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Panthers score season-high 37 points

12/29/2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The Carolina Panthers spoiled Jim
Fassel's final game with the Giants and set up a wild-card playoff
matchup against former New York coach Bill Parcells.

Jake Delhomme threw two touchdown passes in Carolina's biggest
offensive show of the season and former Giants assistant John Fox
and the Panthers posted a 37-24 victory on Sunday in Jim Fassel's
final game after seven seasons in New York.

While Fox is looking forward to Saturday's game against Parcells
and his Dallas Cowboys in Carolina, he walked off the field knowing
he had sent a good friend home a loser.

"I spent the very first moment with him when he was hired and
the very last," said Fox, who hugged Fassel after the game. "I
feel proud to have been associated with him. He has a lot to be
proud of, as I told him."

The victory was the third straight for the Panthers (11-5) and
it set up a rematch with the Cowboys (10-6).

Dallas, which was beaten by New Orleans 13-7 on Sunday, defeated
Carolina 24-20 earlier this season in Dallas.

"They beat us the last time and we have to give them credit,"
Delhomme said. "I'm glad we're playing at home. It's going to be a
battle because they're going to come in ready to play. It's what
you play for. Now everything gets speeded up. It's time to go."

The loss was the eighth straight for the Giants (4-12), who
started the season with Super Bowl hopes, only to see it turn into
a disaster after giving away two games early in the season and then
being destroyed by injuries.

Fassel's eyes welled as he looked back on his tenure, which
included three postseason appearances, highlighted by a Super Bowl
trip in 2001.

"I feel maybe it is a better place than when I came in,"
Fassel said. " I know a lot of the older players have said that to
me and that has stuck with me a lot."

Steve Smith scored on a 53-yard punt return, Ricky Manning Jr.
had a 27-yard interception return for a TD and John Kasay kicked
field goals of 42, 33 and 34 yards as the Panthers prepped for only
their second trip to the postseason by opening a 20-0 lead.

This is the first Giants team to finish the season with eight
straight losses since 1966, when the team was 1-12-1.

Fassel, who reached an agreement 10 days ago that allowed him to
coach the final two games and then be fired, walked away from the
Giants with a 58-53-1 mark, the third most coaching wins in
franchise history.

The only thing that prevented the Panthers from totally
embarrassing Fassel in his finale was Giants defensive end Osi
Umenyiora. The rookie blocked two of Todd Sauerbrun's punts to set
up short touchdown passes by Jesse Palmer, and he set up a fumble
recovery in the end zone by Keith Washington with a sack and forced
fumble.

"It's definitely a sad feeling," said Giants receiver Amani
Toomer, who caught a 7-yard TD pass. "I wish we could have given
him a win. A lot of things happened this year. It's kind of a
relief to have it over. We wish it didn't happen the way it did.

The almost 3{-hour game was never in doubt, but it was a little
wild.

Besides the 61 points, referee Bernie Kukar was knocked out of
the game in the third quarter after being hit in the back by a
Giants player trying to recover one of the blocked punts.

Fassel even pulled out all the stops to try to leave with a win.
He got in umpire Bill Schuster's face for an early whistle that
prevented New York from recovering a fumble deep in Carolina
territory and he challenged two plays on one second-quarter drive.

Even though he got one call reversed, little went right for the
likable coach, who also used halfback Brian Mitchell at quarterback
for a few plays from the shotgun formation.

Smith's punt return, Manning's interception return Kasay's two
Kasay field goals gave Carolina a 20-0 lead early in the second
quarter.

The Giants never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

Giants players surrounded Fassel on the sidelines in the closing
seconds and hugged him. Escorted by about a dozen camera crews
Fassel walked to midfield and hugged Fox after the game.

About 200 fans stood in the end zone and Fassel waved to them
walking off the field. They cheered.

Game notes
Giants RB Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman winner and the
Giants' No. 1 draft pick in 2000, went the entire season without
being active for a game. ... Tiki Barber became the first Giants to
lead the team in receptions (69) and rushing yards (1,216) since
Joe Dawkins (46 catches, 561 yards rushing) in 1974. ... The Giants
had 616 passing attempts and 127 penalties, both team records. ...
Carolina RB Stephen Davis gained 57 yards, giving him a career best
1,444, also a Panthers' record. Carolina's 30 first-half points
also were a record. ... DE Michael Strahan had one of the Giants
six sacks, giving him a league-best 18.

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