NFC South: Buccaneers-Panthers

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina had a fourth-quarter drive that went a long way in deciding the game and establishing some history.

The four-play, 90-yard touchdown drive came without the Panthers throwing a pass. Since 2001, there have been 11 drives of at least 90 yards without a passing being thrown. All resulted in touchdowns.

Monday night's was the second most number of plays behind a seven-play drive Oakland put together in September against Kansas City. Below are the other 11 since 2001. Carolina's four plays was the second longest of this type of drive. Here's a look at the others:

90-Yard Drives Without a Pass
TeamOpponentDatePlaysYards
TENNESSEE KANSAS CITY 10-19-08 3 91
OAKLAND KANSAS CITY 9-14-08 7 95
JACKSONVILLE INDIANAPOLIS 12-10-06 2 94
MINNESOTA SEATTLE 10-22-06 1 95
ATLANTA N.Y. GIANTS 10-15-06 1 90
SAN FRANCISCO MIAMI 11-28-04 2 90
GREEN BAY DALLAS 10-24-04 1 90
GREEN BAY DENVER 12-28-03 1 98
CLEVELAND CINCINNATI 12-28-03 2 96
MINNESOTA DETROIT 12-29-02 1 99
CINCINNATI DETROIT 10-28-01 1 96

NFC playoff picture

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
11:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With some help from our friends at ESPN Stats & Analysis, here's a look at the NFC playoff picture, current after Carolina's victory against Tampa Bay Monday night.

1. Giants, 11-2 (clinched division)**
2. Panthers, 10-3
3. Vikings, 8-5
4. Cardinals, 8-5 (clinched division)
------------------
5. Buccaneers, 9-4
6. Cowboys 8-5, (better conf record than ATL)
------------------
7. Falcons, 8-5
8. Eagles, 7-5-1
9. Redskins, 7-6
10. Bears, 7-6
11. Saints, 7-6

** The Giants have clinched based on the 3rd tiebreaker (best win percentage in common games). New York and Dallas could both finish 11-5, split head-to-head meetings and have the same record within the NFC East, but the Giants are 7-1 vs. the Rams, Bengals, Seahawks, Browns, 49ers, Steelers, Ravens and Cardinals. The Cowboys are 4-3 vs. the same opponents (will play Ravens Week 16).

Also, here's a look at the most difficult remaining schedules of the teams still in the playoff picture:

Highest Win Pct, Remaining Opponents
TeamWin PctW-L-T
Cowboys .704 27-11-1
Vikings .692 27-12
Panthers .667 26-13 <
Giants .667 26-13 <
< CAR at NYG, Week 16

Panthers run string of lucky 6s

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
10:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Talk about a roll of the dice and everything coming up 6s. That's what the Panthers did Monday in a victory against Tampa Bay.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart became the sixth pair of teammates to each run for 100 or more yards on "Monday Night Football" and the sixth set of teammates since the merger to each rush for over 100 yards and score two rushing touchdowns.

Carolina's 299 rushing yards is the sixth most by any team on "Monday Night Football." The Panthers also are the sixth team in NFL history to have a pair of 100-yard rushers and a 100-yard receiver (Steve Smith) in the same game.

Teammates with 100 rushing yards and two rushing TDs

Teammates to rush for 100-plus yards on "Monday Night Football"

NFC South closing in on home record

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
3:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here's the stat you've all been waiting for because it's going to come to identify the NFC South this year. After Carolina's win at home against Tampa Bay Monday night, the NFC South is now a combined 24-2 in home games this season. That's a .923 winning percentage.

With six NFC South home games left, the NFC South has a chance to shatter the record -- even if they go 2-4 in the remaining games, to tie the record. Go at least 3-3 and the NFC South will have the record all to itself. Here's a look at the competition for most combined wins at home in a division through history.

Highest Combined Home Win Pct in Single Season, By Division Since 1970
YearDivisionW-L-TWin Pct
2003 NFC West 26-6-0 .813
1988 AFC Central 25-7-0 .781
1971 AFC West 20-6-2 .769*
1988 AFC East 30-9-1 .763

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Bryant had the second-biggest receiving game in franchise history Monday night. Bryant caught nine passes for 200 yards. Here's a look at where that puts him Tampa Bay's history:

Most Receiving Yards in a Single Game in Team History
PlayerOpponentDateYards
1. Mark Carrier at New Orleans 12/6/87 212
2. Antonio Bryant at Carolina 12/8/08 200
3. Kevin House at Oakland 10/18/81 178
4. Charles Wilson vs. L.A. Rams 12/11/94 176
5. Joey Galloway vs. Detroit 10/2/05 166
5. Gerald Carter at San Francisco 11/18/84 166
5. Morris Owens at Seattle 10/16/77 166

Kalil campaigns for Gross in Pro Bowl

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
3:06
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the postgame locker room, Ryan Kalil was talking about how well Carolina's offensive line had played when the idea suddenly hit him.

