November 8th, 2018 is the last time the Carolina Panthers played the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s also a day many Panthers’ faithful say changed the trajectory of the franchise.
Coming into that Thursday night matchup the Panthers were 6-2 and on a three-game win streak. Cam Newton was putting up numbers that were just as good, if not better, than his 2015 MVP season – with a passer rating of 100.8, having completed 177-for-263 passes for 1,893 yards, 15 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Newton also ran the ball 73 times for 342 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“If I remember correctly, he was getting MVP publicity,” long snapper JJ Jansen, who is one of a handful of current players who was on that 2018 team, said. “He was playing as good as I’ve seen him play his entire career. He was really efficient. Our offense was really good and our defense was playing well.”
Then “The Hit” happened in what would end up being 51-21 blowout off in Pittsburgh.
With 1:29 remaining in the 1st quarter, Steelers linebacker TJ Watt drilled Cam Newton in his throwing shoulder with his helmet.
Cam Newton would get up, but the Panthers season – and his career – would never be the same.
“Yeah. Yeah. That sh*t was sad,” offensive lineman Taylor Moton said shaking his head while conjuring up memories from that day. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s crazy to talk about. It brings back crazy memories over the years and how the rest of the season went. I don’t even know what to say, really.”
Linebacker Shaq Thompson flat-out didn’t want to discuss the game.
But no matter how you look at it, that loss…that hit…set off a downward spiral for Carolina that they’re still trying to recover from.
- November 8th, 2018 Newton takes hit from Watt
- Panthers lose 7 games in a row – finishing the season is 7-9 and out of playoffs.
- Newton has shoulder surgery during the offseason.
- Panthers start 0-2 in 2019.
- Newton injures foot during Week 2 and is sidelined the remainder of 2019 season.
- Ron Rivera is fired Week 13 of 2019 season
- Panthers hire Matt Rhule January 7th, 2020.
- Luke Kuechly announces retirement January 14th, 2020.
- Panthers release Cam Newton March 24th, 2020.
- Panthers have back-to-back five win seasons.
- Panthers fire Matt Rhule October 10th after 1-4 start.
And here we are now. December 2022, with interim coach Steve Wilks at the helm, the Panthers meet the Steelers for the first time since that fateful day – fighting for playoff spot in December for the first time since that season.
“To me, it’s just the next game we have to win,” Moton continued. “We didn’t even talk about what happened in 2018. For us, it’s the next game and the next step toward our ultimate goal and that’s all we’re focused on right now.”
While players have put that game and the events that transpired after it behind them..Panthers fans haven’t.
“It ended the possible HOF career of one of the best Panthers ever. I’ll never forgive TJ. Never. Dirty hit IMO,” one fan said on Twitter.
“He was never right after that hit,” another fan said. “I love Cam. Without him most of these QBs would still be being scraped off the ground.”
“I’ll never forgive TJ for ruining a great QB.”
“I stayed home and my husband took a friend to the game. I watched on TV and was so angry when Cam got hit. I hate TJ Watt with a passion!”
Sunday, Bank of America Stadium will be rocking, not just because the team is competing for a playoff spot, but because fans have never forgotten what the Steelers took from them the last time they lined up.