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Carolina Panthers

Panthers pounce on Redskins


CHARLOTTE - Throughout the first half of Sunday's showdown with the Washington Redskins, the Carolina Panthers either settled for using kicker Olindo Mare's foot or simply shot themselves in the foot.

In the second half, however, the Panthers put their foot on the floor.

The first half had an all-too familiar feeling to it, with multiple missed opportunities, but after halftime the Panthers rode a collective feeling that they could do no wrong and cruised to a 33-20 victory at Bank of America Stadium.

After scoring on three first-half field goals to lead 9-6, the Panthers scored three touchdowns to open the second half.

"It feels great," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "We had that sense that no matter what the coaches called, we were going to execute.

"We all were clicking – and not just on the offensive side of the ball."

Newton completed 18-of-23 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed for 59 yards with another touchdown. In the second half especially, he carved apart a defense that hadn't given up more than 21 points all season, helping the Panthers score 21 points in three possessions.

The Panthers' halftime adjustments were so dead-on that when the offense came onto the field for its first drive, wide receiver Brandon LaFell predicted Carolina would score its first touchdown of the day – on the first play.


LaFell nearly did, not quite able to stay inbounds on a 37-yard reception. On the next play, though, Newton took care of the rest with a 16-yard touchdown run that made it 16-6 and gave Newton a share of the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback with seven.

"I was running on the field calling out the play, and as soon as Cam called it, I thought either I was going to score or Smitty was going to score," LaFell said. "I should have scored, but it was a big play, and then Cam finished it off."

Soon after, the Panthers (2-5) finished off the Redskins (3-3), ending their three-game losing streak while sending Washington to a three-game slide.

Wide receiver Steve Smith – or "Smitty" as LaFell called him – played pivotal roles in the scoring drives that followed. The Redskins answered with a touchdown to get within 16-13, but then receptions of 33 and 15 yards by Smith – who finished with seven catches for 143 yards – highlighted an 80-yard march. Running back Jonathan Stewart capped it with a 2-yard touchdown run for a 23-13 lead.


The defense followed with a three-and-out stand, after which Smith caught passes covering 18 and 36 yards to set up LaFell for a 2-yard touchdown reception.

That virtually put it out of reach, giving Carolina a 30-13 advantage with 8:13 to play. The Redskins did answer with a touchdown, but Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble sealed it with an interception in the final minutes that allowed him to match Eric Davis' franchise record of 25 interceptions.

"Gamble is a quiet guy, but that was a big play, and I saw him smiling from ear to ear," Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Our defense, I take my hat off to them. This was their best performance by far."

The defense actually jump-started the second-half onslaught. The Redskins took the opening kickoff and drove into Carolina territory, but on fourth-and-2 from the 40, linebacker James Anderson sliced through on a blitz and got to quarterback John Beck.

"Coach (Sean) McDermott made a great call, and we made a great play," Anderson said. "He dialed up the call, and the defensive tackle and (safety) Charles Godfrey executed it. They allowed me to come free."

Anderson, who piled up a game-high 12 tackles, also gave the Panthers the momentum heading to halftime.

In the final 30 seconds of the half in a 6-6 game, Washington wide receiver Jabar Gaffney fumbled on a short catch over the middle, and Anderson recovered it at the Redskins' 34-yard line. That set up Mare for a 45-yard field goal with two seconds left and a lead the Panthers would not relinquish.

It was a positive ending to a positively maddening first half.

The Panthers' first two drives that ended in field goals covered 145 yards on 25 plays and consumed 14:46. They couldn't punch it in facing a first-and-goal from the 6 on the game's opening drive, or when they later faced a first-and-10 from the 11.

The Redskins, on the other hand, got matching field goals thanks in large part to Panthers penalties.

Early in the second quarter, Washington kicker Graham Gano tied the game at 3-3 with a 31-yard kick set up in part by an unsportsmanlike conduct call on a failed third-down run. Later, a personal foul and an offsides call helped get Gano in range for a 49-yarder to tie the game at 6-6 with 1:02 left in the half.

From there, however, the errors gave way to execution and then exhilaration.

"We needed to win. How close we've been has been excruciatingly painful at times," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "Wherever I go, fans have thanked me for us being close. I really appreciate that, but at the same time it's been kind of frustrating because we want to give them victories. This will be great, to be able to say that we got one."

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