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Late touchdown gives Carolina Panthers 28-21 win over Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs safety Tanard Jackson can’t tackle Jonathan Stewart, who rushed for 110 yards, during his 26-yard scoring run that put Carolina ahead 21-7 in the third.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Bucs safety Tanard Jackson can’t tackle Jonathan Stewart, who rushed for 110 yards, during his 26-yard scoring run that put Carolina ahead 21-7 in the third.

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TAMPA — It was hard to know who looked more defenseless Sunday:

Clifton Smith, who took a forearm to the throat from Dante Wesley and suffered a concussion before he could field a punt late in the first half.

Or the 11 Bucs defensive matadors who allowed the Panthers to run the football down their windpipes, gaining 76 yards on 15 rushes (and 4 on one pass) to score the winning touchdown with 29 seconds to go.

Both found it very hard to swallow.

Carolina's DeAngelo Williams (152) and Jonathan Stewart (110) combined to rush for 262 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-21 win over Tampa Bay.

The loss dropped the Bucs to 0-6, extended their losing streak to 10 dating to a 38-23 loss at Carolina on Dec. 8, and was played before 42,847, one of the smallest crowds for a Bucs game at Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998.

Williams scored on a 1-yard run to cap the 80-yard bludgeoning, which melted 8:04 off the clock after the Bucs tied the score at 21 on safety Tanard Jackson's 26-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"I think the whole crowd could've probably called out what they were running," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "Everybody knew what they were going to do, but they outexecuted us.

"It's hard to take. This is as tough a loss as I've ever had. I've never had a straight feeling like that when you just get beat."

The 267 rushing yards the Bucs yielded were second most in Carolina history, topped only by the 299 (including 186 for Williams and 115 for Stewart) it rolled up against Tampa Bay in the teams' last meeting. It also was the sixth most allowed in Bucs history.

For a moment, it looked as if the Bucs were going to rally for their first win under new coach Raheem Morris, coming back from a 21-7 deficit in the third quarter.

The comeback began after Stewart's 26-yard touchdown, when rookie Sammie Stroughter returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to tie Smith's club record. It was redemption of sorts for the Bucs, who lost their Pro Bowl kick returner when Wesley launched his forearm into Smith as he attempted to field a punt.

Wesley, who allegedly threw a punch at Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib in the resulting melee, was ejected. He faces a fine and possible suspension from the NFL.

Morris called it a "cheap shot," and Smith remained on the turf for several minutes after losing consciousness. Smith suffered a concussion and had trouble speaking and swallowing after the game.

"I've never seen someone hit a defenseless guy like that," Bucs running back Earnest Graham said. "And on top of that, it looked like he led with his helmet. I don't know how you do that. Outside of football, that's our friend. You're talking about a guy's life with a play like that."

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who entered with an NFL-worst eight interceptions, threw two more, the second resulting in Jackson's score with 8:33 left.

Delhomme passed for just 65 yards, the fewest during his 85 games with the Panthers dating to 2003. During the final drive, he threw a 4-yard quick hitter to receiver Steve Smith, his only catch of the game.

Aside from that, all Delhomme had to do during the final drive was hand the ball off.

"I knew they were going to score," Panthers linebacker Jon Beason said. "It's demoralizing (for a defense). You get winded. It's a heavyweight boxing match. They're throwing punches. And every time we're getting 5-6 yards a pop, it's like they're connecting. It wears you down, and eventually, they broke."

Morris appeared resigned to the fact his defensive line is not equipped to stop a power running attack with the game on the line. He said his defense needs to "get bigger" at some positions.

"We've got to find a way to get better talent," Morris said. "We've got to find a way to be better coaches. We've got to be a better team. We've got to find a way to stop that when it counts, especially."

Late touchdown gives Carolina Panthers 28-21 win over Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10/18/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 4:49pm]
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