Gross

Kalil knows what we all know -- that the NFC South has been getting snubbed in the fan voting portion and will need some strong help when coaches and players make their Pro Bowl votes. But Kalil put out one last call to NFC South fans to get Carolina left tackle Jordan Gross to his first Pro Bowl.

"It starts with Jordan Gross," Kalil said. "He's been living up to his franchise tag. He's been doing a great job so far. He really needs to go to a Pro Bowl. If he doesn't go to the Pro Bowl this year, the system is flawed because he is a monster out there."

If you agree with what Kalil is saying, you need to act quickly. The fan portion of Pro Bowl voting over at NFL.com closes Tuesday at noon ET.

Bucs WRs drop chance at a big night

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
2:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I'm not sure that it would have made much of a difference in the final outcome, but it's worth pointing out that Tampa Bay receivers dropped six passes in the game, including five in the fourth quarter as they attempted to rally from a double-digit deficit.

Warrick Dunn dropped three screen passes in the quarter, setting-up the team with longer conversion attempts later in the sequence.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- We mentioned earlier about how Carolina's offensive line dominated Tampa Bay's defense. But now, thanks to ESPN Stats & Analysis, we've got even more detail.

Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart each averaged over 6 yards per carry between the tackles, and they were even better when they ran outside to the right side.

When they ran in the middle, Williams had 83 yards on 13 carries and Stewart gained 76 yards on 11 carries. That's a 6.4 average for Williams and 6.9 for Stewart. Stewart also scored a touchdown on a run to the middle.

When the Panthers ran to the right side behind rookie tackle Jeff Otah and free-agent pick-up Keydrick Vincent, the numbers got even better. Williams ran four times to the right for 82 yards (a 21.0 average) and Stewart ran that way twice for 32 yards (a 16.0 average). Williams and Stewart each had a touchdown running to the right.

 
 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
 DeAngelo Williams and the Panthers steam past the Buccaneers, 38-23, to take the lead in the NFC South. Williams carried 19 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If it looked like the Carolina Panthers' offensive line played the perfect game Monday night, think again.

The good news for the Panthers is they rushed for 299 yards in a 38-23 victory over Tampa Bay and their offensive line may have not hit its peak. Seriously.

"The best part about it is even with all the success, all the stats and all the touchdowns we got tonight, there's still a lot of room for improvement,'' center Ryan Kalil said. "We came out against a really good defense and did what we did and we know there's room to keep getting better.''

Think about what Kalil's saying and it makes a lot of sense. Carolina's offensive line really hasn't played together very much. Kalil and right tackle Jeff Otah each missed significant time with injuries and the Panthers were forced to shuffle in reserves Geoff Hangartner and Jeremy Bridges. It's only been in the last three games the intended starting offensive line has gotten back to being together.

Kalil and Otah both missed an earlier loss to Tampa Bay, a game that Tampa Bay's defense dominated.

"It was really embarrassing,'' left guard Travelle Wharton said. "40 yards rushing or whatever. They really put it to us.''

The Panthers really put it to the Bucs this time around and the offensive line deserves most of the credit. DeAngelo Williams carried 19 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns and Jonathan Stewart had 115 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.

The Panthers (10-3) pushed past the Bucs (9-4) to take control of first place in the NFC South and it's because Carolina pushed Tampa Bay all around at the line of scrimmage. The stamp on it all was a four-play, 90-yard drive in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Panthers ran on all four downs and built a 31-17 lead.

Carolina's running game was so good late in the game the Panthers attempted only two passes in the fourth quarter. That was precisely what the Panthers were hoping to build up front when they blew up their offensive line after last season.

"It's kind of what we're built around,'' coach John Fox said. "Props to [general manager] Marty Hurney, [director of scouting] Don Gregory and the personnel department. I think we got bigger and more physical up front and those two backs are pretty special. We've got the people to do it and now it's going to be if we can do it consistently moving forward.''

After two non-winning seasons, the Panthers felt they had to get more physical up front. They let guard Mike Wahle and center Justin Hartwig, a pair of high-priced former free agents, go. They then assembled an offensive line that wouldn't feature any of the regular starters from last year's line in the same spot.

