Foster pounds Chiefs in second half

Panthers RB DeShaun Foster, plagued by a fumbling problem, held on to the ball tight as he ran over the Chiefs defense.

Updated: September 20, 2004, 8:21 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- DeShaun Foster runs well when he's angry and he was angry Sunday. So were his Carolina Panthers teammates. On Monday night, the Panthers admit they stunk it up in a 24-14 home loss to the Packers. Jake Delhomme called the performance "pitiful."

Amid a sea of red-clad Kansas City Chiefs fans, Foster wanted to silence critics who say he's a fumbler. Sure, he fumbled at UCLA. And during the preseason, he fumbled twice against the Patriots and Panthers coaches began to look at him with a skeptical eye.

DeShaun Foster had a career day in the win over Kansas City.
Everything changed on Thursday night. Stephen Davis grew tired of a knee that was swelling and had surgery to fix it. With Davis expected to be out 2-5 weeks, Foster finally had the responsibility of being the team's workhorse back. He wrapped his arms around the football as if he were a fireman carrying a baby to safety. Pity any Chief in his way or any defender trying to strip the ball.

Foster rushed in a defiant sort of way, forcing some Chiefs fans to head to the parking lots with four minutes left in their fourth quarter to drown their sorrows in barbecue sauce. Ultimately, Foster finished with 174 yards on 32 carries in a 28-17 pounding of the Chiefs.

"I'm not just a third-down back," Foster said. "I can pure run the ball, period."

The plan going into training camp was to have Davis and Foster split the carries 50-50, but the return of those fumbling problems caused some concerns. The opening loss to Green Bay didn't tip off the plan one way or another. The Panthers, who ran the ball 32 times a game last season, only had 13 carries against the Packers.

Foster and the coaching staff focused on ball security. Backfield coach Jim Skipper kept drilling Foster on cradling the football close to his body.

"The problem is just the way I hold the ball," Foster said. "Sometimes, I just get careless with it and hold it away from my body. But if you hold it high and tight, they can't take it away."

Davis' injury temporarily killed any chance the coaching staff was going to take the ball out of Foster's hands for the next month. Finally, he was the main back, unchallenged. Superman couldn't take the ball out of his hands. No Chiefs defender had a chance.

"People have been reading about the fumbling," offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "He's read about it in the paper. He's got a lot of pride. All you have to do is go back to our playoff run last year. This guy breaks four tackles in the NFC championship game and goes in from one yard out for a touchdown. In the Super Bowl, he breaks two tackles and run 33 yards, the longest run all year against the Patriots."

No one will confuse the Chiefs defense with the Patriots or the Eagles, but Foster wasn't going to be stopped Sunday. His first carry went right up the middle for 17 yards. Normally, Foster would bounce it to the outside. This time, it was no-nonsense. He was going to run over defenders and squeeze the football, emulating the style that Davis used to gain his 1,400-plus yards last season.

"I've always felt good about DeShaun's inside running ability," Panthers coach John Fox said. "He's got the size (6-foot, 222-pounds) to run inside. He's got speed and quickness to get around the perimeters. Ball security's probably been the thing on him up until now."

Face it, the Chiefs can't stop the run. Quentin Griffin, a short back, gouged the Chiefs for 156 yards last week. Foster was too big and strong for the Chiefs to pull down. He established his presence in the first half with 43 on 14 carries. Mostly tough carries up the middle.

"Stephen is more of a one-shot slasher, while this guy (Foster) bounces a little bit and then he hits you," Henning said. "He floats around and then hits it. Sometimes, that's good. Sometimes, that's not so good. They run to the same place, but they look different."

Five of his 14 first half carries went for negative yards, giving the Chiefs false hope. They led at halftime, 10-7. Fox and Henning put their minds together and figured out a strategy that the Chiefs defense couldn't defeat. They came out of halftime in a three-receiver set of Muhsin Muhammad, Ricky Proehl and rookie Keary Colbert and forced the Chiefs' defenders to save the day. They couldn't.

The Panthers drove 80 yards in 16 plays by mainly running off the three-receiver set and ate up eight minutes and 13 seconds. Delhomme hit Colbert for a nine-yard touchdown pass to take the lead, 14-10.

The Chiefs followed with four plays and a punt, and Delhomme got sloppy once, not throwing hard enough on a third-and-short pass to Proehl. Cornerback Eric Warfield intercepted and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown and a 17-14 Chiefs lead. Unfortunately, the Chiefs defense celebrated too much. Defensive end Eric Hicks and linebacker Scott Fujita were penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff for excessive celebrations.

Delhomme started his next drive at the Panthers 44-yard line, and knowing that the Chiefs defense had been off the field for only four plays in the third quarter, he was going to wear down the defenders.

"Pounding the ball like that is eventually going to make a defense give up," Foster said. "It's like keep on hitting a rock on something. Eventually, it's going to break."

I've always felt good about DeShaun's inside running ability. He's got the size (6-foot, 222-pounds) to run inside. He's got speed and quickness to get around the perimeters.
Panthers coach John Fox

The Chiefs defense broke. Foster broke a 16-yard run on the next touchdown drive in which he powered over from the 1-yard line to give the Panthers a 21-17 lead, heading into the fourth quarter. Henning and Fox weren't going to change. They were going to keep running Foster until the Chiefs folded.

"The running game is our basis," Fox said. "The thing that happened to us a week ago, we were down 24-7 and it's hard to be real patient. That was a challenge we made to the team. I thought our offensive line executed. Our backs ran hard and everybody involved in the blocking element did a good job."

Foster sent the Chiefs crowd to the barbecue pits by breaking a 71-yard run off left guard. Warfield stopped him at the 3, but Foster caught his breath and carried the ball three yards for the score and the 28-17 victory.

"We are going to run the ball; that's what we do," Foster said. "In a hostile environment like this, you just keep running hard."

That's what the Panthers will do. They've lost Davis. They lost their best receiver, Steve Smith, for two months with a broken fibula. On Sunday, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, their best player, injured his right shoulder and will undergo an MRI. After hurting the shoulder in the second quarter, he came in and out of the game three times. He's not sure if it's a nerve problem from before or something else. The Panthers will head into a bye week hoping for a good medical report.

And Foster will keep holding the ball and running hard. He's not fumbling away this opportunity.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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