Carolina's season took a huge first step against San Diego this past Sunday. They won and outplayed a "very good" Chargers team for three plus quarters. The home opener, however, has been been a constant source of pain for Panthers fans. Not since 2003, when Jake Delhomme replaced Rodney Peete at halftime have the Panthers won a season debut. The problems don't stop there.
In the four subsequent home openers, the Panthers have seen: Steve Smith, Kris Jenkins, Travelle Wharton, and Dan Morgan all lost to season-ending injuries. The first games in Bank of America Stadium have not been kind to the Carolina faithful. In fact, if the Panthers lose Sunday to Chicago, the team will be under .500 at home under Head Coach John Fox. The fanbase has warmed quickly to this team, and if they win Sunday, the nation should be ready for an all-out assault on sports radio talk shows. If the Panthers fall flat at home, once again, the natives will be growing restless. They were 0-5 at home last season, before finally winning two of their last three.
Another cause for concern lies in the playoff race. The Bears announced their presence with authority with their impressive win over Indianapolis. With neither team guaranteed a division crown, they may be competing for the same wildcard spots. If the Panthers lose, it's not doom and gloom, but their margin of error for the remainder of the season will be greatly decreased. With their final five games of the season against potential playoff teams, the Panthers would love to be in the NFC South driver's seat heading into the home stretch.
For the Panthers to emerge victorious, QB Jake Delhomme will need to continue to use multiple weapons in the passing game, and the running back tandem will need to be more effective than the Bears running game. On the defensive side, the secondary must not get lulled to sleep and give up big plays. The Bears gameplan against the Colts was well conceived and executed. Carolina has to be ready to alter their plan in response. If the Panthers are able to avoid costly turnovers (ie give the Bears a short field), and the time of possession battle remains close, it should be their first home opener win in five years.