Carolina ends three-game slide


TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- John Kasay was part of the early glory of
the Carolina Panthers when they made the playoffs in just their
second season in 1996. He was still around for the misery of a 1-15
record in 2001.

Kasay brought Carolina back to the postseason Sunday with a
49-yard field goal four seconds from the finish to give the
Panthers a 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals and the NFC
South title.

Question on the Panthers: Do you suspect Stephen Davis (13 carries) is more banged up than the Panthers are letting on?
It looks like it because the Panthers have done a great job this season of playing good physical offense. The core of that game plan is the success of Davis. The Panthers need him in there pounding the ball and punishing opposing defenses. Without a 100 percent Davis, the Panthers face a potentially short playoff appearance.

Question on the Cardinals: Does it surprise you that they play well at home yet so terribly on the road?
It doesn't surprise me because it seems to be more of a late-season push by a bad team than anything else. The Cardinals realize the season is over and are playing relaxed and letting it all hang out. Of course if the Cards had played like this earlier in the season, maybe its season wouldn't be over now.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

"To watch how fast we rose, and then the battles we have had
over the year to try to get back to this spot," Kasay said, "this
is a special day."

Carolina (9-5) snapped a three-game losing streak to earn its
second playoff berth.

"It's just been a bunch of good people doing their job well,"
coach John Fox said. "We haven't arrived yet, but we've sure made
a lot of progress."

As usual, the Panthers won the hard way.

Eight of Carolina's victories have come in the final two minutes
or in overtime. Carolina tied an NFL record with its seventh win by
three points or less this season -- the Cardinals did it in 1998.

"Are we playing our best football right now? Probably not,"
Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "But we still got the
win, and that's an encouraging sign."

Arizona's Neil Rackers, who missed a 35-yard field goal early in
the fourth quarter, kicked a 44-yarder with 1:15 to play to tie it
at 17-all.

Delhomme, who completed 20 of 32 passes for 236 yards, connected
with Steve Smith five times for 41 yards in a 13-play, 44-yard
drive to set up the winning field goal.

"We just saw what we had to work with and made the plays when
we needed to," Smith said. "They were playing a lot of off
coverage. They didn't want to get beat deep."

The Cardinals tried, but failed, to get pressure on Delhomme as
the Panthers drove for the winning score.

"On that drive we blitzed six out of nine times," Arizona
coach Dave McGinnis said. "We weren't going to let him just sit
back there, but we didn't make the plays."

Second-year quarterback Josh McCown, in his first NFL start, had
his first pass returned 35 yards by Mike Minter for a touchdown,
then regrouped to direct two time-consuming TD drives and Arizona
(3-11) led 14-7 at the half.

"I tell you what, I like him," Minter said of McCown. "I told
him after the game he's going to be a good quarterback. Why?
Because he doesn't let bad things get him down. He came back and
put two drives together with his legs and his arms. That shows me a
lot about his character."

McCown scored on a 16-yard run and Emmitt Smith ran 4 yards for
his first home touchdown of the season for Arizona, which lost its
sixth in a row. McCown had not played well in the brief times he
had been on the field as a backup, but he was poised throughout
this one.

"I hope that I showed that I managed the game and played well
enough that people can have confidence in me," McCown said. "But
the bottom line is you've got to win. That's my goal. That's what I
want to change."

Delhomme moved the Panthers 93 yards in nine plays, capped by a
31-yard touchdown pass to DeShaun Foster, to put Carolina up 17-14
with 11:29 to go.

Initially, officials ruled he was stopped just outside the goal
line. But Fox challenged, and after a review it was ruled a

McCown, starting in place of Jeff Blake, completed 14 of 25 for
172 yards with that one costly one interception.

He came back to direct an 80-yard, 10-play TD drive and
accounted for the final 31 yards in two plays.

On third-and-12 from the Carolina 31, McCown gained 15 on a
quarterback draw, then rolled right and scored on the next play to
tie it at 7-7 with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.

After Delhomme fumbled the ball away on a hit by Fred Wakefield,
Arizona went 59 yards in 10 plays, consuming 7:02. Smith's second
touchdown put the Cardinals up 14-7 with 6:04 left in the half.

Carolina drove to the Arizona 5, but couldn't punch it in, and
Kasay's 21-yard field goal cut the lead to 14-10 with 6:04 left in
the third quarter.<
^Notes: Carolina lost starting center Jeff Mitchell with a groin
pull midway through the third quarter. ... Security personnel had
to fetch Arizona's Scott Player from the locker room to punt in the
final seconds of the first half after he had left the field,
thinking the half was over. ... Kasay missed three field goals and
an extra point two weeks ago in a loss to Philadelphia. ... There
were 23,217 tickets distributed but there weren't that many at the
game in 73,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium.