The 1996 Carolina Panthers season was the second season for the team in the National Football League. They improved upon their 7–9 record in 1995, and made it to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Panthers would be a huge surprise, as it would turn out, as the Panthers won their last seven games of the season to finish the season with a 12–4 record. The result was that the Panthers won the NFC West, and had a first round bye in the 1996 NFL Playoffs. The Panthers would then beat the Dallas Cowboys 26–17 before falling 30–13 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
The Panthers did not return to the playoffs until 2003.
|1996 Carolina Panthers season|
|Head coach||Dom Capers|
|General manager||Bill Polian|
|Home field||Ericsson Stadium|
|Division place||1st NFC West|
|Playoff finish||Won Divisional Playoffs|
Lost Conference Championship
|Pro Bowlers||TE Wesley Walls|
QB Kerry Collins
WR Michael Bates
LB Sam Mills
LB Kevin Greene
LB Lamar Lathon
CB Erik Davis
K John Kasay
Unrestricted free agents signed:
Unrestricted free agents lost:
|1996 Carolina Panthers draft|
|1||8||Tim Biakabutuka||Running back||Michigan|
|2||43||Muhsin Muhammad *||Wide receiver||Michigan State|
|3||73||Winslow Oliver||Running back||New Mexico|
|3||88||J. C. Price||Defensive tackle||Virginia Tech|
|4||104||Norberto Davidds-Garrido||Offensive tackle||USC|
|4||111||Emmanuel McDaniel||Cornerback||East Carolina|
|5||142||Marquette Smith||Running back||Central Florida|
|6||193||Scott Greene||Running back||Michigan State|
|7||217||Donnell Baker||Wide receiver||Southern|
|7||234||Kerry Hicks||Defensive end||Colorado|
|Pro Bowl during careerMade roster Made at least one|
|1996 Carolina Panthers staff|
Special teams coaches
Strength and conditioning
|1996 Carolina Panthers final roster|
|Week||Date||Opponent||Results||Game site||Attendance||TV Time (EDT)||TV Announcers||Game Weather|
|Final score||Team record|
|1||September 1||Atlanta Falcons||W 29–6||1–0||Ericsson Stadium||FOX 1:00pm||Sam Rosen & Ron Pitts||72 degrees/partly cloudy|
|2||September 8||at New Orleans Saints||W 22–20||2–0||Louisiana Superdome||FOX 1:00pm||Mike Breen & Bill Maas||Indoors|
|4||September 22||San Francisco 49ers||W 23–7||3–0||Ericsson Stadium||FOX 1:00pm||Dick Stockton & Matt Millen||69 degrees/clear|
|5||September 29||at Jacksonville Jaguars||L 14–24||3–1||Jacksonville Municipal Stadium||FOX 1:00pm||Kenny Albert & Tim Green||81 degrees/partly cloudy|
|6||October 6||at Minnesota Vikings||L 12–14||3–2||Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome||FOX 1:00pm||Kevin Harlan & Jerry Glanville||Indoors|
|7||October 13||St. Louis Rams||W 45–13||4–2||Ericsson Stadium||FOX 1:00pm||Kenny Albert & Tim Green||56 degrees/partly sunny|
|8||October 20||New Orleans Saints||W 19–7||5–2||Ericsson Stadium||FOX 1:00pm||Thom Brennaman & Ron Pitts||51 degrees/partly sunny|
|9||October 27||at Philadelphia Eagles||L 9–20||5–3||Veterans Stadium||FOX 1:00pm||Kevin Harlan & Jerry Glanville||59 degrees/partly cloudy|
|10||November 3||at Atlanta Falcons||L 17–20||5–4||Georgia Dome||FOX 1:00pm||Eric Clemons & Scott Case||Indoors|
|11||November 10||New York Giants||W 27–17||6–4||Ericsson Stadium||ESPN 8:00pm||Mike Patrick & Joe Theismann||38 degrees/clear|
|12||November 17||at St. Louis Rams||W 20–10||7–4||Trans World Dome||FOX 1:00pm||Joe Buck & Bill Maas||Indoors|
|13||November 24||at Houston Oilers||W 31–6||8–4||Astrodome||FOX 1:00pm||Kevin Harlan & Jerry Glanville||Indoors|
|14||December 1||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||W 24–0||9–4||Ericsson Stadium||FOX 1:00pm||Thom Brennaman & Ron Pitts||58 degrees/rain|
|15||December 8||at San Francisco 49ers||W 30–24||10–4||3Com Park||FOX 4:00pm||Kevin Harlan & Jerry Glanville||59 degrees/cloudy|
|16||December 15||Baltimore Ravens||W 27–16||11–4||Ericsson Stadium||NBC 1:00pm||Don Criqui & Beasley Reece||46 degrees/sunny|
|17||December 22||Pittsburgh Steelers||W 18–14||12–4||Ericsson Stadium||NBC 1:00pm||Don Criqui & Beasley Reece||33 degrees/sunny|
|NOTE: Division games are in bold text.|
|Final score||Team record|
|Divisional||January 5, 1997||Dallas Cowboys||W 26–17||13–4||Ericsson Stadium|
|Conference||January 12, 1997||Green Bay Packers||L 13–30||13–5||Lambeau Field|
|(2) Carolina Panthers||12||4||0||.750||367||218||W7|
|(4) San Francisco 49ers||12||4||0||.750||398||257||W2|
|St. Louis Rams||6||10||0||.375||303||409||W2|
|New Orleans Saints||3||13||0||.188||229||339||L1|
Acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback Steve Beuerlein did not throw a single pass, instead rushing three times for a net loss of ten yards; Kerry Collins handled the quarterbacking duties, throwing for 171 yards and one pick while Jim Everett threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns. This game, though, was a battle of field goals; following an 84-yard Winslow Oliver punt return touchdown John Kasay provided the rest of Carolina's offense with five field goals, two of them 51-yarders, for a 22–20 Panthers win.
The first sign that perennial NFC West champion San Francisco was in for a serious season-long fight with Carolina came as both 2–0 teams clashed at Ericsson Stadium. Steve Beuerlein started and threw for 290 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick; a second pick was called back on a Niners holding call. The Panthers controlled the game from the opening kick as Steve Young was sacked four times and picked off in the fourth quarter by Brett Maxie; Willie Green and Merton Hanks also spent the day jawing at each other following Green catches, ultimately finishing up in a 23–7 Carolina win.
Former Jaguars quarterback Steve Beuerlein was knocked out of the game after being sacked five times. Kerry Collins managed a touchdown throw but the Jaguars sealed the 24–14 win by recovering a late onside kick.
Two Warren Moon touchdown throws were enough for the Vikings as they edged the Panthers 14–12. Anthony Johnson ran in a four-yard touchdown and the Panthers blocked a Vikings punt out of the endzone for a safety, but could manage no closer than the 14–12 final.
The Panthers erupted to over 30 points for the first time in their short history as they hammered the 1–4 Rams. Anthony Johnson rushed for 126 yards and Kerry Collins threw for 196 yards and three touchdowns, while Michael Bates added a 93-yard kickoff-return score. Tony Banks was pounded all day, fumbling to Kevin Greene for a 66-yard touchdown and then getting crushed by Panthers defenders as he unloaded a pass picked off by Chad Cota. The Panthers rocked to a 45–17 win.
The Panthers rolled to a 19–7 win, but the story of the game turned out to be a postgame interview with Saints coach Jim Mora, who ripped the team by saying, "We couldn't do diddley poo offensively" in a tirade that became one of the most famous soundbites in sports history.
The Eagles Ty Detmer delivered 342 passing yards and a touchdown and also got into a brief scrum with Lamar Lathon of the Panthers after a sack. Irving Fryar led the Eagles offense with 143 receiving yards on seven catches as the Eagles won 20–9.
The winless Falcons recorded their first win of the season as they sacked Panthers quarterbacks six times and Bobby Hebert tossed a 15-yard score to J. J. Birden. Steve Beuerlein replaced Kerry Collins late in the game and found Mark Carrier from 12-yards out in the fourth quarter; it was not enough to prevent a 20–17 Falcons win.
Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein and Rams quarterback Tony Banks combined for just 290 passing yards. Beuerlein got the better of the duel with a seven-yard score to Anthony Johnson in a 20–10 Panthers win.
Beuerlein torched the 6–6 Oilers with three touchdown throws, to Willie Green and Wesley Walls in a 31–6 Panthers win. Chris Chandler and sophomore Steve McNair each had an interception and the Oilers also fumbled twice.
The Panthers effectively ended San Francisco's hopes of another division title in a matchup of two of the league's best defenses. The two defenses, however, got crushed by offense. The Panthers raced to a 10–0 lead in the first quarter but Steve Young found Brent Jones for a 10–7 score; the second quarter was a points explosion as Kerry Collins connected with Willie Green and ex-Niner Wesley Walls while Young found rookie Terrell Owens from 46 yards out; at the half the Panthers led 27–17. Jerry Rice's five-yard touchdown catch in the fourth was the closest the Niners came to the Panthers as Young was picked off twice and the Niners fumbled two more times; they also were hit with 14 penalties and 121 yards. Carolina thus finished a season sweep 30–24; Collins and Young combined for 620 passing yards.
