There was a lot to like about Carolina’s 38-23 win over Tampa Bay in Charlotte on “Monday Night Football,” which gave Carolina (10-3) the NFC South lead by one game with three to play. Here were my favorite 5 things:
** A franchise-record 299 total rushing yards. And it would have been 300 if Jake Delhomme hadn’t done the “victory kneel” on the game’s final two plays for minus-1 yard each time. DeAngelo Williams (franchise-record 186 rushing yards) and Jonathan Stewart (115) were the biggest stars of this game with 2 TDs apiece. But the offensive line and FB Brad Hoover all get assists for the best rushing day in franchise history.
** The likelihood of a playoff home game. It’s been a long time since there’s been a playoff game in Charlotte – since the 2003 season. This win made it a lot more likely. If the playoffs began today, Carolina would be the No.2 seed with a first-round bye to boot. And if Carolina wins all 3 of its remaining games – a very difficult task given the schedule – it would pass the New York Giants and become the NFC’s No.1 seed.
** The Panthers’ four-play, 90-yard drive in the fourth quarter, which was entirely on the ground and broke Tampa Bay’s will. It went like this: DeAngelo for 41 yards; Stewart for 3; Stewart for 30; DeAngelo for 16 and a TD. Amazing.
** Julius Peppers and Jon Beason. In a spotty defensive performance -- has anyone covered Antonio Bryant yet?? -- the Panthers’ two biggest defensive stars both made their presence felt. Peppers got to Jeff Garcia for 1.5 sacks and also blocked an extra point, and Beason made a key goal-line stop and recovered an onside kick.
** The crowd. Loud, rowdy and inspired, it was the best atmosphere in Charlotte at least since that home playoff game vs. Dallas in 2003, and some Carolina players said it even topped that one.