CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers know a Week 2 victory over New England doesn’t come close to rectifying their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots two years ago.
Even so, their 27-17 victory over the Patriots on Sunday sure did feel good.
“It wasn’t a revenge game or a get-back game, because that was a long time ago,” said Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme. “This was just a big win for us.”
It certainly was no Super Bowl reprise because neither team played that well.
But the Panthers (1-1) did just enough to win, getting three touchdowns from Stephen Davis in the first regular-season meeting between the teams since the Patriots’ thrilling 32-29 Super Bowl win two seasons ago.
But if it was any indication, neither team is ready to play for a championship and the Patriots (1-1) look nothing like a winner of three of the last four Super Bowls.
“Do you think we’re going to win any more games playing like this?” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We can’t play like this. We have to play better. We have to coach better. This won’t be good enough … against anyone we play.”
Carolina won in spite of Delhomme, who was off all day and had an interception by Mike Vrabel returned 24 yards for a touchdown. Delhomme finished 11 of 26 for 154 yards and no touchdowns.
It meant the Panthers had to rely on Davis, who ran for 77 yards and scored on three 1-yard plunges in his second game back from microfracture surgery on his right knee. Davis became the first running back to score three TDs against the Patriots since Curtis Martin did it in 2000.
Carolina’s defense, despite the loss of tackle Kris Jenkins to a season-ending knee injury, did play well. Even without their run stopper, the Panthers shut down Corey Dillon and limited the Patriots to 39 yards rushing.
“One person isn’t going to cause a tremendous drop-off, contrary to popular belief,” said end Julius Peppers. “We aren’t just going to fall off without Kris. We still play hard and we still have great players.”
The Patriots lost because of Tom Brady, who had two of New England’s three turnovers and couldn’t carry the offensive load when the running game stalled.
Brady finished 23 of 44 for 270 yards, one interception and one fumble. He did throw a 1-yard TD pass to Daniel Graham early in the first quarter, the 100th passing touchdown of his career, but struggled from there.
New England was also sloppy, committing 12 penalties for 86 yards.
“We came in here and said, ‘We sucked today,’ ” Brady said. “Losing sucks. Any way you cut it, it’s no fun.”
Carolina had control of the game early in the second half when John Kasay kicked his second field goal, a 52-yarder, to give the Panthers a 20-7 lead.
But the Patriots seized the momentum by scoring 10 points in a span of 27 seconds.
First, Adam Vinatieri connected on a 45-yarder to cut Carolina’s lead to 20-10.
Then Delhomme made his biggest blunder of the game. Under pressure, he frantically searched the sideline for someone to dump the ball off to. Davis was briefly there, but Delhomme took too long to throw in his direction.
When he finally did, Vrabel was the only player in the vicinity. He went untouched into the end zone for a 24-yard score. That cut it to 20-17 and the Panthers seemed to be unraveling.
But Carolina’s defense stopped the Patriots from capitalizing with their first big play of the season. Mike Rucker swiped the ball out of Brady’s hands and Peppers scooped it out. It set up Davis’ third touchdown of the game and put the Panthers up 27-17.
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