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Panthers fall back to Earth for win


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Carolina Panthers are boring by design, but it worked in a game that counts.

The Panthers' commitment to the run paid dividends in yesterday's 10-7 win over the Ravens at Ericsson Stadium, Carolina's first in nearly a year. Last season, with former coach George Seifert's pass-oriented scheme, Carolina went 1-15. In coach John Fox's first game, the Panthers ran for 145 yards on 36 carries, an average of 4 yards. Tailback Lamar Smith, a free-agent acquisition from Miami, led Carolina with 24 carries for 84 yards.

"I'm happy with that, but I have to give all the credit to the offensive line and the receivers," Smith said. "They were on people all day. It was a grind in the first half, but once we got together, we stayed together and stayed positive."

Carolina fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter, but the Panthers' retooled defense managed to shut the Ravens out the rest of the way. The offense, which made a change at quarterback with the promotion of Rodney Peete over Chris Weinke, relied on the run to control tempo.

"We're going to do it in games," right tackle Chris Terry said. "Coach says as long as we're successful doing it, we're going to keep doing it. It's something we want to do, and we're going to keep working at it."

The Ravens, who have retooled their defense as well, didn't allow many scoring opportunities, but the Panthers did just enough to squeeze by.

"We thought coming into this game that we'd be able to run the ball," fullback Brad Hoover (five carries, 29 yards) said. "We rushed for over 100 yards, and that was a solid effort. They have a great defense, but I think the attitude we have of we're going to jam it down their throats and positive things came out of it."

And they did for Carolina, which set an NFL record with 15 straight losses last season. The Panthers' philosophy was simple: hang onto the ball, play defense and maintain field position. With the running game accounting for six of Carolina's 15 first downs, Peete did his job, completing 12 of 19 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Wesley Walls.

"[Baltimore has] a talented defense, but we were going out to do what we do," Terry said. "If you do what you're coached and you do it the right way, you're successful. When you don't have any mistakes and any breakdowns, you'll be successful."

Said Hoover: "The key to any offense is not making mistakes and turning the ball over. Our team is a defensive team, and any time we can do that for the defense, we have a chance to win."

Defenses dominated, with Baltimore out-gaining Carolina 289-265, but the Panthers held the ball for 33 minutes, 51 seconds. The Panthers also stoned the Ravens on their last chance for a tie when rookie defensive end Julius Peppers sacked Chris Redman and Dan Morgan picked off the pass with 1:27 left to seal the win.

"We just want to go out and move the football on these guys and anyone," Smith said. "That was our whole thing: just move the football on these guys and stay on the plus side of the field.

"We're not going to score 50 points a game; we just got the mentality of grinding for 60 minutes. That's our makeup, and that's what we believe in."

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