could be a lot worse.
6. Multiple Super Bowls. Yes, the Panthers have played 25 seasons and lost the only two Super Bowls they have ever made.
You know who would love to have a history like that? Cleveland. Detroit. Jacksonville. Houston. Those four teams have never made it to the Super Bowl.
7. Luke Kuechly. We take him for granted around here a lot, but he is truly one of the best inside linebackers in NFL history. The league just released 25 linebacker finalists for its all-time, 100-year team. Kuechly was one of only two active players on that list (Denver’s Von Miller was the other). The chant of “L-u-u-u-u-k-e” is the second-most addictive chant in Bank of America Stadium history.
8. Keep Pounding. Here’s the most addictive chant. Linebacker Sam Mills — one of the most essential players in Carolina history, and one of the classiest — provided the two words that have become the Panthers’ mantra.
The first player to go into the team’s Hall of Honor, the late Mills’ legacy continues at Carolina with his son, Sam Mills III, an assistant coach. And I like to think that Mills’ “Keep Pounding” motto has also helped fuel the many charitable efforts of the team and men like Greg Olsen, Newton, Ron Rivera and Thomas Davis, to name just a few, as they try to improve our community.
9. Famous plays. X Clown. Beuerlein’s quarterback draw in Green Bay. Cam’s 72-yard touchdown run that ended with him somersaulting into the end zone. Delhomme’s fourth-down pass to Proehl. Mills’ shovel-pass return. Cota’s interception. No matter how many games the Panthers lose, they’ve given us some incredible memories.
10. PSL holders. While the “permanent seat license” concept has its detractors — and the nickname “Permanent Sucker License” that rears up during every losing season — it was actually a genius concept that has been copied around the NFL. It also has served to guarantee sellouts and a captive audience in good times and bad, which in turn has just about guaranteed the Panthers will never move from Charlotte.