CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The Carolina Panthers refused to talk any
trash before their game against Tampa Bay. After beating the Super
Bowl champions for the second time this season, they wouldn't shut
Jake Delhomme's 5-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith with 1:06
remaining overcame a late Tampa Bay rally and lifted the Panthers
to a 27-24 victory Sunday in the matchup of two suddenly bitter
Question on the Bucs: Was that game-ending defensive drive proof that the Bucs aren't the same team?
This team isn't playing with the same edge or intensity that marked last year's play. Also, teams seem to be built to beat them this year. Their last two losses have come against teams that take advantage of the Bucs' weakness against power running.
Question on the Panthers: Is it finally time for folks to give the Panthers their due?
Yes, the Panthers have a good team that combines a great defense with a good running game and a quarterback who manages the game well. The Panthers don't seem to fear any team in the NFL and are playing with a great deal of confidence. Because of that confidence they were the better team today.
Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.
The victory silenced the Bucs (4-5) and dropped them three games
behind the Panthers (7-2) in the NFC South and Carolina holds the
"I'll say it: I can't stand them," said defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. "When they pull on their red and we pull on our blue,
it's like the Bloods and the Crips. They talk too much, they want
to flash 'I'm a superstar.' Well, now that talk don't mean nothing.
"We beat them not once, but twice, and I'm going to celebrate
while they go home to watch TV."
Defensive end Simeon Rice guaranteed a Buccaneers victory
earlier this week, but the defending champions are now left with a
rocky road ahead to even make the playoffs.
Still, not even their third division loss of the season -- the
Bucs lost to New Orleans last week -- silenced Rice.
"There's going to be a guarantee next week, too, because that's
me," Rice said. "No situation is going to break me."
Carolina declined to respond to Tampa Bay's baiting all week,
promising the Panthers would have plenty to say Sunday.
"They thought they were going to win and we thought
otherwise," Delhomme said. "We just kept our mouths shut and went
But it was difficult, especially when Tampa Bay tackle Kenyatta Walker called his battles with Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers "personal."
That was evident as the two sparred on nearly every play,
leading to trash-talking, taunting, and flaring on-field tempers.
In the end, Walker had been flagged for three personal fouls and
Peppers was laughing his way all the way into the locker room.
"I pay him as little attention as I pay someone walking down
the street," Peppers said. "They were the world champs last year
and now they have five losses. Maybe now we won't have to hear all
the talk, talk, talk that they do."
But the Bucs almost backed up their words with a late rally
behind Brad Johnson, who threw two fourth quarter touchdowns to
lift them out of a 20-13 hole.
His 23-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson made it 20-14
with 10:19 to play. On the next possession, facing fourth-and-1,
Brad Johnson dumped off an 18-yard pass to Warren Sapp to keep the
Keenan McCardell then made a one-armed circus catch at the edge
of the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown and a 21-20 Tampa Bay lead
with 4:44 to play.
The Bucs seemed to put the game away when Delhomme was
intercepted for the second time by Tim Wansley, who returned the
first one 23 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Wansley
set up Martin Gramatica's 39-yard field goal for a 24-20 lead.
Surely that would be enough against a team admittedly not built
to for comebacks.
Not this time against a Bucs defense that has failed to come up
with many big stops this season.
"I'm not going to put the defense on trial anymore," coach Jon
Gruden said. "Obviously we let the game slip away at the end."
Already playing without Stephen Davis, the NFC's leading rusher
and the only real pulse in Carolina's offense, the Panthers had to
rely on Delhomme and a suspect passing game to win it.
Delhomme stayed calm, throwing a 29-yard pass to Ricky Proehl
and then holding steady in a quickly collapsing pocket to throw a
22-yarder to Muhsin Muhammad as he was getting hit.
As both teams hurried back to the line, Delhomme quickly hit
Smith on the edge of the end zone. Smith was in the air when he
made the catch and was flipped over the line by a defender for the
"We want to be known as a running team and that's great,"
Delhomme said. "But when the opportunity to throw the ball comes
up, we're going to make plays."
Delhomme finished 20-for-32 for 277 yards with two touchdowns --
he also threw a 66-yarder to Proehl -- and two interceptions. Proehl
finished with three catches for 133 yards.
Rice had two sacks to help the Bucs set an NFL record of
69 straight games with at least one sack. ... The Bucs continued
their streak of 50 consecutive games with a takeaway. ... Carolina
safety Mike Minter scored on a 29-yard interception return. ...
John Kasay made both his field goals to remain a perfect 20-for-20
on the year. ... McCardell finished with nine catches for 118