After a 1-7 start, last year's NFC Champions - the Carolina Panthers, a/k/a the Cardiac Cats - have won five straight and, if the playoffs started today, would have the sixth seed in the NFC. How's that for a turn-around?
The Panthers are now 6-7. They have 22 takeaways in their last five games with a +16 turnover ratio. And they're doing it all without starting running back Stephen Davis, who last year in his first season with the Panthers rushed for a franchise record 1,444 yards with 8 TDs. Oh, they also are without backup running back DeShaun Foster, who had 196 post-season rushing yards last year with two TDs - a 30-yard run in the Super Bowl and a 5-yard blast where he was seen dragging four Eagles into the endzone in the NFC title game.
Now, as if that isn't bad enough, their 14-man Injured Reserve also includes third string running back Rod Smart, who also serves as the teams kickoff return man. Also on offense, they are without last season's leading receiver Steve Smith, the teams big play threat, who finished the year with 1110 yards and 7 TDs.
Running back Nick Goings, who started the year as the Panthers' sixth-string running back, had his fourth consecutive 100-yard game in only his fourth start Sunday against the Rams. Goings is starting for the Panthers after running backs Steven Davis, DeShaun Foster and Rod Smart all suffered season-ending injuries.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers are without Pro Bowl tackle Kris Jenkins, as well as three defensive backs, a linebacker and an end. They only recent got star middle linebacker Dan Morgan back from injury (and he made his presence felt today against the St. Louis Rams with two interceptions).
This ability to rise from the depths of the NFC into the playoff picture is a reflection of the character of not only that team but their coach John Fox. Fox made the Panthers believe they weren't out of it, and as a result the team has rebounded with five straight wins in a second-half-of-the-season surge which could potentially carry them right into a Wild Card berth.
The heart that this team displays shows how they were able to win eight games last year by a touchdown or less and go all the way to the Super Bowl. Their attitude is truly admireable. If every team in the NFL had the heart, drive and desire that Fox has pumped into his Panthers, one can only imagine just how much better the caliber of play would become.