Minutes after the Panthers' 12-9 overtime upset of the Buccaneers
on Sunday, the visitors' locker room at Raymond James Stadium was
abuzz, particularly in the corner where Carolina's defensive
linemen dress. They had backed up the preseason boast of
defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, who said in late July that
Carolina's front four was better than the Super Bowl-champion
Bucs' vaunted foursome. Inspired by Buckner's bravado, Carolina's
unheralded unit bullied the Bucs' offensive line, shutting down
the running game (60 yards in 22 carries) and hurrying Brad
Johnson into numerous bad throws.
But to win a game that coach John Fox called "a barroom brawl,"
the Panthers also needed an outstanding special teams
performance. John Kasay was perfect on four field goal tries,
including the 47-yard game-winner with 3:28 left in overtime.
Steve Smith's 52-yard punt return, to the Tampa Bay 40, set up
the score. The booming punts of Todd Sauerbrun, who last week
signed a five-year, $7.5 million extension that made him the
highest-paid punter in NFL history, repeatedly pinned the Bucs
deep in their half of the field. And the Panthers blocked three
kicks: the first two, by Kris Jenkins and Julius Peppers, on
Martin Gramatica field goal attempts, the third on an extra-point
try that would have won the game on the last play of regulation.
Gramatica hadn't missed a PAT in 129 career attempts until
Jenkins broke through the line and blocked his second kick of the
There was plenty to celebrate in the corner of the Panthers'
locker room until reserve defensive end Kavika Pittman hobbled in
on crutches. "They got me on a high-low [chop block]," he told
his teammates. "My left ACL [and MCL] tore, and I'm done for the
year. They could've stopped at my hip; they didn't have to go
after my knee." With that, the mood in the room turned dark as
several Panthers accused the Bucs of dangerous play. "You don't
mess with people's careers like that," defensive end Mike Rucker
said. "They'd do dirty things, and you'd want to retaliate."
Said Bucs cornerback Rhonde Barber, "There's not a lot of love
between these two teams. The rivalry is going to be a hot one for
a long time."
After a lifeless first half that ended with Carolina leading 6-0,
the penalty flags started flying. In the third quarter alone, the
Bucs were called for seven penalties, including four personal
fouls, that cost them 70 yards. For the game the teams combined
for 33 infractions totaling 288 yards. "Once [the Bucs] saw it
was a dogfight, late blows started flying, fights started
happening, high-lows, cheap shots," said Buckner. "This is a
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Keyshawn Johnson and the Bucs took a beating from the Panthers'rugged defense.