CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was defense that made the Carolina Panthers respectable in their expansion season last year.
In yesterday's 27-16 victory over the Ravens, Collins dispelled any notion that his 327-yard performance in last week's 30-24 win over the San Francisco 49ers was an aberration.
Against the Ravens, Collins completed 26 of 39 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. In doing so, he led Carolina on two crucial drives that featured a richer mixture of passing than is typical of the Panthers' offense.
Collins completed all five of his throws to account for 68 of Carolina's 76 yards on the opening possession of the third quarter -- a series that erased the Ravens' 13-10 halftime lead. The coup de grace was a 6-yard, third-and-goal touchdown pass to Mark Carrier, who ran uncovered across the middle after primary receiver Wesley Walls was jammed at the line of scrimmage.
The Panthers' top 1995 draft pick out of Penn State, Collins added 38 yards to his passing total in a 63-yard fourth-quarter drive that consumed 6: 36 and put Carolina ahead by 11 points with 3: 38 left in the game.
"I think we've really come together as an offense," Collins said. "It's taken us awhile to find out what we do best, but the guys have made up their minds that we're going to be good on offense, and I think that it showed the last couple of weeks.
"I think I'm more patient. I'm letting guys get open. I'm not trying to make things happen -- instead, I'm letting things happen. I'm letting Willie [Green] work. I'm letting Mark Carrier work. I'm letting those guys work in between zones and on different defenders.
"I think a lot of it is because of my maturation and a lot of it is because they're getting to know me, and they're getting to know that I'm going to give them the time and the ability to get open."
One more victory will clinch the NFC West championship for the Panthers, who will try for their eighth consecutive home win and seventh straight overall on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Collins expressed quiet confidence about Carolina's prospects against the Steelers.
"If there was any game where we were going to have a letdown, I think it would have been this [Ravens] game," he said. "But I think this team's mature enough and has a good enough understanding of what we need to do.
"Today we just came out and executed. We didn't have as much emotion, but we were businesslike -- and I think we performed well.
"That last drive was one we needed to have. It was one of our most important drives of the season. We created a cushion for our defense -- at times we really had to have it. We call drives like that 'hammer drives' -- hammer it in there and take time off the clock.
"It's not by happenstance that we're sitting 11-4 and going to the playoffs," Collins said of the Panthers, who had seven players named to the Pro Bowl last week. "I'm a lot better this year. This team's a lot better. We want to get to the point that when the Panthers' defense leaves the field, they [opponents] say, 'Oh, no, here comes the offense.'
"I don't know if we're at that point yet, but we will be."
Half the story
The Panthers have won six straight games, a streak built on their ability to clamp down in the second half. A look at Carolina's points allowed in third and fourth quarters of the streak:
Opponent .. .. .. ..3rd .. ..4th .. .. ..Result
N.Y. Giants .. .. .. .3 .. .. .0 .. ...W, 27-17
at St. Louis .. .. ...0 .. .. .0 .. ...W, 20-10
at Houston .. .. .. ..0 .. .. .3 .. .. .W, 31-6
Tampa Bay .. .. .. ...0 .. .. .0 .. .. .W, 24-0
at San Fran. .. .. ...0 .. .. .7 .. ...W, 30-24
Ravens .. .. .. .. ...0 .. .. .3 .. ...W, 27-16
Totals .. .. .. .. ...3 .. ...13
Pub Date: 12/16/96