Panthers top Patriots
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was no Super Bowl reprise because neither team played that well. Instead, the Carolina Panthers did just enough to hand the New England Patriots a 27-17 loss.
Stephen Davis scored three touchdowns Sunday to help the Panthers past a New England team that looked nothing like a winner of three of the last four Super Bowls.
It was the first regular-season meeting between the teams since the Patriots’ thrilling 32-29 Super Bowl win two seasons ago, and if it was any indication, neither team is ready to play for a championship.
Carolina (1-1) won in spite of Jake 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 also needed a strong defensive effort from a unit forced to overcome the loss of tackle Kris Jenkins to a season-ending knee injury. Despite the absence of their run stopper, the Panthers shut down Corey Dillon and limited the Patriots to 39 yards rushing.
The Patriots (1-1) 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.
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, Brady kept a drive alive by converting on third-down with a 22-yard pass to Kevin Faulk. That put New England in field goal range, and 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.
Delhomme exchanged words with Carolina safety Mike Minter as the two passed on the field, then had an angry exchange with Panthers coach John Fox. Delhomme was still fuming when he got back on the field, and the Panthers called three straight running plays before he attempted another pass.
Delhomme’s next two tries were incomplete, and the Panthers had to punt.
But Carolina’s defense stopped the Patriots from capitalizing.
Trying to prove its still among the league’s best even without Jenkins, the line had its first big play of the season. Mike Rucker swiped the ball out of Brady’s hands and Julius Peppers scooped it out. He was stopped short of the end zone, but it put the Panthers in position for Davis’ third touchdown of the game — a 1-yard run that put them up 27-17 early in the fourth quarter.