At the end of Week 16’s game, it was a bleak, empty sight in what has become a bleak season for the Carolina Panthers. With the Panthers unable to muster any sort of response to the Atlanta Falcons’ big plays in the second half, the Panthers finished a 24-10 loss with little more than a whimper in front of a relatively empty Bank of America Stadium.
Those fans who stayed, however, got the opportunity to see a franchise great walk off the field one last time.
As the Panthers made their way back to the locker room following their seventh-straight loss, one that eliminated them from playoff contention, center Ryan Kalil took a moment to give a wave to the fans that remained. Kalil, who is retiring at season’s end, played in the final home game of his NFL career on Sunday. He will play in his final game on the road, when the Panthers travel to New Orleans in Week 17 to close out their season.
Ryan Kalil on his way back on the tunnel pic.twitter.com/mzKPO3l5Qg
— Kelsey Riggs (@KelseyRiggsWCNC) December 23, 2018
Speaking ahead of his final game at Bank of America Stadium, Kalil had stated earlier this week that he wasn’t expecting a rousing sendoff from the Carolina faithful – As may be expected from an offensive lineman.
“I think fans just want me to block and keep Cam (Newton) clean, I don’t think they care about anything else other than that,” Kalil told Kelsey Riggs of WCNC. “I just don’t want to be in that mindset even though this is what I’ve decided to do. So I’ll just pretend it doesn’t exist, until it exists.”
Speaking later in the week in a report by Joe Person of The Athletic, Kalil stated in reflection on his final season that he was proud of the fact that he was able to play all the way through, given that his 2017 season had been marred by a series of injuries that limited his opportunities to play.
“To me, it’s my job to be out there. I get paid a lot of money to be out there,” said Kalil. “I’ve been fortunate this season to not be hurt and be out there and help contribute. So, knock on wood, that’s always a plus.”
In his 12-year NFL career, Kalil has earned five Pro Bowl honors as well as three All-Pro honors: A Second-Team designation in 2011, and First-Team honors in 2013 and 2015. In the years to come, it is likely that Kalil will earn a place in the Panthers’ Hall of Honor.
Though no one knows for sure, Sunday may also have been the final home game for both defensive end Julius Peppers and linebacker Thomas Davis. Both Peppers and Davis are Panthers legends, and neither have contracts for next season.