Do you remember when the Carolina Panthers began the season 3-0 and were garnering national attention for their surprising start? No, we're not talking about 1996, when the then second-year expansion franchise won its first three contests en route to a date with the Packers at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship Game. Actually, you only have to go back as far as September 2002, when the 3-0 Panthers were one of the darlings of NFL pregame shows from one end of the dial to the other.
Under the direction of rookie head coach John Fox and 36-year-old journeyman quarterback Rodney Peete, Carolina opened the '02 campaign with victories against the Ravens, Lions and Vikings, and the Panthers headed to Lambeau in Week 4 with visions of -- dare they say it? -- the playoffs dancing in their heads. And the dream season nearly continued against the Packers, but Shayne Graham missed a potential game-tying, 24-yard field-goal attempt with 16 seconds left in regulation. That loss immediately was followed by seven more, and though the Panthers rebounded to win four of their last five outings, any hopes of the postseason generated by their fast start had long since faded.
But the Panthers and their fans can take at least some solace in the fact that they weren't the only club to start 3-0 in 2002 that won't be suiting up this January. In fact, in the wacky, wild, unpredictable and oftentimes inexplicable regular season that just concluded, seven teams boasted a perfect mark through their first three games. Yet Miami, New England, Denver, San Diego, New Orleans and Carolina all managed to squander their hot starts, while only Oakland managed to gain a spot in the postseason. As you can see in the following chart, the number of 3-0 "postseason misses" is unprecedented when compared to the previous dozen campaigns: