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Panthers Show They Belong

Uptown Charlotte was festive last night before, during and after the Carolina Panthers’ first Monday Night Football game in five years. The Panthers defeated the New England Patriots 24-20 at Bank of America Stadium to improve their record to 7-3. It was the Panthers’ sixth win in a row.

Morgan Donnelly and her dad, Jerry, have been coming to Panthers games for a long time.

"I was born in 1996," she said. "He bought the tickets in 1996."

Donnelly and her dad said she was 10 weeks old at her first game. On Monday they were tailgating for what they called the biggest Panthers’ game in five years. Jerry Donnelly said you could just tell this game day was different.

"There were a whole lot of New England fans walking around at 8:00 this morning," he said. "This parking lot went up $5 for this particular game. It’s normally $25. It’s $30 tonight. So yeah, it’s all part of it. And if you’re looking to scalp tickets, they’re very, very high (priced)."

Dozens of scalpers with wads of cash wandered throughout uptown.

It was also a good night to be in the hotel business. Through the sliding doors of the Residence Inn right by the stadium, the sound of a noisy street changed into the din of a packed lobby.

General Manager David Love said the hotel raised its average rate about 30 percent because of the game.

"This will be particularly big," he said. "And you can see it on the street. There’ll be a lot of activity all night long."

That included the Panthers percussion band marching around the stadium, and a brass band playing for tips.

A lot of the action before the game also took place in bars and restaurants.

Hooligans in the French Quarter was slammed. Owner Kristian Pedersen expected his bar to make twice as much as it had during any other Panthers game this season.

"People weren’t coming up before like an hour before the game," he said. "Now it’s four, five, six, seven hours before the game. People are excited again. It’s great to see."

Pedersen said Hooligans' opened its doors at 1:00 Monday afternoon, and the bar was "packed immediately."

So this won’t surprise you – traffic in uptown was nuts. Cars inched into parking lots, and fans streamed into Bank of America stadium. The atmosphere inside was electric.

More than 70,000 people went bananas after the Panthers scored first. Quarterback Cam Newton found receiver Brandon LaFell in the end zone.

And it only got louder from there. The Panthers took the lead 24-20 on another touchdown pass with less than a minute left. But Patriots quarterback Tom Brady quickly and coolly drove his team into scoring position, and it all came down to one play.

Panthers fans yelled at the top of their lungs and stomped their feet as the Patriots took their last shot, down four, with three seconds left.

The result was a brief celebration followed by a gut punch. Panthers safety Ron Lester picked off Brady’s pass, but then everyone saw the yellow flag in the end zone.

The Patriots – and everyone else – thought the Panthers would get called for pass interference. But the celebration restarted when the referees picked up the flag, saying there was no penalty. Brady was livid, and he chewed out a referee as they stomped through the players’ tunnel.

It was the Panthers’ sixth straight win.

"This city wants it, and we want to give it to them," said head coach Ron Rivera after the game. "The electricity, the energy - the fans were just, it was tremendous. I mean, it really was. And that’s what we’re working towards, to get that kind of support all the time. I was very, very pleased with what they gave us."

Or as one of the Panthers’ veteran players put it, the stadium was as loud Monday night as he’s heard it in years.

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