When the playoffs began, some felt that the Carolina Panthers needed to win the Super Bowl. Otherwise, the season would be a disappointment. That sentiment only grew after Carolina led 31-0 and 34-7 against Seattle and Arizona, respectively, and was nearly a touchdown favorite over Denver entering Super Bowl 50.
Well, the Panthers didn’t beat the Bronocs. In fact, they didn’t lead for a single second and were held to a season-low 10 points.
So, was this season – in which the Panthers went 17-2 – really a disappointment?
“I definitely think that anytime you can get to a Super Bowl that that has got to be a feather in the cap because there’s a lot of people that would love to be in your position,” former Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Let’s be frank. There’s some Hall-of-Famers that have never played in this game. That is an honor to be able to do that. Is it a disappointment when you feel like you’re a solid football club like this club was this past year and have that magical season and then to not put the game plan and the game that you thought you could do this past Sunday, absolutely that’s a disappointment. So I definitely think it’s a feather in the cap to get there, but it is a disappointment when you’re not able to hold that trophy up, especially when you have the pieces in place to get the job done.”
Rucker, 40, was a Pro Bowler on Carolina’s 2003 team, which lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Panthers thought they would play in the Super Bowl the very next year. Instead, it took the franchise 12 years to get back.
“You can’t take these moments for granted,” Rucker said. “You just hate that one slipped through your fingers.”
If you look at the Super Bowl 50 box score, it’s a wonder how the Panthers lost, much less by 14 points. They limited Denver to 194 total yards, 1-of-14 on third down and forced two turnovers.
That said, the Panthers committed four turnovers of their own (three by Cam Newton), gave up a defensive touchdown, allowed the longest punt return in Super Bowl history (61 yards by Jordan Norwood) and missed a field goal.
Nevertheless, it was a one-score game with less than four minutes to play.
“I think (Carolina is) going to be (back in the Super Bowl) pretty soon,” Rucker said. “The reason why I say that when you compare (my team and this team) is (this team is) a lot younger. They’re a lot younger in the key spots. They’re young in the quarterback position. They’re young at the middle linebacker position. They’re young at their two inside defensive tackles. Kony Ealy, he had an MVP game. When you’re talking three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a handful of tackles – come on. That’s your right defensive end. You got Josh Norman, young guy. The receiving corps (will get) Kelvin Benjamin back. So I think that you’re going to see them be more consistent than we were 12 years ago, and so I think that’s why I think they’ll be back in the mix sooner than later.”