The scene was set for a classic NFC South showdown in Charlotte, N.C., for a Monday night game with everything hanging in the balance for both teams.
What a defining game for the now-10-3 Carolina Panthers.
As I waited impatiently for the game to begin, I thought I was going to need oxygen. I have never in my life been so nervous about a game! I couldn’t keep my breath!
As a fan of a team, I get a taste of what the men on the field are feeling. Tonight’s feelings are a huge kaleidoscope of emotions—anticipation, anxiousness, and nausea.
I know the threat Tampa’s defense brings to the table. I hold defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in the highest regard. He is one of the premier defensive coordinators in this league.
I also would like to give credit and show my respect to the Buccaneers offense, as they had a very productive game tonight, and tried to find ways to win early in the game.
I know the lethality of Garcia’s arm on the offensive side of the ball; not to mention how Garcia is also very mobile and effective when he’s out of the pocket.
I started feeling a little relief from the anticipation as I watched Steve Smith doing his pre-game workouts.
Tampa Bay’s first drive of the game would go to a quick three-and-out.
The Panthers took over after a terrible punt by Tampa Bay, as wide receiver and return man Mark Jones returned the ball to the Tampa 47.
The first quarter would end with Carolina on top, three to nothing.
It was a huge day for the dual threat of running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. They totaled 301 yards rushing and Williams surpassed 1,000 yards on the season. Every time Stewart made a score he would join with Williams on the sideline for the now customary “dancing duo” celebration.
DeAngelo Williams had 19 carries for 186 yards, and two touchdowns. Williams broke former Panthers running back Stephen Davis’s record for yards rushing in a game, which was 176 yards.
Jonathan Stewart had an outstanding game tonight, as he had 15 carries for 115 yards, and two touchdowns.
Steve Smith—nine catches for 117 yards, and one touchdown—also became the first Carolina Panther to receive 50 career touchdowns on his big play grab from Delhomme in the third quarter, and gained his fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season.
The attention to detail and aggressiveness is what keeps Smith in the elite group among receivers.
Muhsin Muhammad—three catches for 43 yards—also came up with a few big plays.
Jake Delhomme was 14-of-20 for 173 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions and threw only one interception in the first half, and one interception in the second half.
There was only one penalty committed by the Panthers in the first half, which is not at all bad for a team that had a lot of trouble with penalties early on in the season.
The score going into halftime showed the Panthers with a tight, one possession lead over the Buccaneers 10-3, where Jonathan Stewart scored the first touchdown of the night.
The second half would be another story for the Panthers, as both the offense and defense committed some potentially costly penalties.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant of the Buccaneers caught a beautiful pass for a huge gain into Panthers territory, but stupidly drew a penalty for delay of game when he threw the ball away from an official after being brought down.
Late in the third quarter Tampa Bay would go for it on 4th-and-1, making a successful conversion to keep their attempted drive at tying the game alive.
The conversion and one or two penalties on the Panthers would give the Buccaneers a big hand, as Cadillac Williams would score on a rushing touchdown, tying the game at 17-all after the successful point-after-try by placekicker Matt Bryant.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers would pull away from the Buccaneers, and make a statement to their final three opponents and the rest of the NFL.
They have a very potent running attack in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. If you cut off the aerial game, they will rely more on the ground attack, and vice-versa.
The final score was 38-23, in favor of the Panthers.
Suitably, this win is for you, Mr. Jerry Richardson; the personnel of the Carolina Panthers, fans, and I wish you a full and speedy recovery.