CHARLOTTE -- No negativity here today. Nope, not from me.
Why should there be, honestly? Things are quite simply better than they've ever been for the Carolina Panthers.
Sounds a bit funny, coming on the heels of a painful loss -- and from this local spot of weather (They should put "Bringing black clouds to clear skies since 1997" under my mug shot) -- but it's true.
There aren't many ways to look at what's happened this season and be anything but delighted if you're a fan, or if you're just honest with yourself.
Sure, the run defense blew gaskets Sunday night, and they blew a chance at playing all their playoff games at home this postseason.
But today's about perspective, and the way things ought to look to you right now.
Example: Sunday night didn't illuminate their flaws so much as it proved that there's no one in the NFL the Carolina Panthers can't play with. Not one team. In that respect, it might be like last year's Giants' loss to New England, which sparked the hot streak that ended with a Lombardi Trophy.
For that one week, the Giants were as tough an opponent as you can catch. Just humiliated on national television, losers of two straight. They were beaten up physically and emotionally. So they did what champions do. They rallied, they fought, they played cleanly and exceptionally.
And if the wind's blowing 17 mph instead of 20, the Panthers take their best shot and leave with a win on John Kasay's field goal with four seconds left.
What does that do to the conversation?
Fact is, this team is among the handful right now that belong in the conversation of Super Bowl contenders.
They're in the mix with the Giants and Atlanta on this side of the bracket, and Tennessee, Pittsburgh, New England and Indianapolis on the other side.
Considering where they were last year this time, that's a pretty nice neighborhood to have moved into.
A year ago, they realized David Carr was done, and they weren't getting much more out of Vinny Testaverde, so they threw open the play-pamphlet for Matt Moore and cut loose.
You still want to complain about Jake Delhomme and his 53-32 record as a starter?
A year ago, they were holding out their last bit of hope that DeShaun Foster would deliver on his boundless potential.
Now they've got the NFL's leader in touchdowns and rushing touchdowns in DeAngelo Williams, and the frightening part is that he might not be the most talented back on the roster. When Jonathan Stewart learns the game, he might be as good as Williams is now. But that's a problem for 2010, and a luxury for right now.
A year ago, their offensive line was a mishmash of odd parts and strange personalities. Now, save for the season-ending injury to right guard Keydrick Vincent, you'd be tempted to call it one of the five best in football. Stop and think about that for a minute, those of you who remember the great lines of Panthers past. This was once the home of Clarence Jones and Chris Terry, of Doug Brzezinski and Rich Tylski, of enough recycled Matts (Willig, Campbell, Elliott) to cover every back door in the state.
A year ago, they were wondering what was wrong with Julius Peppers. Now, he's sitting on 13.5 sacks and five forced fumbles and the only question is whether he wants to come back, because the money's not an issue on either side. It's not what matters most to him, and it's hard to figure another team he's worth more to than this one.
A year ago, they were wondering about life after middle linebacker Dan Morgan. It's clear now that his old spot's in good hands with his protégé Jon Beason.
A year ago, they were wondering whether their coach and the GM were hanging around.
Now all they have to do is look at the standings and be glad ownership's not as quick-triggered as the fan base.
You know how many teams have won more games than the Panthers since 2002?
No really. Let that settle in for a moment.
They've gone into the late December of each season since 2002 with a chance at the playoffs, however slim those chances might have been.
Now, they know they're in, they're just figuring out the travel arrangements for January.
A year ago, they had set up shop firmly in Potterville, a tawdry place full of back-biting, sloth and general unpleasantness.
This year, they're back where they belong, in their comfy little football Bedford Falls.
It might not be a wonderful life they're living, but as the man says, it beats the alternative.