The 11-3 Panthers just took a two-game lead in the NFC South with only two games left in the regular season on another successful Sunday with their 30-10 win over Denver. Although still not officially guaranteed a playoff spot, they are all but in and have a very good chance at a first-round playoff bye.
In fact, if they can beat the New York Giants Sunday night, they will be guaranteed the No.1 seed in the NFC and TWO home playoff games (that is, if they win their first one).
So here are the 6 things I liked the most Sunday:
** Jerry Richardson was back. Although he's now on a heart transplant waiting list, Richardson was in his owner's box as usual, with the windows open as usual, wrapped under a football blanket.
** DeAngelo Williams’ cutback run. That 56-yard TD was one of the sweetest you’re ever going to see. DeAngelo started left, looked like he was going to come back way right and then burst up the middle, going over 1,200 rushing yards for the season during the play.
** Steve Smith. On the Panthers’ first drive, Smith caught three passes for 66 yards, the last for a touchdown. No.89 had another huge game with 165 receiving yards and that TD.
** Carolina’s defense (second quarter onward): The Panthers gave up 10 points on Denver’s first two drives, then played much, much better. They actually got pressure on Jay Cutler – who hadn’t been sacked for the previous three games. Thomas Davis ended that streak with a third-quarter sack on a blitz. DE Tyler Brayton, S Charles Godfrey and DE Charles Johnson -- not exactly the defense's top stars -- all had a couple of nice plays.
** John Kasay. If he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl this season, he should. The ageless one is now 24-for-25 this season on field goals – a 96 percent success rate. His only miss in all of 2008 came from 58 yards. He hit three more Sunday.
** The crowd. The Panthers have treated their fans right all season – they finish the regular season 8-0 at home – and the fans returned the favor. On a blustery day that got downright cold once the sun went down, the fans were loud and proud.
And those fans will get another chance to be even louder. Nothing is certain yet, but I’d say there’s now about a 90 percent chance Carolina will host a playoff game the weekend of Jan.10 and 11.
And it could be TWO home playoff games IF Carolina can beat the New York Giants on the road in a huge game next Sunday, Dec.21st. With the Giants' loss to Dallas Sunday night, both teams are 11-3, and the one that wins on Dec.21 will be able to rest its starters in the final week of the regular season and gear up for the playoffs.