SEATTLE – When the regular season comes to a close, Sunday's victory officially will mean exactly as much the Panthers' previous victory over a Tampa Bay team that dropped its 11th consecutive home game.
And when the Panthers take the field again next Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, the victory won't mean a thing.
But in the moment, when the final second ticked off the clock, it meant the world to anyone associated with the Panthers.
And moments like that are what the crazy games we play and watch are all about.
"When Greg caught that ball, there was just so much bottled up in myself, and I know everybody else was the same way," quarterback Cam Newton said after his 26-yard touchdown strike to tight end Greg Olsen with 32 seconds left capped a nine-point rally and forged a 27-23 victory over Carolina's No. 1 nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks.
What was bottled up spilled out in a celebration worthy of such a win, especially in light of the seemingly unlikely nature of it.
"When you get a late touchdown like that in a hostile environment, it puts everything in perspective about why you work so hard, why you play through injuries," Newton continued. "When you're in the huddle and you see 10 guys staring back at you, you can't let those guys down."
The Panthers' rise from a 2-14 record in 2010 – the year before Newton was the No. 1 overall pick and two years before linebacker Luke Kuechly was the No. 9 overall pick – has included plenty of ups and downs, but the Panthers have never gotten down on themselves.
Resiliency has been a buzzword throughout – from a 9-3 record over the final six games of Newton's first two otherwise struggling seasons; to an 11-1 finish following a 1-3 start in 2013; and onto a four-game winning streak to close last season that followed a six-game losing skid and earned a second straight playoff berth.
The Seahawks, however, had remained resistance to that resilience – until now. In 2012, they dropped Carolina into a 1-4 hole with a 16-12 victory in which the Panthers fell one yard short of victory. In 2013, the season opener saw Seattle steal a 12-7 victory, the Seahawks' first step toward becoming eventual Super Bowl champions.
Then last season, Carolina's six-game losing streak began with a loss to Green Bay followed by another heartbreaker against Seattle, this one by a 13-9 count. As if that wasn't enough, the Panthers' subsequent rally that included a playoff victory came to a halt when the Seahawks secured a 31-17 triumph over Carolina in the NFC Divisional Playoff, in Seattle.
"It was on everybody's minds, whether you were here last year or not," second-year guard Trai Turner said. "That feeling wasn't good. This shows the resiliency of this team to come back here and do what we were supposed to against all odds."
The odds did look long – longer than the previous three regular season meetings to be sure – when the Seahawks kicked a field goal with 11:46 left for a 23-14 lead and when Carolina had to kick the ball back to Seattle after failing to pick up a first down with 10:06 left.
But the Panthers' defense allowed just one first down the rest of the way, and the offense pieced together back-to-back touchdown drives of 80 yards to go with two 80-yard marches earlier in the game.
"To go 80 yards on them four times and score touchdowns, I don't know if many people can do that," Olsen said. "That's a great defense. They're a special group, especially at home. It speaks to the kind of guys we have."
And the 5-0 Panthers have the look of a special group as well, something that Seattle finally understands first-hand.
"This means a lot because these are the NFC champs two years in a row and Super Bowl champs two seasons ago," head coach Ron Rivera said. "That's a good football team we faced. Who knows, maybe we will face them again."
View game action photos from Carolina's 27-23 win over Seattle.