Packers thump Panthers

Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2004

 

  RICK HAVNER

RICK HAVNER

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Green Bay Packers dealt the Carolina Panthers the kind of defeat now familiar to Super Bowl losers.

Ahman Green ran up, down and all over the defending NFC champion Panthers, scoring three touchdowns to lead Green Bay to a 24-14 victory Monday night. That made Carolina the sixth straight team to lose in the Super Bowl and drop its ensuing season opener.

''I was surprised at how well we ran the ball,'' quarterback Brett Favre said. ''Our philosophy is we'll wear you down before you wear us down.''

The Packers could have had that chance in January, if not for Favre's errant final pass on his first snap in overtime of the divisional playoffs. The pass was intercepted and set up Philadelphia's winning field goal.

Carolina then beat the Eagles to advance to the first Super Bowl in team history.

But the Panthers looked nothing like that team on Monday night.

Unable to stop the run or run the ball -- the two main principles that carried them all last season -- the Panthers were out of sync from start to finish.

''We didn't get in a groove, and when we did get the opportunities, we didn't make the plays,'' said Stephen Davis, who ran for just 26 yards. ''It's all of us. We've got to get better.''

Green scored on touchdown runs of 3 and 6 yards and rushed for 119 yards against a Carolina defense that only gave up four individual 100-yard rushing games last season. He did it with ease, giving no indication that this was the first time this year Green Bay's entire offensive unit was on the field together.

''I told them last night that I thought they were ready to play a football game and play well,'' coach Mike Sherman said. ''I told them before the game they were going to have a great football game and they did.''

Carolina, meanwhile, showed just how bad its patchwork offensive line really is. With three of its starters from last season gone, a rotating group of aging veterans has gamely tried to fill the holes.

But behind 35-year-old Matt Willig, who last started a game at right tackle in 1997, and 33-year-old Rich Tylski, who was out of football the past two years, the Panthers could do nothing and managed just 38 yards on the ground.

''One game doesn't define a season, and I really think we're better than we showed,'' center Jeff Mitchell said.

Jake Delhomme struggled to find time to pass, often throwing his hands up in disgust after hurrying a pass and angrily glaring at the sidelines after several knockdowns. The lone bright spot came on Delhomme's 30-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad that cut the score to 24-14 with 4:46 to play.

But that came one play after star receiver Steve Smith broke his left leg. Smith, who signed a $27.5 million contract extension during the offseason, dropped writhing to the ground when he was tackled after a short catch, and had to be helped off the field.

''I might cry a little,'' Smith said. ''But what are you going to do? Last year we didn't have hardly any injuries and this year I am the first victim.''

Carolina was also done in by its own mistakes. Two turnovers led to 14 of Green Bay's points.

Brad Hoover fumbled at the start of the second half, giving Green Bay the ball at the Carolina 31. Although Robert Ferguson's touchdown catch was negated by offensive pass interference, the Packers still converted the turnover into seven points when Green ran nearly untouched into the end zone for a 17-7 lead.

The Panthers then put together their own drive, only to turn the ball over again just as they got into scoring position. Delhomme threw a pass to Smith who bobbled it twice before it squirted up and into Nick Barnett's hands.

Green Bay took possession of the ball and handed off to Green, who steadily pounded away at Carolina's defense. Running through gaping holes late in the third quarter, he gained 43 yards in the period then scored his third touchdown of the game on a 3-yard catch at the edge of the end zone to give the Packers a 24-7 lead.



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