Down to the final two! Our countdown of the top moments in Carolina Panthers history has nearly reached its conclusion.
Occasionally, teams meet under circumstances that are straining for both squads. Our number two moment is one of those.
#2. NFC Championship Game – Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles – January 18, 2004
The Carolina Panthers were coming off of a win versus Dallas at home and an improbable victory over the high-powered Rams in St. Louis. They hadn’t had a week off since week three of the regular season and had played games over sixteen consecutive weeks.
The Philadelphia Eagles were a team that was coming off of two straight seasons of making it to the NFC Championship Game only to lose one game short of the Super Bowl each time. This season had to be different. They had won 12 games and earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
With the way the two teams were built this promised to be a slugfest. It didn’t disappoint.
This game saw a first quarter with little real scoring opportunities. The Panthers did advance the ball to the Philadelphia 32 but were forced to punt while the Eagles answered with a drive to the Carolina 36 but had to do the same. In all, the quarter saw four punts.
The action heated up in the second quarter, however. Carolina began what would be the first scoring drive of the game at their own 21 yard line. Jake Delhomme and his teammates would put together a beautiful drive. Six runs and three passes, highlihgted by a 21-yard pass to Stephen Davis and a 15-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad, the drive to set up the first score from the Eagles’ 24. Jake Delhomme would hit Moose for the second time on the drive, despite double coverage, for a 24-yard TD.
A critical play also took place in that second quarter. The Eagles were driving late in the half. They had moved the ball to the Carolina 23, when Donovan McNabb would trip going back to pass on a sack by Mike Rucker. The hit shook McNabb as he left for one play with a rib injury. He would return to complete a 10-yard pass to Freddie Mitchell. That set up Philadelphia’s only points on a David Akers’ 41-yard field goal.
With the Eagles driving again, Ricky Manning would pick off a McNabb pass that would effectively end the half with 47 seconds remaining.
The third quarter saw much of the same. Carolina continued to rely on the running game and minimize Jake Delhomme’s passing – he would finish 9-14, 101, 1 TD. The defense also kept up the pressure on McNabb and the Eagles offense as he struggled to play through his rib injury.
Ricky Manning continued to shine picking off two more passes in the quarter. One of them was absolutely critical as he stepped right in front of Todd Pinkston, the intended target. McNabb never saw him and threw the pass directly to him. A Philadelphia scoring threat had been thwarted at the Carolina 18-yard line.
Manning’s second interception of the third quarter would setup Carolina’s next score as he picked off a pass at midfield and returned it 13 yards putting the offense back on the field with only 37 yards to cover to reach the endzone.
Four plays and two minutes later, after a pass interference call put the ball on the one yard line, DeShaun Foster would create a seminal moment in team history. Foster would take the pitch to the right, dodge a defender behind the line of scrimmage, break three tackles at the two, shed a defender at the one and dive to the cone. It was a hard-fought run – a thing of beauty on a day dominated by defense. Carolina led 14-3.
Koy Detmer would come in to finish off the game. He moved the Eagles to the Carolina 12 where the defense, once again, would rise up. Detmer was picked off at the 8-yard line by Dan Morgan. The fate of both teams was sealed.
The Eagles would continue to be tormented by falling one game short while the upstart Panthers were on their way to Super Bowl XXXVIII to play the New England Patriots.