The Carolina Panthers bandwagon got a lot more crowded Sunday.
Many of the fans who gathered at the dozens of tailgating sites across uptown said they believe this seasons team is for real and that a victory over the Atlanta Falcons would seal the deal.
The Panthers 34-10 rout of the Falcons at Bank of America Stadium took care of that.
I think this team is legit, said Hunter Boggs of Charlotte, who was among a half-dozen fans tailgating in a parking deck on Church Street. There are still a few problems, but the players and coaches have evolved.
I really believe the New Orleans Saints should watch out, Boggs added, referring to the only team ahead of the Panthers in the NFC South.
After several losing seasons, fans said Sunday they initially were wary of putting too much hope in this years team.
The last time I took my daughter-in-law Allison to a game, a year ago, Carolina blew an eight-point lead in the last 20 seconds, said Tim Harvell, a personal seat license owner from Clover, S.C. So youre always a bit cautious. But I think this team has turned the corner.
Sundays victory was the fourth in a row for Carolina, and the 5-3 Panthers outscored those opponents 130-48. Marshvilles Jack Crumpler, a Panthers season ticket-holder since the beginning, said before kickoff that Sundays outcome would tell him a lot.
If they win today, I think theyll win in San Francisco next week, he said. They really have an improved team.
Crumpler is putting his money behind that boast. He has bought tickets for next Sundays game in San Francisco against the defending NFC champion 49ers.
Ill be there with all my Panthers clothes on, he said.
Not everyone tailgating Sunday was a die-hard Panthers supporter. Cortez Sutton of Winston-Salem was lured to the game by friends for a surprise 30th birthday party.
Im a Tampa Bay fan, Sutton said. So Im impartial. But I think the Panthers have a good chance. Theyre really rocking.
Chris Beaver, whose father, Walt, was a team physician with the Panthers in the 1990s, said hes heard skeptics say Carolinas winning streak has come at the expense of weak opposition.
Who cares? Beaver said. Weve beaten who we played, and the games werent close. We crushed them. We dont ease up, like we did in the past.
This team has a mean streak.
Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle