CHARLOTTE – When you a win a Divisional Playoff game, it doesn't really matter who you beat. You're going to be thrilled to be one win from the Super Bowl regardless.
But that said, did beating the two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, winners of the Super Bowl two seasons ago, make Sunday's 31-24 triumph a little more special?
It depends who you ask; depends what they're willing to share.
But several Panthers couldn't deny it.
"I would be lying to you if I said that it didn't feel good to go out and beat Seattle," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "They've been the team to beat in the conference for the last few years. For us to go out and beat this team – a team we haven't beaten here at home in three or four tries – it was definitely rewarding."
In head coach Ron Rivera's tenure, the Panthers have played the Seahawks in the regular season four times. Carolina's only win came at Seattle in Week 6 of this season. Each of those three losses was by no more than five points.
Last year, Seattle ended Carolina's season in the NFC Divisional round with a 31-17 victory.
This year, the roles revered.
"We have a ton of respect for them," tight end Greg Olsen said. "Everything they've accomplished, they've earned. That's a really good team now – they're not winning by accident. They have a lot of good players, they have a good system. We've said all along our path to being relevant here means we've got to knock off one of these teams that has haunted us and kind of ruled the NFC for a while."
Those hard-fought battles created a strong mutual respect between these two teams. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett once famously called the Panthers "an attractive cousin" because of how similar the two teams are in their philosophy and approach.
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said the Seahawks tipped their cap to the Panthers after their latest encounter at Bank of America Stadium.
"That's exactly what it was like," Cotchery said. "I think they knew what type of team we were and they respected that just like we respect them. You could feel that mutual respect, especially after the game. Some of their guys were like, 'Hey, 'Go and win it.'"
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson shared that sentiment with several Panthers, most notably his quarterback counterpart Cam Newton. Earl Thomas jokingly said to Newton, "It's about time."
Want to be the last team standing? Beat a team that knows how to get there.
"We wanted that missed field goal in Minnesota last week," safety Tre Boston said. "We wanted these guys to come into our home. It was amazing to come out with this win."
Does beating the Seahawks make a statement to the outside world? The Panthers aren't so much interested in that.
Their only concern is finishing the job after taking a monumental step.
"We're not trying to make statements. We know we have a great team," Cotchery said. "We try to approach it the right way and see how that plays out."
View game action photos from Carolina's 31-24 win over Seattle.