Williams, Stewart just scratching the surface

The HeraldNovember 17, 2008 

CHARLOTTE -- Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams said in his third year, things are "starting to slow down for him."

There was nothing slow about the way he and teammate Jonathan Stewart ran the ball in Sunday's 31-22 win over Detroit, as both topped 100 yards and enabled the team to survive another hard-to-watch scene.

Williams finished with 120 yards on 14 carries, including touchdowns of 56 and 4 yards. Stewart topped him yardage-wise with 130 on 15 attempts, including a 22-yard score.

As a team they ran for a franchise-record 264 yards, and Williams posted his third straight 100-yard game. It was Stewart's first, and ended a tough stretch for the first-round pick who's been struggling with a sore heel and the normal wall rookies hit this time of year.

"I think these are both very good running backs just scratching the surface," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "DeAngelo you can see is kind of coming into his own. With Stewie, the surface hasn't been scratched yet in my opinion."

Throughout the Panthers' locker room, praise was flung wide, with everyone careful to mention fullback Brad Hoover and the offensive line.

"It's nice anytime you have one guy over a hundred," Hoover said. "I think both got over a hundred, and that was big for us. Offensively, we struggled at times, but our running game was something that we were able to think positive on and be productive in."

• TOO SOON TO TELL: CBS network analyst Charley Casserly said Sunday that the Panthers planned to use the franchise tag on defensive end Julius Peppers if they were unable to reach a long-term deal with him before free agency. The statement was reported by the Web site profootballtalk.com.

Such a move, while keeping Peppers from being able to test the market, would result in a nearly $17 million charge against the salary cap.

General manager Marty Hurney didn't want to comment on the report, other than to call it "speculation."

"I don't know anything about any of that," Peppers said after the game.

They've had contract discussions with Peppers' agent Carl Carey, and offered Peppers a deal that would make him the highest-paid defensive lineman in the league. However, every indication is that he would rather wait until the end of the season to work further on the deal, so as not to create a distraction.

Franchise players have to be paid the average of the top five salaries at their position, or 120 percent of their previous year's cap number. Peppers counts $14.1375 million this year, which would necessitate a $16.965 million payment to keep him here under those terms next year. That would be a tough pill to swallow for a team that also hopes to re-sign potential unrestricted free agents Jordan Gross and Chris Gamble.

• SCARE FOR BRIDGES: Backup tackle Jeremy Bridges was held out of Sunday's game after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

Team officials said after Bridges complained of a strange feeling Sunday morning, and was given an EKG at the stadium. They termed his deactivation "precautionary," but didn't sense that it was a serious problem. Bridges said after the game he was headed to Carolinas Medical Center to be checked out, but didn't seem worried either.

"It's something I've never had before in my life," Bridges said. "I woke up this morning and my heart was beating kind of funny. I was going to ignore it, but I got here and thought about it and I figured I better get checked out, see what's going on. Nothing serious, my heart is out of synch, top to bottom."

Former defensive end Mike Rucker went through a similar episode in 2004, first feeling it in Denver. He chalked that up to the altitude and an early long drive by the Broncos, but it resurfaced the following week in Philadelphia. He was taken to Carolinas Medical Center for tests after that episode, but doctors found nothing wrong with him then, and he continued to play.

• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers got a gift from an old friend, as former Panthers tight end Michael Gaines fumbled to set up Stewart's touchdown just before halftime, giving them a 21-13 lead.

Fox had to challenge the play, which was initially ruled down by contact. "It happened real close to me and I thought I saw the ball turning," Fox said.

Godfrey recovered that fumble, which was forced by linebacker Thomas Davis. ...

Fox lost an earlier challenge, when he contended that Calvin Johnson didn't have control of his wide-open touchdown in the first quarter, though referee Bill Leavy disagreed. ...

Wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett was again inactive, as they elected to keep D.J. Hackett up as the third receiver. Fox said last week that decision could be week-to-week based on matchups, but it appears Hackett has a clear edge now.

Also inactive, along with Bridges, were the following players: Defensive tackle Darwin Walker, linebacker James Anderson, cornerback C.J. Wilson, center Ryan Kalil, wide receiver Kenneth Moore and third quarterback Matt Moore. ...

Owner Jerry Richardson was back in attendance Sunday. He missed last week's trip to Oakland after having a pacemaker inserted the week before.

daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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