Ugly Game Is Beautiful To Panthers
The Tampa Tribune, published 15 September 2003

John Kasay's 47- yard overtime field goal had barely tumbled through the uprights when Panthers guard Kevin Donnalley unfurled a somersault at midfield, frolicking in giddy celebration. As defensive tackle Brentson Buckner ran defiantly through the tunnel, he glared up at taunting Bucs fans and issued a cruel reminder: ``The Super Bowl was last year.''

Only two years removed from a 1-15 season, the Panthers beat the Bucs 12-9 Sunday in a sloppy, ugly game that made a beautiful statement for the visitors. Last week's 24-23 comeback against Jacksonville was nice, but this was the defending NFL champions at their place - with the Bucs favored by 9 1/2 points and 65,621 pewter supporters poised for victory. ``We weren't perfect today, but those guys on the other side are the best from last year,'' said left tackle Todd Steussie, who survived his 71- minute trench dance with Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice. ``And there's a lot of people who would say the Bucs are the best team right now. There's no doubt Rice makes it interesting ... him and the rest of that front four.''

The Panthers finished 7-9 in their first season under Coach John Fox and an unbeaten preseason slate added to the optimism in Charlotte. Before long, the rest of the NFC South could have Carolina on their mind. ``It's a great win,'' General Manager Marty Hurney said. ``This was a heart win, it came from the heart.''

The Panthers won despite more penalties (16) than first downs (14). They converted four of 17 on third down and averaged a mere 4.0 yards per snap, but three blocked kicks, including two by defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, kept them in the game. As expected, Stephen Davis carried the offensive load, gaining 142 yards in 33 carries to compensate for quarterback Jake Delhomme's miserable day. Delhomme was picked off twice, completed only nine of 23 attempts and finished with a passing rating of 15.9. ``We've had other games like this in other seasons and managed to lose them all,'' center Jeff Mitchell said. ``What a win. That front four down the hall is bad to the bone. Anytime you play Tampa, it's a long day.''

The Panthers persevered into the night, stretching their winning streak to four games heading into a bye week. ``I'll never forget this game,'' said Jenkins, whose block of Martin Gramatica's extra- point attempt forced the overtime session. ``This was a dogfight, no other way to put it, and we wanted it more than them.''

Defensive end Mike Rucker was a force all day, hounding Brad Johnson on many of his 61 pass attempts. Reserve linebacker Brian Allen, thrust into a starting role because of injuries, led Carolina with 10 tackles and special teams excelled, with punter Todd Sauerbrun averaging 47.9 yards and Steve Smith setting up the winning field goal with a 52-yard punt return. ``All we preach around here is poise,'' Buckner said. ``Before we went to overtime, me and Derrick Brooks looked at each other and said that this was a heavyweight fight. That was football out there today and by the grace of God, Jenkins made a great play and got us to overtime.''

And took Delhomme off the hook. ``Defense and special teams played outstanding,'' Delhomme said. ``That's a great football team we beat today. They aren't champions for nothing.''