The Carolina Panthers were a force to be reckoned with on Monday Night Football. Looking very comfortable in the national spotlight, Carolina proved to the NFL it belongs among the best while sending a subtle message: Teams beware, there are Panthers on the prowl for their first championship.
FUN FACTS: This is the second time this year Carolina and Tampa Bay have met with identical records fight for first place in the NFC South. Carolina and Tampa Bay are the only two teams in the NFL undefeated at home.
Before this game, the Buccaneers had only allowed one rushing touchdown all season long. Carolina pounded out four, displaying physical domination with its power running game.
FUN FACTS: NFC South teams are 10-0 at home this season when playing another NFC South team. The NFC South is also a combined 24-2-0 (.923) overall at home.
The first quarter was kind of quiet for such a big game with the only score coming from a John Kasay 33-yard field goal. Steve Smith was open several times early in the game but didn't get the looks he deserved.
Tampa Bay evened the score in the second quarter with a Matt Bryant 20-yard field goal. Then came along Carolina's running game. Jonathan Stewart performed the honors with his first touchdown, a two-yard score.
The third quarter saw some life from the Buccaneers as they scored two touchdowns, a 50-yard pass to Antonio Bryant and a four-yard run from Carnell Williams. Carolina gave its running backs a break as Jake Delhomme aired out a 38-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith.
Tampa Bay had one brief shining moment in the fourth quarter, Antonio Bryant hauled in a spectacular 15-yard one handed grab from Jeff Garcia to pull the Bucs closer. The point after was blocked. Carolina continued dominating in the fourth quarter with three rushing touchdowns; Jonathan Stewart's four-yard rush, and DeAngelo Williams had 16-yard and 36-yard scores to seal the win, 38-23.
Panthers coach John Fox said, "People remember what you do in December. This was a big stage and I like the way our guys met that challenge. I like the way our guys met the challenge. I just don't want them to drink this Kool-aid they are about to get into (from the media). I want to make sure they come back ready to work and realize how we got to this point."
Fox said of the running game, "It's what we’re built around. We got bigger and more physical up front (in the off-season) and those two backs are pretty special. That is what we tried to build around and we have the people to do it. We're going to try and do it more consistently moving forward.”
Carolina's running back DeAngelo Williams said, "The O-line and the fullback did an outstanding job blocking for us today. They did an outstanding job getting us to the second level."
Panthers linebacker, Jon Beason said, "Monday night, there won’t be a question that we’re going to come out faster. There’s no way you can go out there and not start fast in a game like this, the magnitude, the stage, what’s at stake. Everybody’s going to be watching.There’s so much at stake for us and for Tampa, it’s time to show the whole country that we’re Super Bowl contenders, that the road to the NFC title is going to start down here in the NFC South. Anyway, we have a really good group of coaches and players, and when you have that kind of group God is in your favor. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jon Gruden, to me he’s an offensive guru or genius. It’s going to be a fight against Tampa, and could come down to a battle of wills and preparation. That’s where we want to be—where preparation meets will."
Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden commented, "Those guys are that good. Those guys are going to make guys miss. Both of them."
The Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart became the first teammates in NFL history to rush for 100-plus yards, score two-plus touchdowns and average over 7.0 yards per carry in the same game. They were getting open and (the Bucs) weren't able to stack the box early on and that gave us a little breathing room. We were trying to keep them on their heels and I think we did a great job tonight."
Jonathan Stewart, "When you are in a zone like that, that is how it feels. We were in a zone for sure. You can tell when you are running the ball the way we were today that it takes a lot out of the defense, just to be running back and forth chasing the running back. It takes a toll on the defense."
Julius Peppers reached a career-high 13 sacks and commented, "There was a lot on the line, so both teams were playing hard and trying to get the job done. Our guys stepped up and made plays on offense and gave us a little cushion and we just had to close the door. I wouldn't necessarily call it a statement game. It was just a game with a lot on the line. And we played well at the right time."
Peppers comments about their home record, "You have to realize it's tougher to play on the road than it as home. You have the fans behind you. It's a comfortable setting. So this year we are just protecting our home, and that's what we need to continue to do."
FUN FACTS: DeAngelo Williams has scored a touchdown in seven straight games, the longest streak in Panthers history. Williams' two touchdowns give him the lead for most rushing touchdowns (13) in a season in Panthers history.
FUN FACT: 301 rushing yards sets a franchise record (Previous: 264 WK 11 v/s the Lions)
Keys to the game:
Carolina Rushing Duo
DeAngelo Williams 19 carries, 186 total yards, two touchdowns
Jonathan Stewart 15 carries, 115 totals yards, two touchdowns
3rd Down Conversions:
Tampa Bay 6-14, 43 percent
Carolina 8-10, 80 percent
According to CarolinaGrowl.com, with Carolina's win, don't be surprised if the NFL moves the Panthers-Giants game on Dec. 21 to the Sunday night time slot. It makes perfect sense given the No. 1 seed in the NFC could be on the line.
If Carolina can defeat the Denver Broncos next week, it will close out the regular season a perfect 8-0 at home. The Panthers will also take a step closer toward capturing their first NFC South title since 2003.