NFL: Panthers 31, Lions 22
By David Shaw
CHARLOTTE ó Someone must have set the Carolina Panthers' alarm clock for the 18-minute mark Sunday.
It took them until early in the second quarter to snap out of a mid-autumn slumber in their 31-22 victory over winless Detroit.
"We couldn't get anything to work in the first quarter," rookie center Geoff Hangartner said at Bank of America Stadium, where Carolina (8-2) won its fourth straight and maintained a one-game lead over Tampa Bay in the NFC South standings. "I can't tell you what changed from the first quarter to the second. They lined up the same way. We just somehow got it going."
They certainly did. Carolina shook off a slow start and scored three touchdowns in the second period, finished with a team-record 264 yards rushing and set another mark when two running backs ó Jonathan Stewart (130) and DeAngelo Williams (120) ó each topped 100 yards in the same game.
"We're the kind of team that can't get frustrated when things don't go our way," said left guard Travelle Wharton. "We all had to keep doing our jobs ó and let the playmakers do their thing."
Carolina managed only 10 yards total offense in the first period and found itself down 10-0 after Detroit kicker Jason Hanson booted a 40-yard field goal with 12:59 remaining in the half. The Lions (0-10) hadn't scored first in any of their previous nine games.
"Everybody's got players. Everybody's got talent," defensive end Julius Peppers said after recording his eighth and ninth sacks of the year. "Including Detroit. You've got to win games like this, too. Most games are not blowouts."
Carolina did an about-face in the second period, when it amassed 198 total yards. First quarterback Jake Delhomme hit tight end Jeff King on a 15-yard square-in for a touchdown. Then after Hanson lined a 56-yard field goal to make it 13-7, Williams busted a 56-yard TD run and Stewart ó the surprisingly well-adjusted rookie out of Oregon ó went 22 yards off left tackle for a touchdown and a 21-13 Carolina lead.
"That's the formula to win in this league," said Delhomme, who bounced back from last week's four-interception debacle at Oakland by completing 10 of 19 passes for 98 yards. "When you can run the ball, you give your team a chance."
An escaped convict in shackles could have run successfully behind Carolina's determined offensive line. The Panthers averaged 8.3 yards-per-carry are now running the ball at a 134-yards-per-game clip.
"Our backs had great vision and were hitting the holes and running hard," said Wharton. "As long as we block the right people up front, those guys are gonna be hard to bring down."
Detroit quarterback Dante Culpepper ó in his second post-retirement game ó brought the guests within 24-22 when he scored on a 1-yard sneak with 6:05 remaining. But he was stopped on a two-point conversion try by linebacker Jon Beason, who got away with a facemask infraction. Carolina closed the scoring after safety Charles Godfrey ó another first-year starter ó returned an interception to the Detroit 4 with 4:50 to go. One snap later Williams scored his second TD, capping a less-than-spectacular victory.
"It's never a 'win...but' in this league," said Delhomme. "It's a tough business, and this team fought us. It's a win ó and that's huge."
NOTES: Godfrey also recovered a second-quarter fumble, sparking a defense that forced four turnovers.
Hanson has kicked six field goals from 50-or-more yards this season and 39 in his 17-year career, all spent with Detroit. He passed Nick Lowery and moved into eighth place on the NFL's all-time scoring list with 1,714 points. ... This was Culpepper's first game in Charlotte since the former Viking tore three knee ligaments here on Oct. 30, 2005. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 207 yards.
The Panthers visit division foe Atlanta next Sunday and travel to Green Bay on Nov. 30.