After an eight-game winning streak, a 31-13 loss to New Orleans on Sunday night snapped the Carolina Panthers back to reality.
The Saints played with the skill of a Super Bowl-bound team, and the Panthers played dismally. But for Carolina, there's something different in the air this year. There's hope.
As the final seconds of the game ticked down, fans' cries of "the Panthers were supposed to win!" were followed by "we're still better than last year" and "we can still make the playoffs."
Fans must also acknowledge that Carolina is a changed team. That one loss won't ruin the season. That there's always next week, because this isn't the Calamity Cats of old. The door to the playoffs is still open, a wild-card designation still possible.
There's hope the Panthers can win in two weeks when they meet New Orleans here in Charlotte. There's hope they can win all of their remaining games.
In the past, the Panthers would lose and there'd be cries of "what else is new?" or "what did you expect?" This year, my Facebook wall is instead flooded with shouts of "keep pounding!" and "ice up!" Fans haven't lost hope, and that's the biggest change of all.