Friday, October 15, 2010
Coming off of an 11-5 record in 2005 that ended with a loss in the NFC Championship game, the Carolina Panthers lost their first two contests in ’06. However, they won their next three games as they headed to Baltimore to take on the 4-1 Ravens on October 15 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Head Coach John Fox’s Panthers had been without WR Steve Smith (pictured at right) in the first two losing games due to injury, and his return had a positive impact on the offense’s performance. Smith gave the conservative, run-oriented unit a significant receiving threat. Meanwhile, Carolina had a strong defense, as did Baltimore. Under Head Coach Brian Billick, they had dipped to 6-10 in ’05 but made a significant upgrade at quarterback in acquiring 11-year veteran Steve McNair from the Titans. The Ravens entered the game with a six-game home winning streak.
McNair came out throwing, but not to great effect. The Ravens went three-and-out in the opening series, in which the veteran passed on each down, and the second possession was marked by his tossing an interception to safety Colin Branch on the third play.
QB Jake Delhomme (pictured at left) had thrown an interception to end Carolina’s first series, but after the pickoff of the McNair pass the Panthers drove 59 yards on nine plays, highlighted by pass completions of 32 and 16 yards to Smith, that culminated in a 21-yard field goal by John Kasay. On the first play of the next Baltimore possession, McNair was hit hard by LB Chris Draft and DE Mike Rucker - not only was he sacked, but the quarterback was forced to leave the game. He was replaced by backup Kyle Boller.
Boller, a fourth-year pro who had started nine games the previous season, had been relegated to the bench once McNair was obtained. However, after the teams traded fumbles and the Panthers punted early in the second quarter, Boller directed the Ravens on a 13-play, 73-yard drive that included a three-yard run in a fourth-and-one situation and ended with a touchdown pass of 14 yards to WR Mark Clayton. Baltimore was up by 7-3.
Carolina came back with an eight-play drive that also ended in a score as Delhomme connected with WR Drew Carter for a 42-yard touchdown. A 31-yard field goal by Kasay at the end of the half gave the Panthers a 13-7 lead at the intermission.
Both quarterbacks gave up interceptions in their teams’ initial second half possessions. Baltimore controlled the ball for most of the third quarter, but neither club scored. In the fourth quarter, after a long 15-play, 91-yard drive that ate up nearly eight minutes, Kasay kicked a 21-yard field goal to extend Carolina’s lead to 16-7. Along the way, Steve Smith gained 58 yards on three catches.
After the teams traded punts, the Ravens struck for a big play as Boller connected with Clayton for a 62-yard touchdown that narrowed the margin to 16-14. But the Panthers responded on the very next play from scrimmage with a 72-yard Delhomme-to-Smith TD pass, quieting the record crowd of 70,762.
Baltimore came back to score on the next possession, going 68 yards in seven plays highlighted by a 35-yard pass play from Boller to WR Demetrius Williams and capped with a seven-yard touchdown pass to TE Todd Heap. Once again, it was a two-point game with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
But while the Ravens had all three timeouts, they never got another chance on offense. On a key third-and-one situation at the Carolina 46, Delhomme completed a four-yard pass to Carter for a first down and the Panthers ran out the clock to win, 23-21.
Jake Delhomme completed 24 of 39 passes for 365 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Steve Smith was the recipient of 8 of those completions for 189 yards and the long TD. The aerial game had been crucial as the tough Baltimore defense held the Panthers to just 58 yards rushing on 30 attempts; RB DeShaun Foster accounted for all of the yards on 26 of the carries.
In relief, Kyle Boller (pictured at right) had a solid passing performance with 17 completions in 31 attempts for 226 yards with three touchdowns and one picked off. Mark Clayton caught 5 passes for 101 yards and two TDs; Todd Heap gained 55 yards on his 5 receptions and scored a touchdown. The Ravens were only a bit better running the ball, with a total of 80 yards, and RB Jamal Lewis accounted for 41 of that total on his nine carries; Boller took off and ran six times for 27 yards.
Overall, the Panthers gained 414 total yards, to 292 for Baltimore. Having come into the game ranked last in the league in third down conversions, Carolina converted a crucial 7 of 15, including the game-clincher at the end.
“It’s always frustrating when the other team converts third downs,” said Baltimore LB Terrell Suggs. “We wanted to get off the field, but they kept making big plays. I give them a lot of credit.”
DE Julius Peppers had two sacks and eight tackles for the Panthers and complimented the backup quarterback, Boller. “He did a good job when he came in. He got them some points and moved the ball.”
The win proved to be the high point of the season for Carolina – the Panthers lost six of their next eight games, including four straight at one point, and finished in second place in the NFC South with an 8-8 record. Baltimore went in the other direction, winning nine of their remaining ten contests to win the AFC North with a 13-3 tally. They lost to the Colts in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
Steve Smith caught 83 passes for 1166 yards (14.0 average) and eight touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time.
With Steve McNair returning to action, Kyle Boller went back to the bench and saw only limited time the rest of the way. He completed 33 of 55 passes for 485 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.