The Panthers took Wharton, who played left tackle last season, and moved him inside to guard. They took veteran right tackle Jordan Gross, the team's best offensive lineman, and put him at left tackle. They brought in Keydrick Vincent as a free agent and he won a training camp battle for the right guard job.

The biggest piece of all might have come when the Panthers, after drafting Stewart, traded back into the first round to draft Otah out of Pittsburgh. They also took a bit of a leap of faith on Kalil, who had played only sparingly as a rookie last year, and made him the centerpiece of the line.

The injuries may have slowed the line a bit early on, but everything was clicking against the Bucs.

"I don't think Jeff and I by ourselves make that much of a difference,'' Kalil said. "But the rhythm and continuity of having the same guys in there is the biggest part. It was rough early on with not having a lot of stability. But these last couple of games have helped us get in a rhythm. When you get comfortable as a group, you know what the call is going to be and don't have to call it, you can play a lot faster and do what we did tonight.''

The Panthers totally dominated up front. They caught a bit of a break because Tampa Bay defensive tackle Jovan Haye was out with a knee injury. His replacement, Ryan Sims, showed why he was a first-round flop with Kansas City. The Panthers consistently drove Sims off the ball. In the process, they also gave the other starting defensive tackle, veteran Chris Hovan, a tough time.

Williams went over 1,000 yards for the season and became the first Carolina running back since Stephen Davis in 2003 to reach that milestone. Think about this for a second: 2003 was Carolina's Super Bowl season.

With the New York Giants only a game ahead in the battle for the top seed in the NFC and the offensive line suddenly playing extremely well, anything is possible. The Panthers, who host Denver in Week 15, travel to New York to play the Giants on Dec. 21.

"People remember what you do in December,'' Fox said. "This was a big stage. I like the way our guys met this challenge.''

If Carolina's offensive line keeps getting better, people might remember what the Panthers do in January -- and February.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Now comes the hard part.

The Carolina Panthers (10-3) put themselves atop the NFC South with perhaps their best performance of the season, defeating Tampa Bay, 38-23, Monday. They erased some concerns about their offense and showed Tampa Bay's defense might not be as good as everyone thought.

The Panthers ran their home record to 7-0 and extended the NFC South's overall home record to 24-2. But as dominant as Carolina's performance in the fourth quarter was, the Panthers still may have to sweat out an NFC South crown.

They've got a tough Denver team at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday and close the season on the road with games against the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints.

That's a pretty difficult remaining schedule. If the Panthers want to get back home, they're going to have to keep playing like they did Monday night and put the division away by winning two or three more.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I never thought the absence of Jovan Haye would make such a difference in Tampa Bay's defensive line, but it has.

Carolina's offensive line is doing a good job of pushing Ryan Sims, who's playing in place of the injured Haye, off the ball. The Panthers also are doing a pretty strong job of pushing the other defensive tackle, Chris Hovan, around. Hovan has been taken out of the play on just about every big run by Carolina.

Early in the fourth quarter, Carolina running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have combined for 169 yards on 26 carries.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- So far, the NFC South showdown is living up to the hype.

With the fourth quarter about to start, it's tied, 17-17, and Carolina has just moved into the red zone. Got a hunch this one's going to go right down to the wire.

Panthers' Williams hits 1,000

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
9:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- DeAngelo Williams just went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. That makes him the first Carolina running back to rush for 1,000 yards since Stephen Davis in 2003. Coincidence or not, that's the last season the Panthers went to the Super Bowl.

Williams went over the 1,000-yard mark on a 40-yard run in the second quarter.

Goodell: Vick can wait

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
8:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday night it's too early to talk about a possible return to the NFL by Michael Vick.

The former Atlanta quarterback remains in prison for his involvement in dog fighting. He is expected to be released next year.

"I said we would deal with Michael Vick when he has concluded his legal process',' Goodell said.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank previously said the Falcons have moved on with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and that Vick won't return to the Falcons. But Blank did say he would urge Goodell to allow Vick to return to the league if Vick serves out his sentence and continues on his current path.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jerry Richardson, the man who brought the NFL to the Carolinas, is not at Bank of America Stadium tonight.

The owner of the Carolina Panthers remains in a Charlotte hospital after checking in over the weekend. Richardson had a pacemaker inserted in early November. A team official said Richardson hadn't been feeling well and is continuing to have tests.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he went to the hospital and visited Richardson this afternoon. Richardson has played a vital role on several NFL committees and Goodell said he expects Richardson to continue those duties.

"He's certainly intent on doing it,'' Goodell said. "I wouldn't doubt Jerry Richardson.''

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