NFL: Panthers 28, Bucs 21
By Fred Goodall
TAMPA, Fla. ó With the game on the line, Carolina’s Jake Delhomme found a way to make up for costly mistakes the Panthers made to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pull even.
The struggling quarterback turned and handed the ball to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Over and over.
“I’m sure everybody in the stadium knew what we were going to do,” Williams said after the defending NFC South champions drove 80 yards in the closing minutes to beat the winless Bucs 28-21 on Sunday.
“There were times they had nine in the box,” the running back added, “and we were still getting 7 of 8 yards.”
A week after getting their first win over lowly Washington, the Panthers (2-3) rushed for 267 yards and three touchdowns to extend Tampa Bay’s worst start in 24 years.
The Bucs (0-6) have started a season with six straight losses for the first time since 1985. They’ve dropped 10 in a row dating to a lopsided defeat at Carolina in December, a slide that’s their longest since 1977, when Tampa Bay was in the middle of an NFL-record 26-game skid.
Williams gained a season-best 152 yards on 30 carries and scored twice, including the winning TD with 29 seconds left. The 1-yard dive capped a 16-play drive that took more than 8 minutes.
“That takes tough guys, and we try to breed that,” Panthers coach John Fox said.
Delhomme, who had thrown two interceptions in the second half, only attempted one pass in the winning drive ó a 4-yarder for Steve Smith’s only reception of the game.
Meanwhile, Williams carried eight times for 33 yards and Stewart gained 43 on seven attempts.
“We got overpowered at the end, and really throughout the game,” Bucs rookie coach Raheem Morris said.
Carolina (2-3) squandered a 21-7 lead, giving up a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter and watching Tampa Bay tie the game on Tanard Jackson’s 26-yard interception return.
But once the Panthers took the ball out of Delhomme’s hands, Williams and Stewart took over. Eleven of the 15 runs on the final drive gained 5 or more yards; none of them ended with no gain or a loss.
Williams also scored on a 20-yard run in the second quarter. Stewart’s 26-yard TD run put Carolina up 21-7 late in the third quarter.
Both also had big days in the last meeting between the NFC South rivals, when the Panthers ran for a franchise-record 299 yards. Heading into Sunday, Carolina was averaging 97.3 yards on the ground ó 23rd in the league.
Delhomme was 9 of 17 for 65 yards and one TD. His two interceptions helped the Bucs get back in the game, and Tampa Bay forced a third turnover when Jackson caused Stewart’s fumble at the Bucs 3 in the second quarter.Carolina also had to overcome losing safety Dante Wesley, who was ejected late in the first half after he launched himself into Bucs punt returner Clifton Smith, who had signaled for a fair catch.
The hit with 10 seconds left in the second quarter brought players from both teams off the sidelines. Wesley appeared to leave his feet and strike Smith in the upper body with his left shoulder.
Smith remained on the ground for a few minutes, then was helped to his feet and walked off the field. He missed the remainder of the game with a concussion.
“I was just trying to make a play,” said Wesley, adding he wasn’t trying to hurt Smith, who was a Pro Bowl kick returner as a rookie last season.
Cadillac Williams gave Tampa Bay an early 7-0 lead with a 20-yard TD run. Sammie Stroughter’s long kickoff return trimmed Carolina’s lead to 21-14, then Jackson’s TD tied it with 8:33 remaining.
Tampa Bay’s Josh Johnson finished 11 of 17 for 147 yards and one interception, which linebacker Thomas Davis ran back 24 yards to set up Delhomme’s 1-yard TD pass to Jeff King.
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