Been a while since Panthers exceeded .500

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thomas Davis paused, something the outside linebacker seldom does on the football field, when asked if he remembered the last time the Carolina Panthers were above .500.

"I don't know. I just know we're headed in that direction right now and that's what our goal is after we play this Thursday night game," Davis said as he looked ahead to the prime time showdown at Tampa Bay.

He paused again.

"If I had to sit here and think, it would be probably when we went to the playoffs in 2008," Davis said.

He's right. He's also one of only seven players on Carolina's active roster -- nine total when you count running back Jonathan Stewart on the physically unable to perform list and safety Charles Godfrey on injured reserve -- who knows what it's like to be above .500 for the Panthers, 3-3 after winning two straight and three of their last four.

Six of the seven (Davis, wide receiver Steve Smith, running back DeAngelo Williams, center Ryan Kalil, guard Travelle Wharton and left tackle Jordan Gross) were starters on the '08 team that finished 12-4.

Defensive end Charles Johnson and Stewart, expected to come off the PUP list next week, were backups.

"Is that all that's left?" Gross said surprisingly as I talked to Kalil about the streak.

That's it.

Since 2008 the Panthers have lost their opener every year, finishing 8-8, 2-14, 6-10 and 7-9. They've started 1-5 each of the past two seasons under coach Ron Rivera.

Their string of 70 consecutive games without being above .500, according to ESPN stats, is the fourth longest in the last 25 years. Only Oakland (101 games, 2004-2010), St. Louis (93 games, 2006-2012) and San Diego (75 games,1988-1992) have experienced more futility.

The streak is so long that Wharton had time to go to another organization and come back.

So to have a chance to go over .500 is big for an organization looking to become relevant again, for a coach looking to secure his future.

No, it's huge, a word several players have tossed around this week.

"Oh, it would be tremendous for this program," Rivera said. "We have an opportunity, and we're going to make the best of this. We're going to get ourselves above it so we can go forward, start taking those strides."

That the opponent is 0-6 doesn't matter. The Panthers know what it's like to be in the Bucs' shoes. They were just there a month ago at 0-2 with questions of whether Rivera would survive past the opening week.

"The approach is, whether they're winless or not, it's an important game," Rivera said. "That's what's been stressed. You don't count records when you play teams. You can be playing against a 1-14 team and you can be 15-0 ... it doesn't matter.

"We're not going to overlook this by any stretch of the imagination, and it has been talked about."

And is has been heard. Players aren't looking at Tampa's record any more than they are thinking about how long it's been since the team was above .500. They understand that looking ahead or behind gets them nowhere.

"I don't think we're too concerned with what the history books are saying," Kalil said. "We're more concerned with winning this game. That's the focus and that's what it needs to be.

"As far as the rest of that stuff, it's not relevant."

But if the Panthers can get to 4-3 they will become relevant, at least in terms of being playoff contenders.

"Sure," Kalil said. "But you can't get there until you win the next one. That's the important thing, not all that other crazy stuff you mentioned."

The crazy stuff, such as how long it's been since Carolina was above .500, is relevant in that nobody would be talking about it if the team hadn't struggled for so long.

That's why Rivera said to get above .500 would be huge not only for the team, but for a city that has suffered through the past four seasons.

So while the past isn't the focus, it hasn't been erased from the memory banks.

"Yeah, I've lived it obviously," Kalil said. "It's frustrating, especially when you feel we've had teams that have been talented enough to not be in that situation. And this team is no different.

"At the same time, you don't concern yourself with it because it doesn't do anything for you now. You worry about the now and living in the now."

If the Panthers take care of the now, then five years from now the big trivia question may be about when they ended their 70-game stretch of being below .500.