Carolina Panthers rally to win over Redskins
By Charles Chandler
Posted: Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009
So how heavy was the burden the Carolina Panthers carried into Sunday's home game against Washington?
The answer certainly wasn't going to come last week, when the Panthers were focused on practice and trying not to concentrate on the fact that they'd lost their first three games.
But the raw truth sprung to the surface in the emotion-filled moments immediately after a 20-17 come-from-behind win over the Washington Redskins at Bank of America Stadium.
Coach John Fox said there wasn't a mere monkey on his team's back.
"This was more like a gorilla," he said.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme took it even further, saying: "It was a lot more than a gorilla, I promise you."
Even though going 1-3 in the first quarter of the season wasn't what the Panthers wanted or expected when the season began, it's infinitely better than if they'd lost to the Redskins to fall to 0-4.
Just imagine Fox trying to explain away a foxsports.com report from earlier in the day that he'd told some friends and acquaintances he expected to be fired after the season.
Buoyed by the win, however, Fox was feisty in his response, essentially saying it's ridiculous to think he'd tell his friends he was getting canned even if he thought it was going to happen.
Fox's future with the Panthers, and the team's season as a whole, was looking bleak early in the second half when the Redskins took a 17-2 lead following cornerback DeAngelo Hall's interception of a Delhomme pass.
There was every opportunity for the Panthers to chuck the game and the season at that point, but they didn't.
Instead, they scored 18 consecutive points to take the lead and closed out the win when Delhomme and Hall had an unexpected reunion.
On third-and-eight with two minutes remaining, the Panthers needed a first down to allow them to run out the clock and calked a surprise play by having Delhomme run a bootleg to his right.
It caught virtually everyone by surprise – except the three teammates in the huddle who needed to know so they could adjust their assignments accordingly.
Delhomme ran to his right and found Hall in his way. There is no comparison in their raw athletic abilitiy – Hall's is superior – but Delhomme's fake somehow worked and he churned ahead for a first down that clinched the win, dropping the Redskins to 2-3.
The play was the talk of the locker room after the game.
"Oh my God!" said Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams. "I think DeAngelo (Hall) fell for the ol' banana in the tailpipe (trick). I don't know what kind of stiff-arm that was (by Delhomme), but if was effective."
But it was no laughing matter when Williams fumbled on the first play to get Sunday's game off to a difficult beginning for the Panthers. It was his second fumble in three weeks after going an NFL best 489 consecutive touches (runs and receptions) without fumbling.
Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth recovered this one at the Carolina 13 and Washington running back Clinton Portis scored on a 10-yard pass reception two players later for a 7-0 Redskins' lead.
"It was shocking to me, too," said Williams, when reminded he has a reputation for ball security. "Bad things happen sometimes."
The Panthers looked set to tie the score early in the second quarter when they drove to the Washington 2, but faltered.
Even though the Redskins have the league's premier defensive tackle in Haynesworth, Carolina ran three consecutive plays up the middle – two by Jonathan Stewart and one by Williams – and gained only 1 yard.
On fourth-and-goal, Fox chose not to kick what likely would have been a sure field goal by John Kasay and opted instead to test the middle of the Redskins' defense again.
Fullback Brad Hoover got the call that time and fumbled the ball into the end zone. Tight end Jeff King recovered, but NFL rules don't allow teams to score that way and Washington was given the ball at the 1.
Referee Walt Coleman said after the game that Hoover "wasn't anywhere near the goal line when the ball came out."
Fox referred to himself as "that dumb head coach for the Panthers" for his decision, though it did work to the advantage of his defense.
Two plays later, the Panthers got on the board when linebacker Thomas Davis tackled Portis in the end zone for a safety, cutting Washington's lead to 7-2.
The Redskins led 10-2 at halftime and increased their margin to 15 points after Hall intercepted Delhomme early in the third quarter and returned the ball 44 yards to the Carolina 1, where Portis scored on a run.
The ensuing kickoff return by Kenneth Moore turned the game in the Panthers' favor.
Filling in for Mike Goodson, who was out with a concussion, Moore broke off a 55-yard return down the right sidelines to the Redskins' 40.
It took only four plays from there for Carolina to score its first touchdown, as Delhomme threw 17 yards to King to cut Washington's lead to 17-9.
A 38-yard field goal by Kasay made it 17-12 early in the fourth quarter and after that the Panthers finally got the big break they've been waiting for all season.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, Jason Baker punted the ball in the direction of Redskins' return specialist Antwaan Randle El, but it never got to him. Carolina's Quinton Teal blocked Washington's Byron Westbrook into Randle El, ruining any chance of a fair catch.
"It's not a penalty if you push their guy into the returner – (it's) not one of those rules that people know about," said Teal. "You go over it in summer camp, but it rarely happens."
"I didn't see the ball hit him, but I knew if it did, it would be our ball."
Indeed, the ball wound up hitting Westbrook on the foot and Dante Wesley recovered for Carolina at the Redskins' 12.
Stewart took over from there, gaining 4 yards and then running 8 more for the go-ahead TD.
Delhomme threw a quick slant pass to Steve Smith for a two-point conversation to give the Panthers a 3-point lead that held to the end.
The Panthers called the victory "a character win" because it showed they still have fight left in them and didn't fall prey to negativity after trailing by 15. "You don't want that culture to develop," said Delhomme.
Next up for Carolina is a road game at 0-5 Tampa Bay, and with it a chance to start creating an entirely different culture.