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(Monday, December 8th)
Final Score: Carolina 38, Tampa Bay 23
Charlotte, NC (Sports Network) - DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart shared the wealth, knifing up one of the NFL's best defenses in a battle for the NFC South division lead, as Carolina ran around and rolled over Tampa Bay, 38-23.
Williams ran for a franchise-best 186 yards with two touchdowns and Stewart added 115 yards and two more scores on only 15 carries. The statistics were mind boggling, as Williams bested Stephen Davis' franchise rushing mark set five seasons ago by eight yards. He and Stewart became the first rushing duo in NFL history to each run for 100-plus yards and average six yards per carry in two games during the same season.
Each reached the century mark and eclipsed the rushing average in a November tilt against winless Detroit.
These weren't the Lions. This Buccaneers defense came into the game with the fourth-best statistical unit and had surrendered only 95.4 yards on the ground per game.
Instead, Williams and Stewart had their way, helping pave the way for 299 team rushing yards -- the second most surrendered by the Buccaneers (9-4) in the Monte Kiffin defensive era.
"We didn't have an answer for their running machine tonight," said Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden.
Jake Delhomme completed 14-of-20 passes for 173 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions and Steve Smith caught nine passes for 117 yards and a score for the Panthers (10-3), who moved into first place in the division and can clinch the top overall seed in the NFC by winning their last three games, including a date with the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants.
Jeff Garcia completed 24-of-38 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns with nine of those completions going for 200 yards and both touchdowns falling into the waiting arms of Antonio Bryant, who joined Mark Carrier in the exclusive 200-yard receiving club in franchise history. Warrick Dunn ran for 49 yards and Carnell Williams added a rushing score in a game that was far different than Tampa Bay's 27-3 waxing of these Panthers back on October 12th.
"We got bigger and more physical up front, and those two backs are pretty special," said Carolina head coach John Fox when assessing the difference between the two meetings.
In the fourth quarter, Stewart and DeAngelo Williams rolled through the Bucs' defense with the game in the balance. Stewart ripped off an 18-yard burst then finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown for a 24-17 edge with 13:21 to go.
It was Williams' turn on the next march. He carved the Bucs defense for 41 yards, then Stewart found three yards of real estate prior to a 30-yard jaunt. Williams then saw plenty of green grass around the left end for a 16-yard score and a two-touchdown lead.
Tampa attempted a comeback with Garcia's 15-yard highlight-reel TD pass to Bryant, who grabbed the football and brought it in with one hand with 2:29 remaining. The extra point was blocked and an onsides kick failed before the Panthers cemented the victory in fitting fashion.
On the ground.
Williams shook two more tacklers and scored from 36 yards out for the final margin.
Delhomme's right arm led to the game's first points. After a Bucs punt, Delhomme located Muhsin Muhammad in between the corners and safeties for 11 and 19 yards on back-to-back plays. John Kasay's 33-yard field goal capped the march.
Tampa Bay capitalized on an interception by going up top to Bryant, who made a nice move and hauled in 52-yard pass at the Panthers two-yard line. Yet, Tampa Bay couldn't muster more than a Matt Bryant chip shot from 20 yards away to square the contest in the second period.
The Panthers ground game started to exert its will in the final stages of the first half. Six straight runs using both DeAngelo Williams and Stewart, highlighted by a 40-yard sprint up the middle by Williams, put the football at the Tampa Bay nine-yard line. Stewart capped the march with a two-yard scoring plunge.
On the first possession of the third quarter, Delhomme was hurried up the middle, blurring his vision and forcing an errant throw toward Stewart. The pass was tipped and intercepted by Jermaine Phillips. Delhomme has 11 interceptions on the season, and five have come in two meetings with the Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers then went for broke to Bryant, who made a nifty double-move on Ken Lucas and hauled in an underthrown football for a 50-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. The scoring play was Tampa's longest scoring play through the air this season.
The big plays in the battle for NFC South supremacy just kept on coming.
Carolina's passing attack was featured moments later. On second down from the Tampa 38-yard line, Delhomme tossed a perfect deep out to a streaking Smith, who tip-toed in the left corner of the end zone for a 17-10 edge.
The Bucs answered with a touchdown of personal significance. The nine-play, 69-yard march was capped by Carnell Williams' four-yard plunge for the tie once again. Williams ruptured his patella tendon during a September 2007 game in this very stadium.
Carolina's rushing attack took over from there, gashing the Buccaneers vaunted Tampa-2 defensive scheme.
The Buccaneers allowed just 40 yards rushing to the Panthers in the first meeting this season...Dunn ran for 115 yards in the first meeting this season...DeAngelo Williams has scored at least one touchdown in six straight games...Stewart has eight rushing scores on the season..Smith has eclipsed 100 yards in six of his past eight games versus Tampa Bay...Carolina's Julius Peppers registered 1.5 sacks in victory...The Panthers racked up 464 total yards to 384 for the Bucs.
12/09 00:25:10 ET