NFL: Panthers 35, Packers 31

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 30, 2008

By Chris Jenkins
Associated Press
GREEN BAY, Wis. ó The Carolina Panthers should have been trudging into a snowy Green Bay night wondering for the second week in a row if they’re really as good as their record would indicate.
Instead, they were celebrating an improbable come-from-behind victory Sunday, thanks to late back-to-back-to-back big plays by Mark Jones, Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams ó and a Green Bay Packers team that seemed intent on giving the game away.
But with division rival Tampa Bay coming to Charlotte next Monday night, Smith wasn’t gloating about the Panthers’ stunning 35-31 victory in wintry conditions at Lambeau Field.
“It just means we’re 9-3,” Smith said. “It’s nothing to go start making T-shirts about. It’s just a record. We’ve got a very good opponent coming in our house Monday night. That’s our next focus.”
Williams scored his fourth touchdown of the game with 1:30 left after a big kickoff return by Jones and catch by Smith on a deep ball from Jake Delhomme. With the win, Carolina rebounded from a head-scratching blowout at Atlanta last week and kept pace in the competitive NFC South.
The loss could be crushing for the Packers (5-7), who were coming off a blowout loss in New Orleans on Monday night and will fall two games out of the NFC North lead with four games left unless division co-leaders Chicago and Minnesota play to a tie Sunday night.
“We have been way too inconsistent, definitely underachieving at times,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “The inconsistency is the biggest disappointment.”
Green Bay’s last-minute special teams and defensive breakdowns ruined what could have been a signature win for Rodgers, who led Green Bay back from a 21-10 halftime deficit.
With the game tied at 28, Rodgers drove Green Bay deep into Carolina territory and absorbed a jarring late hit out of bounds by Carolina’s Julius Peppers for a penalty. That set up first-and-goal on the 7.
The Panthers made a goal-line stand, but the Packers took a 31-28 lead on Mason Crosby’s 19-yard field goal with 1:57 remaining.
But Green Bay immediately gave up a 45-yard kickoff return to Jones and a 54-yard heave from Delhomme to Smith to set up first-and-goal on the Green Bay 1.
“It shouldn’t have been a catch,” said Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who was covering Smith on the play. “I take full responsibility. Like I said, I would take myself 100 percent of time to be in that position, with the ball in the air, being able to go get the ball. I didn’t make it happen.”
Williams then went up the gut for his career-high fourth score of the game.
“The offensive line blocked their butts off, and Steve Smith made a great catch,” Williams said. “Our special teams played big for us all night. I think in all three phases we played good enough to win this game tonight ó and it showed out there on the field.”
Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart have formed a formidable 1-2 running combination for the Panthers this season, but Williams got the bulk of Sunday’s carries after Stewart cramped up on a long run in the second quarter.
“(DeAngelo) had to carry more of the load today,” Panthers coach John Fox said. “When he has, when we’ve called on him, he’s come up. He’s done a tremendous job for us.”
Williams had 21 rushes for 72 yards. Smith finished the game with 105 yards receiving ó all in the second half. Delhomme was 12-of-17 for 177 yards.
Rodgers finished 29-of-45 for 298 yards with three touchdowns, and threw an interception with 1:19 left.
The Packers had a late lead, the crowd, and the sometimes-notorious Lambeau weather in their favor ó and let it all fall apart.
“We’re just not making big plays when the money’s on the table,” Packers right tackle Mark Tauscher said. “We don’t punch it in on third-and-1. You don’t make any plays. We’re playing in spurts, and we’re not doing enough to win games.”

NOTES: Green Bay has four losses this season by four points or fewer. … Green Bay’s Greg Jennings had eight catches for 91 yards, putting him over the 1,000-yard mark in a season for the first time in his career.