5 best playoff wins in Carolina Panthers’ franchise history

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Cam Newton
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No. 5: Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys (1996)

The Dallas Cowboys came into Ericsson Stadium – now known as Bank of America Stadium – as the reigning Super Bowl champions and winners of three of the previous four seasons overall. They were favorites to knock off the Carolina Panthers, a team that didn’t even exist two years prior.

The Cowboys rolled into Charlotte with a cast of superstars while the Panthers were a team of castoffs and unknowns. Despite that, Carolina set the tone early.

The team motto, “Keep Pounding,” might have been coined years later but the origins took place during the 1996 season. The Panthers introduced the world to their version of hard-hitting early on with linebacker Lamar Lathon rocking Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin after catching a pass from quarterback Troy Aikman.

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This hit fractured Irvin’s shoulder, took him out of the game, and left Aikman without his favorite target.

Carolina built an early 14-3 lead with two touchdown passes from quarterback Kerry Collins. The Cowboys cut into the lead with an Aikman pass to Daryl Johnston and following a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Panthers followed up by gifting a safety to the Cowboys.

Before halftime, safety Chad Cota intercepted a pass from Aikman, which lead to a John Kasay field goal, and a 17-11 halftime lead for the hosts.

During the third quarter, the Panthers and Cowboys traded field goals, bringing the score to 20-14 – a slender advantage for Carolina entering the fourth quarter.

Although the Cowboys were without Irvin, they still had Aikman. The game was not safely in the Panthers’ hands entering the fourth quarter. All braced for the inevitable comeback which thankfully never came.

Already missing Irvin and down 23-17, the Cowboys found themselves without cornerback/wide receiver/returner Deion Sanders after he too was injured by a hit. The momentum was now clearly in Carolina’s favor.

After brutalizing Aikman with vicious hits in the last minutes of the game, the Panthers let the wind out of the sails of Cowboys Nation when linebacker Sam Mills intercepted Aikman (his third of the night) deep in opposition territory.

The Panthers would go on to score another field goal and officially end Dallas’ reign at the top of the NFL. They would not win another playoff game until 2009.