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Gallagher column: Second-half emotion woke up Panthers fans

After two weeks of the NFL season, maybe the secret to winning for the Carolina Panthers is to lull their fans to sleep and then let the other team wake them up.
That was certainly the talk after Sunday’s 20-17 win over Chicago.
Remember Week 1? Most had given up on the Panthers when they lined up for the final play against San Diego. They won.
On Sunday, the fans were booing and fidgeting by halftime. The Panthers were playing like it was their first preseason game. There had been five false starts. Three illegal formations. Two illegal blocks. One illegal procedure.
And a partridge in a pear tree.
Just kidding there, but let’s face it. Prospects for a win looked bleak at the seven-minute mark of the third quarter. Carolina trailed the Bears 17-3 due to a comedy of errors.
The frustration had peaked late in the second quarter when a hard rush on punter Jason Baker had him tumbling to the turf on his fanny. He jumped up and complained to referee Ron Winter that a roughing-the-kicker penalty should’ve been called.
Winter not only let Baker know why he didn’t throw a flag, but informed all 73,828 fans as well.
“There was no roughing the kicker,” his voice blared over the loudspeaker, “because there was no contact.”

Oddly enough, the play of the game for the Panthers came on a failed third-and-12 situation with 6:19 left in the third period.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme ran up the middle and slid for only six yards. The fans, who had barely risen from their seats to do anything but buy another beer or use the restroom, were envisioning the team’s fifth straight loss in a home opener.
Little did they know that one slide by Delhomme would change everything.
As Delhomme was skidding to the turf, Bears’ linebacker Lance Briggs came in high and just about knocked Delhomme’s head off. When no penalty was called, Delhomme showed the emotion that has made him the team leader.
“I’m sure he had some cobwebs,” said coach John Fox.
That infectious Delhomme emotion spurred on his teammates.
“They take a shot at our quarterback,” glared linebacker Jon Beason, “and we can’t allow that to happen.”
Carolina scored the game’s final 17 points.
“I know my energy went up,” Fox said.

As it did for Jonathan Stewart. The rookie running back out of Oregon then scored the first two touchdowns of his pro career and rushed for 77 yards.
After John Kasay hit a field goal, Stewart scored on runs of 1 and 4 yards, the last coming with 3:52 left in the game.
“That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Stewart shrugged. “In the second half, we were a different team. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.”
“He finally got his feet wet,” fellow running back DeAngelo Williams smiled. “There were some big holes in the second half.”

Two Panthers who can’t be overlooked are receiver Muhsin Muhammad and safety Chris Harris. Both made big plays after halftime that helped lead to scores.
Which was appropriate considering both were once Chicago Bears.
Muhammad was drafted by the Panthers in 1996 and nine years later, became a Bear. He caught 164 passes in three years but was waived last season. Nine days later, he was back in a Panthers uniform.
With the score still 17-6 in the third quarter, Muhammad caught a pass and took it inside the 10, setting up a Stewart score.
Harris, whom the Bears traded to Carolina last year, had set it up by stripping Bears’ tight end Greg Olsen.
“I’ve been talking trash all week, so it was good to go out there and back it up,” Harris said with a satisifed grin.
Those big plays didn’t surprise Bears safety Mike Brown.
“Both of those guys are phenomenal players,” he said. “Carolina will take on their confidence and feed off of it.”
“It was sweet going out there and beating those guys,” Harris said.
Muhammad figured he’d hear some chatter from his former teammates. He was matched up against Charles Tillman for most of the day and he knew the defense’s tendencies.
“It was really similar,” Muhammad said. “It was another day of work … in a weird sort of way.”
Muhammad said he and Brian Urlacher shared some banter after one of his catches.
“There was a little conversation,” he said. “There were a lot of smiles.”

The comeback overshadowed Muhammad going over 10,000 receiving yards for his career. The 35-year-old seemed a bit humbled afterward.
I don’t know how many have done it,” he said. “Maybe I can get some bids for the Hall of Fame. I came from a little town so to do that in the NFL means a lot.
“But the win was just as significant as the 10,000 yards.”
He’ll rack up plenty more yards before the season’s over, especially when Steve Smith returns from suspension next week in Minnesota.
“It’s just a really good team right now,” Muhammad said of the Panthers.
A really good team that’s only going to get better ó especially if Delhomme stays his usual emotional self.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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