The Carolina Panthers overcame a dismal second half on the back of RB DeAngelo Williams, who scored four rushing touchdowns, to edge the Green Bay Packers 35-31 at Lambeau Field. Williams' superb effort tied him with Philadelphia RB Brian Westbrook for the highest-scoring player in the NFL for this week with 24 points.
Backup Jonathan Stewart picked up 58 yards on four carries, with 43 of them coming on one run early in the second quarter. Stewart also had the ball stripped on the Green Bay two yard-line on that play. Fortunately for the Panthers, left guard Travelle Wharton hustled all the way from nearly midfield to recover the loose ball and set up QB Jake Delhomme's one-yard touchdown run.
Steve Smith only had four catches (none until early in the second half), but two of them went a long way toward saving the game for the Panthers.
On a 3rd-and-11 from the Green Bay 37, Delhomme fired a pass across the middle to Smith, who got in front of the safety, reeled in the pass, and took the ball down to the one before getting tackled. This big play set up DeAngelo Williams' third touchdown run of the day and tied the game at 28-all.
With less than two minutes to play in regulation, with the Packers up 31-28, on a 1st-and-10 from the Carolina 45, Delhomme and Smith connected again, this time for a 54-yard gain that got the Panthers down the Packers' one again. Just like earlier in the quarter, Williams punched the ball into the end zone for his fourth rushing score of the afternoon. This touchdown made the score 35-31, the end result of a key Panthers victory.
However, the win didn't come easy—Aaron Rodgers and Brandon Jackson two resilient, 11-point comebacks for the Packers.
Rodgers had an outstanding game, going 29-of-45 for 298 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Rodgers' favorite receiver was WR Greg Jennings, who had eight receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown. Jennings surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his short three-year career. He got close last year when he accumulated 920 yards. It's scary to think that Jennings is already such a dangerous threat in just his third year in the NFL.
Fellow receiver Donald Driver contributed five catches for 83 yards and a score. TE Donald Lee also caught a touchdown pass.
Rodgers' only mistake was a Hail Mary with less than 30 seconds left in the game that Panthers LB Jon Beason intercepted to seal the game.
When starting Packers RB Ryan Grant struggled, backup Brandon Jackson burned the Panthers for 80 yards on 11 carries, an average of 7.27 yards per carry.
Green Bay's offensive line allowed two sacks; both to Julius Peppers, who now has 11 sacks on the year.
Carolina QB Delhomme played well enough to make sure he didn't cost his team the game, completing 12-of-17 passes for 177 yards for no touchdowns or interceptions. He also rushed for a one-yard touchdown.
As important as Steve Smith's late-game heroics were to nabbing the victory, LG Travelle Wharton's less-glorified work behind the scenes is really what made things happen at crucial times. Wharton recovered Stewart's careless fumble early in the second quarter (this set up one of DeAngelo Williams' touchdowns) and threw finishing blocks on one of Williams' touchdown runs as well as Delhomme's scoring scamper.
Carolina's Jon Beason was the all-around best defensive player, amassing 11 tackles (9 solo) and picking off a pass to seal the game.
Linebacker AJ Hawk had racked up nine tackles for the Packers (7 solo), and CBs Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams helped force a fumble in addition to notching 6 and 4 tackles, respectively. DE Aaron Kampman registered Green Bay's two sacks.
Kick/punt returner Mark Jones provided a special teams boost for Carolina, as he turned in multiple exceptional returns to give the Panthers excellent field position throughout the day.
The Panthers played a mostly disciplined game, getting whistled for only 2 penalties covering 12 yards.
The Packers, on the other hand, were less focused, and got called for 8 infractions amassing 49 yards.
Carolina's issues with slow starts came to a screeching halt, as the Panthers scored 14 of the game's first 17 points. It appears that John Fox's decision to change the layout of the team's practices in order to eliminate the slow starts that have plagued the team for weeks worked like a charm. Now they just have to be able to finish.
The Panthers scored 35 points while only maintaining possession for 22:08 and gaining only 300 yards of total offense. They gave up 438 yards of total offense, the most the Panthers have allowed all season.
The only way that a team could win against those kinds of odds is with a spectacular special teams effort and a bevy of explosive offensive plays.
That's just what the Panthers did, and they got a huge win that will allow them to stay in the heat of the race for the NFC South title.