CHARLOTTE -- Although the scoreboard of the Carolina Panthers' 27-23 win against the Arizona Cardinals would suggest otherwise, the defense performed admirably in improving its team to 6-2 on the season.
The Panthers faced a productive Cardinals offense that rolled into Bank of America Stadium averaging a league-best 29 points, while gaining 360 total yards per game. The Panthers didn't exactly stifle Arizona's offensive attack, but their defense came up with two sacks and an interception of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner that fueled a Carolina comeback.
Panthers defensive tackle Damione Lewis said the defense buckled down in the latter stages of the game.
"We just lined up and said, 'Man, we just have to line up and make a play,'" he said. "We had to beat people. When we got in one-on-one opportunities, we had to beat people in the second half, and we basically did it."
Arizona went into halftime with a 10-3 lead and seemed to be controlling every aspect of the game. The Cardinals continued their dominance in the third quarter by scoring a second touchdown, pushing the score to 17-3. From that point on, a different Carolina defense took the field. Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson played a big part in that transition, posting two sacks and forcing a fumble that linebacker Thomas Davis recovered.
Johnson said the defense's second-half mentality made all the difference in his team's victory.
"We just came out fighting," he said. "We were down, and we rode the offense the whole way. They did a tremendous job, so the defensive line, defensive backs and linebackers had to perform and get a stop."
While they allowed Warner 381 yards passing, many of his throws were tipped as the Panthers nearly intercepted him on several occasions. Warner was finally picked when wide receiver Early Doucet tipped the ball in the air and allowed Panthers middle linebacker Jon Beason to intercept Warner. Beason's 44-yard return of the interception led to a fourth quarter field goal. Carolina defenders continued to swarm Warner for the entirety of the second half.
"Everybody played a part and was doing something to affect the quarterback in some way," Lewis said. "Even though Kurt Warner was going to roll the way he was, we still found a way to get after him. That's a good ball club on the other side, no doubt."
Despite a defensive performance of note, the game turned into a late shootout that saw Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and Warner duke it out. Defensive end Julius Peppers said the yardage put up was maddening at some moments.
"It's very frustrating because sometimes you feel like no matter what you do or how fast you beat somebody, you're never going to get there," Peppers said. "So you just have to keep fighting through that, and I think we did a good job of that up front."
Johnson also was unhappy with the numbers allowed, but put the win into perspective.
"It's frustrating to allow so many points, but you have to look at who we're going against," Johnson said. "We're going against the No. 1 offense in the league, so for us to top them is a tremendous point for us."