Sports world has Panthers on its mind

Fred McCormick Columnist

I typically use this column as a way to support a running conversation about sports happening here in the Swannanoa Valley. I consider our community fortunate to be home to a thriving sports culture that supports athletics at every level.

So it is only natural that many around the Valley are talking about football at the highest level in the NFL. Specifically, the Carolina Panthers, whose 11-0 record suggests is the best team in the league.

The Panthers were one of two undefeated teams heading into week 12, and spent Thanksgiving in Arlington, Texas remaining that way. The Carolina defense scored two touchdowns, and the Dallas Cowboys never really stood a chance during their annual Turkey Day appearance.

Just days later, the league’s only other undefeated team, the New England Patriots, lost its first game of the season to the Brock Osweiler-led Denver Broncos on Sunday night.

The perfect start to the season is the best in the 20-year history of the Panthers, who have been boosted by an MVP-caliber performance from quarterback Cam Newton.

Newton has been a force for the Panthers this year with his arm and his legs. He’s thrown 20 touchdowns to seven different receivers while limiting his interceptions to nine through 11 games. The quarterback is also Carolina’s second-leading rusher with 427 yards and his seven rushing touchdowns lead the team.

Defensively the Panthers are getting huge contributions from linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

Kuechly leads the team with 75 tackles, and his interception against Dallas on Thanksgiving was his third of the season.

The numbers that Davis have posted through the first 11 games of the season are remarkably similar to his fellow linebacker. In fact, his 74 tackles and three interceptions are impressive on their own, but he has also accounted for four sacks so far this season.

The production on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball has been enough to spark whispers of a perfect season. But the last five weeks of the season will likely make that accomplishment a tough one.

The Panthers play four divisional games in the final five weeks of the season, with two of them against the NFC South’s second-place Atlanta Falcons.

Divisional rivalries are generally hotly contested match-ups, and the Falcons, Bucs or Saints would love to play spoiler to the historic season that the Panthers are experiencing.

But the Carolinas support for the team is surging, and many children are hoping to wake up on Christmas morning to a Cam Newton jersey under the tree.

Carolina will travel to New Orleans this week where it looks to remain perfect against the 4-7 Saints, who have lost three straight.

And as the Panthers look to extend their winning streak to 12, the entire sports world will no doubt continue to have Carolina on its mind.