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Gramatica misses three field goals in loss

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Martin Gramatica lined up for the
go-ahead field goal and the Carolina Panthers assumed they would
have to come from behind to beat Tampa Bay.

In this series, nothing should be assumed.

Gramatica missed all three of his field goal attempts in one of
his worst games, while Carolina's Julius Peppers and Keary Colbert
played their best in the Panthers' 21-14 victory over the Bucs on
Sunday in one of the NFL's newest rivalries.

The Bucs (4-7) had a chance to break a 14-14 tie with 1:48 to
play when Gramatica lined up for a 37-yard field goal. Panthers
quarterback Jake Delhomme immediately began plotting his comeback
strategy.

"We assumed they are going to make this," Delhomme said. "He
was pretty close in, he's right here."

But when the ball sailed wide left, Delhomme seized on the
opportunity.

He marched Carolina (4-7) straight down the field and threw a
40-yard touchdown pass to Colbert with 20 seconds to play for the
Panthers' third straight victory.

"When he missed it, we knew it was time to step up," Delhomme
said. "It was an uplifting deal for us."

As was the victory, which Carolina celebrated as if it had just
won the Super Bowl. No victory is sweeter than one against the
hated Bucs, and this one put Carolina on the fringe of the NFC
wild-card chase.

They did it behind Colbert, a rookie who had 72 yards on three
catches, two for touchdowns. In addition to the game-winner,
Colbert caught a 24-yard TD pass on Carolina's opening drive.

Then there was Peppers, who ran an interception back 46 yards
for a score, blocked a field goal and had a sack to continue a
four-game tear. After getting two sacks through seven games,
Peppers now has seven sacks in the past four weeks.

It's no coincidence his play has improved at the same time as
the Panthers, who are slowly climbing out of a 1-7 hole after a
Super Bowl appearance last year.

"It took a little while for us to come around," Peppers said.
"Now we are just playing hard and taking it one game at a time.
Who knows what can happen? Maybe we can sneak in."

The Bucs also had been on a slow climb after an 0-4 start. Tampa
Bay has Gramatica to blame for halting the rise.

Gramatica was off all day, missing the potential game-winner, a
39-yarder in the first quarter, and a 26-yarder Peppers got a hand
on.
It was all too reminiscent for Gramatica, who had three kicks
blocked by Carolina last season, including a potential winning
extra point at the end of regulation in a game the Panthers won in
overtime.
He declined to speak to the media after the game, but the Bucs
said enough for him.

"The disheartening thing is the missed extra points and field
goals, it shouldn't come down to that," said Tampa Bay receiver
Joe Jurevicius. "It's almost laughable."

Bucs coach Jon Gruden initially passed on defending his kicker
before backtracking.

"I'm never going to address publicly how I truly feel -- I don't
trust enough people out there," Gruden said. "He's won a
tremendous amount of games for this franchise. I'm not going to
talk about it anymore."

No one was happier about Gramatica's awful day than Carolina
punter Todd Sauerbrun, who has publicly feuded with Gramatica and
both of his kicking brothers.

"I don't feel bad for him ... I'm glad he missed as many as he
did," Sauerbrun said.

Carolina had its own kicking woes.

Jeff Chandler, filling in for injured John Kasay, nearly
mirrored Gramatica by missing one field goal and having a second
one blocked.

Brian Griese threw for a season-high 347 yards and two
touchdowns for the Bucs. Both scores came on shovel passes to
Michael Pittman, who had eight catches for 134 yards and touchdown
receptions of 6 and 8 yards.

One pass Griese wished he could have back was a floater intended
for Ken Dilger that Peppers saw coming from a mile away. He stepped
in front of the ball at least 5 yards ahead of Dilger, and sprinted
into the end zone for a 14-7 lead in the third quarter.

"I saw him, I just thought I could get it past him ... he's a
defensive end," Griese said. "He made a great play on the ball,
and he's faster than me and I couldn't catch him."

Game notes
Carolina jumped offside in the second quarter, then stood
around as Tampa Bay continued the play -- resulting in a 19-yard
completion the Panthers did not defend. ... Gramatica is 11-for-19
on the season. ... The Bucs lost two of four fumbles. ... Delhomme
was sacked four times. ... Carolina fullback Nick Goings ran for
106 yards a week after rushing for a career-high 121.