TAMPA, Fla. — It was neither pretty nor efficient.
Not that anyone in the Carolina Panthers locker room cared at all.
The Panthers held on for a 28-21 win at Tampa Bay Sunday, winning with their running game and defense, and avoiding the kind of mayhem that had derailed the early part of the season.
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They did so by running 48 times for 267 yards, which for a moment overshadowed the fact that their passing game remains sub-par. It was the second-best rushing day in franchise history, behind only the 299 they hung on the Bucs in Charlotte last December.
“It’s a win, why is everybody all mad or something?” veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. “I mean, we got a win, we’re 2-3, I ain’t mad about nothing. We got a win. I am good.
“I don’t care what it looks like, just win one more. Give me 13 more like that, and I’ll take ’em all. Seventeen passes and 40 runs and I’ll take ’em all. Then put me a ring on my finger at the end of the year and I’ll be good.”
Slow down Moose.
This team is still far from good, having gotten those two wins against 0-6 Tampa Bay and 2-4 Washington. But the Panthers were apologizing for nothing, not even the fact that they continued to stumble through vast portions of the game.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 65 yards and added two more interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown which tied the game at 21 with eight minutes and 33 seconds left in the game.
That’s when the Panthers embarked on the long march, a 16-play, 80-yard drive that took all but the final 0:29.
Of that drive, they only threw one pass, the solitary reception by Steve Smith on the day. At 4 yards, it was hardly remarkable.
The rest of the drive was, as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart took turns hammering at the winless Bucs, who seemed powerless to stop it.
“I was tired, and I was sore, but at that point it doesn’t really matter,” said weary fullback Brad Hoover.
Both topped the 100-yard barrier for the first time this season, with Williams going 30 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns, while Stewart had 17 carries for 110 yards and a score.
Linebacker Jon Beason got to sit and watch it from the bench, calling it “demoralizing,” the way his guys were running it.
The Panthers defense played better also, giving up just one touchdown and 245 yards on the day. The Bucs also got a touchdown on a 97-yard kickoff return by Sammie Stroughter.
But the Panthers were able to exhale at the end of this one because of the way they ran, and the fact they won.
That, according to coach John Fox, serves as the great eraser.
“It doesn’t matter,” Fox replied to a question about Delhomme’s struggles (he now has 10 interceptions). “We got a win, so I’d rather not talk about problems.”