Despite two interceptions Kerry Collins threw for 268 yards and two second half scores, erasing a 13–10 Ravens halftime lead in a 27–16 win. Anthony Johnson's 81 rushing yards accounted for all but one of the Panthers yards on the ground.
Former Steelers coach Dom Capers and former Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene greeted Bill Cowher and his AFC Central champions for the regular-season finale. After a Wesley Walls touchdown catch Mike Tomczak was hit in the endzone; he threw the ball before going down but it was ruled intentional grounding, for a Panthers safety. Kordell Stewart ran in an 80-yard touchdown, but in the fourth down 18–14 the Steelers choked on a procedure penalty and then a Chad Cota interception in the endzone. The moment of the year, though, came in the second quarter on a Panthers punt; the ball fell into the endzone and the mascot Sir Purr jumped on the ball even though it was still live; Cowher was laughing hard at the miscue and Sir Purr was listed as having one punt return for zero yards.
The second-year Panthers held Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman to 165 passing yards and forced three interceptions en route to their first playoff win in team history. Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin was knocked out of the game on its second play on a hard hit by Lamar Lathon; the hit broke Irvin's collarbone. On offense, running back Anthony Johnson was their top performer with 104 rushing yards and a 9-yard reception. Dallas scored first on kicker Chris Boniol's 22-yard field goal, but wide receiver Michael Irvin was knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder. Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins then threw two touchdown passes, a 1-yarder to tight end Wesley Walls and a 10-yarder to wide receiver Willie Green. The Cowboys countered with a 73-yard drive to score on Aikman's 2-yard touchdown pass to Daryl Johnston, but they failed on the extra point attempt and the Panthers lead was only cut to 14–9. A bad snap on a Carolina punt attempt went out of the end zone to give the Cowboys a safety. But Panthers safety Chad Cota intercepted a pass and returned it 49 yards to set up kicker John Kasay's 24-yard field goal with three seconds in the half, giving Carolina a 17–11 halftime lead. The second half was a battle of field goals with Kasey kicking 3 over Boniol's 2. In the final minutes of the fourth penalties on Tyrone Poole kept a Cowboys drive alive, until Aikman was intercepted by Pat Terrell; the subsequent Kasay field goal ended all hopes for the Cowboys in the 26–17 Carolina win.
The Packers recorded 201 rushing yards and 476 total yards of offense. Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens recorded 117 yards receiving and 88 yards rushing, including a 29-yard touchdown catch. Quarterback Brett Favre managed to overcome two early turnovers that set up 10 Carolina points, completing 19 out of 29 passes for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns. Packers running back Edgar Bennett, who recorded 99 rushing yards, scored a touchdown from 4 yards out, and kicker Chris Jacke added 3 field goals.
Early in the first quarter, Panthers linebacker Sam Mills intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it to the Packers 3-yard line, setting up Kerry Collins' 3-yard touchdown pass to fullback Howard Griffith. Green Bay struck back with Favre's 29-yard touchdown pass to Levens, but after forcing a punt, Carolina lineman Lamar Lathon recovered a fumble from Favre on the Packers 45-yard line. A few plays later, John Kasay's 22-yard field goal put the Panthers back in the lead, 10–7.
But after that, the Packers dominated the rest of the game. Favre responded by leading Green Bay 71 yards in 15 plays and scoring with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman. Then on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, safety Tyrone Williams intercepted a pass from Collins on the Packers 38-yard line. Favre's completions to Andre Rison and Freeman for gains of 23 and 25 yards moved the ball into field goal range, and Jacke's 31-yard field goal finished the drive, giving Green Bay a 17–10 halftime lead.
On the first drive of the second half, Green Bay moved the ball 73 yards in 11 plays and scored with another Jacke field goal. The Panthers managed to respond with an 11-play, 73-yard drive of their own and score with Kasay's second field goal, which cut their deficit to 7 points. But Green Bay stormed right back with a 74-yard touchdown drive, featuring a 66-yard reception by Levens. On the next play, Bennett's 4-yard touchdown run gave the Packers a 27–13 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Jacke's third field goal put the game out of reach.
|Culture and lore|
|Hall of Honor|
|Wild card berths (2)|
|Division championships (6)|
|Conference championships (2)|
|Current league affiliations|
Italics indicates Super Bowl appearance