Although the Carolina Panthers may be in the midst of a rather significant rebuild heading into the 2020 NFL season, they have had their fair share of brushes with championship glory since joining the league as an expansion team in 1995. While their franchise history is littered with deep playoff runs that ultimately fell short, here are a few of the most heartbreaking losses.
1996 NFC Title Game
The conditions were hardly ideal as temperatures hovered in the single digits with a -17 degree wind chill when the Panthers traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Conference Championship.
Fortunately, Carolina was well-equipped for the situation after eight of their players were named as Pro Bowlers that year, which included the stellar linebacker corps of Kevin Greene, Sam Mills, and Lamar Lathon. They helped pave the way for a 12-4 record before beating the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round to move on.
The Panthers managed to strike first in the first quarter with a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kerry Collins to running back Howard Griffith, however, that would be the only time that they would reach the end zone all afternoon. Meanwhile, the Packers countered with a strong running game led by running backs Edgar Bennet and Dorsey Levens.
Carolina simply had no answer for Green Bay's ground attack after being out rushed 201-45 en route to a 30-13 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champs.
Super Bowl XXXVIII
Nearly a decade after falling short of a Super Bowl appearance, the Panthers were finally primed for the big stage during the 2003 NFL season when they met with the New England Patriots. They had secured the NFC South with an 11-5 record and managed to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams, and the Philadelphia Eagles to earn their trip to Houston that year.
The Panthers were confident that destiny was on their side after bouncing back from 1-15 campaign at the same time that the Patriots kickstarted their destiny with their first Super Bowl win two years earlier. After all, the emergence of quarterback Jake Delhomme and wide receiver Steve Smith provided a much-needed spark on offense while defensive end Julius Peppers anchored the other side of the ball.
Both teams struggled to find their footing on offense, however, Carolina managed to keep their opponent off the scoreboard after kicker Adam Vinatieri missed his first attempt and had his second blocked. Unfortunately, his early misfortunate would foreshadow what was to come as Vinatieri later hit a 41-yard field goal to give New England the 32-29 lead with four seconds left in the game.
Super Bowl 50
The Panthers were a well-oiled machine during the 2015 campaign that saw them go 15-1 before defeating the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the postseason to earn a bid to Super Bowl 50. They appeared to be clicking on all cylinders following a dominant 49-15 victory over the Cardinals heading into their matchup with the Denver Broncos.
Unfortunately, the high-powered offense led by MVP quarterback Cam Newton was only able to find the end zone once against a Broncos team looking for redemption following their abysmal performance in the Super Bowl a year earlier.
Although Carolina was still in position for a potential comeback being down 16-7 heading into the fourth quarter, Denver managed to completely shut them out while scoring eight more points of their own to secure a 24-10 victory.