Panthers beat Colts 23-20
By MIKE CRANSTON
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Julius Peppers was too good in Carolina’s preseason debut to give Jake Delhomme much of a chance to test his surgically repaired right elbow.
Peppers was too dominant to give Jim Sorgi an opportunity to cement his status as Peyton Manning’s backup in Indianapolis.
Determined to erase memories of a miserable 2007 when he was held to a career-low 2O sacks, Peppers sacked Sorgi, forced him to fumble and hurried him into an interception on the first two possessions Saturday night in the Panthers’ 23-20 overtime win over the Colts.
“He worked very hard this offseason,” coach John Fox said of Peppers, who didn’t make the Pro Bowl for the first time in four years. “I think physically, when you look at him, he looks outstanding. I think he’s gotten stronger, and I think you’re seeing the results of that.”
Both turnovers gave the Panthers the ball inside the Colts’ 20. DeAngelo Williams, who had nine carries for 55 yards, finished off the short drives with touchdown runs as Carolina built a 14-0 lead.
Well after the starters left, a botched snap prevented John Kasay from attempting a 27-yard field goal on the final play of regulation. Kasay then missed a 50-yard try on the first possession of OT before finally connecting from 46 yards with 3:53 left.
Delhomme had long taken off his pads after his successful, if uneventful, return. Facing two short drives, Delhomme attempted only one pass ó an incompletion in the end zone ó in his first game since undergoing ligament-replacement surgery in October. Matt Moore replaced him on the third drive.
“I’ll take that any day of the week,” Delhomme said. “I knew I was going to play one or two series, get a few throws. Would I have liked to have gotten a few more? Absolutely, but I know I’m going to play a whole lot more coming up this week and the following week.”
Sorgi’s future is more uncertain. Getting his second straight start as Manning recovers from knee surgery, Sorgi has played little the past four seasons as the two-time league MVP Manning racked up the second-longest starts streak behind Brett Favre.
With Jared Lorenzen completing 12 of 23 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns to rookie Jacob Tamme, Sorgi’s cushy job as Manning’s understudy is in jeopardy.
“It was just a rough start,” Sorgi said. “All you can do is watch film and see how you can improve and what you can do better. I’m sure we’re going to have a nice, long meeting when we get back to camp.”
Sorgi finally found some rhythm later in the first quarter when he connected three times with eight-time Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison, making his preseason debut following knee surgery.
“I think Marvin did fine,” coach Tony Dungy said. “I really wasn’t thinking he was going to play. He wanted to go tonight.”
After the drive stalled and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 42-yard field goal, Lorenzen, of Kentucky, found a target in fellow former Wildcat Tamme, who caught touchdown passes of 9 and 14 yards.
Quinn Gray, the Colts’ third QB, threw two interceptions as Indy (0-2) lost for the 14th time in 16 preseason games.
“Our first group on either side of the ball weren’t really sharp,” Dungy said. “That was disappointing.”
It was an impressive debut for the Panthers, who showed no hangover from the training camp fight in which receiver Steve Smith broke cornerback Ken Lucas’ nose.
With Lucas still sidelined, Smith drew cheers from the home crowd when he made his only catch, a leaping 19-yard grab over the middle. Smith, who was suspended for the first two regular-season games, twice pounded his chest and pointed to the sky.
But the star treatment went to Peppers after his nearly invisible 2007.
His sack forced Sorgi to fumble and Carolina’s Charles Johnson recovered. On the second possession, Peppers hurried Sorgi, and his forced pass was deflected by Gary Gibson and intercepted by Adam Seward.
The poor early field position didn’t give the Colts’ defense much of a chance despite the return of middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who had four tackles after missing the Hall of Fame game loss to Washington on Sunday with a groin injury.
Both sides were missing key players. The Colts were without 16, including Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders. The Panthers played without defensive starters Lucas, Chris Gamble, Chris Harris, Jon Beason and Damione Lewis.
First-round pick Jonathan Stewart also sat out following his offseason toe surgery. It allowed Williams to take the early lead in the competition to replace last year’s starter, DeShaun Foster.
Notes: Sorgi was 6-of-9 for 65 yards. … Rhys Lloyd, signed to be Carolina’s kickoff specialist, put his first three into the end zone for touchbacks. … Colts LB Ramon Guzman had a 31-yard fumble return. … Panthers S Joe Fields intercepted Gray on fourth-and-2 from the Carolina 10 early in the fourth quarter. … S Quinton Teal later picked off Gray.