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Rapid Reaction: Panthers 31, Lions 22

11/16/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

When the Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart in the first round in April, the popular assumption was DeAngelo Williams was headed for the bench.

At best, Williams would be a third-down back. At worst, he'd officially become a former first-round (2006) pick who became a bust.

What everyone overlooked is it doesn't work that way in coach John Fox's system. Fox has a long history of deferring to veterans -- Stephen Davis over DeShaun Foster and Foster over Williams -- for the past couple of years.

Fox has held true to that pattern and it's paying off with a running back situation that's better than he's ever had. Williams is starting and Stewart's playing a key role. Stewart, who had stumbled a bit after a fast start, bounced back Sunday with 130 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Williams had 14 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns, including a 56-yard run.

Williams' speed and Stewart's power make a strong combination. It's the kind of combination Fox always has said he wanted. He sort of had it with Davis and Foster in 2003, the year the Panthers went to the Super Bowl.

But Williams and Stewart have the potential to be better than that combination and to be together for a while.