Last time, we talked about the 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars, who went undefeated against the rest of the NFL, except for the three games they played against the Tennessee Titans.
Today, we’re going to talk about the Jaguars’ expansion counterpart, the Carolina Panthers – specifically, the 2001 Panthers, who won on opening day, then lost each of their next 15 games.
This article is also a podcast over at the Football Attic if you are interested in listening, you can do so below. You can also read the full article if this is your preference.
Table of Contents (Minimize to the Right --->)
Every Friday, host John Gidley shares interesting stories of games, players, coaches and teams that aren’t necessarily forgotten, but are not as well-known as they should be.
First: A Little Back Story
If you were with us last time, you’ll know that the Carolina Panthers came into the NFL in 1995, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unlike the Jaguars, however, the Panthers barely had any growing pains in their first season. Yes, they started 0-5, but they finished the year winning seven of 11.
The offense struggled to score points, but the defense was one of the best in football. Carolina lucked out by acquiring such talented veterans as Sam Mills, Tim McKyer, and Brett Maxie.
In 1996, the offense scored more points, the defense became even better with the addition of former Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene, and as a result, the Panthers went 12-4, won the NFC West, earned a first-round bye, and beat the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys in the Divisional round.
Their luck ran out the next week, as they lost the NFC Championship game in Green Bay to the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers. After two disappointing seasons in 1997 and ’98, Carolina fired their first head coach, Dom Capers, and replaced him with George Seifert, who had previously won two Super Bowls as head coach of the 49ers.
In each of his first two seasons, the Panthers just barely missed the playoffs, turning his third season, 2001, into a make-or-break year.
A Controversy Brews
That offseason, Seifert created a controversy by releasing quarterback Steve Beuerlein. Beuerlein had slightly regressed in 2000 after throwing for over 4,400 yards and 36 touchdown passes in 1999. Seifert reasoned that he wanted a younger, more agile quarterback (Beuerlein was now 36).
Therefore, the starting job was given to Chris Weinke, a 29-year-old rookie coming off a Heisman-winning season at Florida State. Seifert’s natural hope was that Weinke’s college success would follow him to the NFL. In the Panthers’ first game of the 2001 season, that hope showed some signs of life.
Carolina played at Minnesota, against a Vikings team that had won 11 games the year before. Panthers rookie Steve Smith took the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, and Weinke overcame a second-half deficit by throwing a touchdown and rushing for another, giving Carolina a 24-13 opening-day upset win.
In retrospect, the players and fans should have savored every moment of that game, because it was the last time the Panthers would leave the field with a win for over a year.
The 2001 Carolina Panthers
The 2001 Panthers became the first (and so far, only) team in the era of the 16-game schedule to win their first game, and then lose each of their final 15. While Chris Weinke ran for six touchdowns, his passing statistics were entirely underwhelming: just under 3,000 yards, only 11 touchdown passes, and 19 interceptions. The offense did not have either a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver.
The defense was decent, but they had no hope of success with such a dreadful offense. Much like any 1-15 team, the Panthers had their fair share of blowout losses: a 28-7 defeat at home to the Packers in week three, a 48-14 loss at the St. Louis Rams, and two home blowouts to end the season, 30-7 against the Cardinals, and 38-6 against the Patriots.
Leaving those embarrassments aside, there were many, many instances where Carolina could have picked up another victory.
In a week five home game against New Orleans, the Panthers overcame a 17-0 deficit to take a 25-20 lead late in the fourth quarter, but the defense let the Saints march 82 yards in 15 plays. Ricky Williams scored on a one-yard touchdown run at the gun, and New Orleans escaped with a 27-25 win.
The next week in Washington, Carolina led 14-0 in the fourth quarter but proceeded to give up two game-tying touchdowns. A chip-shot field goal in overtime gave Washington a 17-14 victory. The week after that, at home against the Jets, the Panthers blew a 12-7 second-half lead and lost, 13-12. In week ten, Carolina led San Francisco at home, 22-14, but Jeff Garcia threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens with one second left in regulation, and the 49ers successfully got a two-point conversion to send the game to overtime.
You know what happens next: San Francisco kicks the winning field goal and comes away with a 25-22 victory. The next week, at home against Atlanta, the Panthers trailed 10-7 with less than a minute to go, but Weinke threw an interception on their final drive to thwart their attempts to either tie or win the game. The next week in New Orleans, John Kasay kicked a 51-yard field goal to give Carolina a 23-20 lead with under three minutes to play. As you might expect, Aaron Brooks threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Joe Horn, and the Saints won 27-23.
While all of these losses were disappointing, none was worse than what happened the next week in Buffalo, when the 1-11 Panthers faced the 1-10 Bills. Carolina had a 24-6 first-half lead and was in a great position to finally get their second win. Instead, Buffalo scored 19 unanswered points to get THEIR second win, 25-24. That’s seven, count ’em, seven times that the Panthers could have won. What could have been an 8-8 season instead ended up at 1-15. George Seifert was fired at year’s end and replaced by Giants defensive coordinator John Fox.
Chris Weinke would only start one game for the Panthers in 2002, being replaced first by Rodney Peete, then by Jake Delhomme, who in 2003, against all odds, led Carolina to the Super Bowl, where they fittingly lost to the Patriots on a game-winning field goal with four seconds left, proving that 2001 wasn’t a distant memory.
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