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Vick gets first taste of NFL end zone

9/28/2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Rap music blasted from the showers and
the Carolina Panthers danced their way through the locker room.
There was no shame in celebrating a 3-0 start to the season.

Especially not after a 23-3 victory Sunday over Atlanta to snap Carolina's six-game losing streak to the Falcons.

Question on the Falcons: Will this team win another game before Vick comes back?
They might not, the defense is letting this team down. They aren't playing up to their potential and are costing this team games. It must be very disappointing for the coaching staff to see them playing so badly. It's going to take more than Mike Vick to make this a playoff team.

Question on the Panthers: Can this team finish stronger than last year when it opened 3-0?
Yes, last season taught this team how to close games. They have an exceptionally strong defense and a good running game. QB Jake Delhomme does a good job minimizing his mistakes and directing this offense down the field. The Panthers are 2-0 in their division and have a good shot at making the playoffs.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

"This was real gratifying after six straight losses and them
owning us," defensive end Brentson Buckner said. "Now we know we
can beat them."

But Buckner was quick to caution his teammates not to celebrate
too much -- after all, Carolina started 3-0 last season only to go
on an eight-game skid.

That's not likely to happen this year, not after a
confidence-building win over Atlanta (1-3).

The Falcons have been the Panthers' No. 1 nemesis, coming into
the game as winners of nine of the last 10 matchups that included
two humiliating losses last year by a combined score of 71-0.

"Buckner, our captain, told us we were at the same spot last
year at 3-0 and you all know what happened to us after that," said
safety Deon Grant, who had a career-high 12 tackles. "So we're
celebrating now, but not for long. We've got to get back to work
and back to focusing on the rest of the season."

Stephen Davis ran for 153 yards and his first touchdown of the
season to become the first back in franchise history to open the
season with three consecutive 100-yard games.

"We knew they were going to run the ball -- I told everyone on
the team that he was the best back I had seen on film this year,"
Atlanta linebacker Keith Brooking said. "They pounded us."

Davis, written off in Washington last season, now has 406 yards
rushing in three games and has turned into the workhorse the
Panthers had hoped for. He could have gone after Carolina's
single-game franchise record of 168 yards, but sat most of the
fourth quarter after just 21 carries.

"I had a lot more in me," Davis said with a sly grin. "But I
had a little headache, I just didn't want to tell you guys."

Davis reeled off a 29-yard run on Carolina's second possession
to set up the Panthers' first rushing touchdown of the season. He
scored on a 1-yard run eight plays later to put Carolina up 7-0.

He never showed any signs of slowing down, adding a 34-yard run
late in the third on one of his final carries.

"You run the football like that and it opens up everything
else," said Atlanta coach Dan Reeves, still stuck one game short
of 200 victories. "It makes it very difficult and keeps the other
teams defense off the field with those long drives."

Jake Delhomme had his best game as a starter with 168 yards
passing and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl, and John Kasay
kicked field goals of 53, 23 and 38 yards as the Panthers handed
Atlanta its third-consecutive loss.

The Falcons started last season 1-3 as well, only to rally to a
9-6-1 finish. But they did that last year with star quarterback
Michael Vick, who has yet to play this season because of a broken
leg.

The prospect of having to mount a similar comeback was
frustrating to the Falcons.

"I get tired of working hard during the week and it not
happening on the weekend," cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "We're
1-3 and it didn't feel good last year and it doesn't feel good
now."

The Panthers had no problem stopping backup quarterback Doug
Johnson, who struggled to move the Falcons and managing just 267
yards total offense. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 152 yards and
was intercepted once.

His 63-yard pass to Alge Crumpler late in the fourth quarter
generated Atlanta's only score -- a 28-yard field goal by Jay Feely
to cut it to 20-3 with 3:46 to play.

The only other time the Falcons were in scoring range was in the
third quarter when Kemp Rasmussen tipped Feely's 55-yard field goal
attempt for Carolina's six blocked kick of the season.

T.J. Duckett helped Atlanta move the ball on the ground, running
for 100 of the Falcons' 144 yards rushing, but Duckett gained 41 on
an early carry that failed to generate any points.

Game notes
Carolina LB Dan Morgan missed his second consecutive game
with a pulled hamstring, the 15th game he has sat out in two-plus
seasons because of injury. ... Will Witherspoon started at middle
linebacker and recorded the first of Carolina's six sacks. ... The
Falcons continued to struggle with third-down efficiency,
converting just two of 12. ... Atlanta had nine penalties for 84
yards. ... The Falcons failed to sack Delhomme.