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Gramatica lifts Cards to best start in decade

©Associated Press
October 7, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The celebration -- just a slight jump in the air before he ran off the field pumping his fists -- was a little bit muted by Bill Gramatica's standards.

That's the way the Cardinals want it for their winning kicker.

Gramatica, a second-year player out of South Florida, kicked a 50-yard field goal with 16 seconds left Sunday to lift Arizona to a 16-13 win. At 3-2, Arizona has matched its best start since 1991.

After tearing a ligament in his knee while jumping to celebrate a field goal last season, Gramatica made sure to tone down his joy after the long kick.

"The snap was perfect, the hold was perfect, I couldn't ask for anything better," he said. "It was just an unbelievable feeling, and when I jumped, I made sure to land with both feet at the same time."

Reminded the Cardinals don't want Gramatica jumping anymore, the kicker simply shrugged.

"I couldn't help it, I just jumped," said Gramatica, the younger brother of Bucs kicker Martin.

Gramatica, who also made field goals of 41 and 28 yards, shook off a Carolina timeout designed to put the pressure on him and sent the ball straight through the uprights.

"This is exactly what I envisioned 18 months ago when I started putting these guys together," Arizona coach Dave McGinnis said. "We've got an open date and we're 3-2 and that's sweet, sweet, sweet!"

It was the second straight week a kicker has felled the Panthers. Last week, Carolina's Shayne Graham missed a 24-yarder with 16 seconds left that could have sent the Panthers into overtime in their 17-14 loss to Green Bay.

This time it was Gramatica, as well as four Carolina turnovers, including two fumbles by running back Lamar Smith.

"Again, we finished minus in the turnover margin this week and I think that has a lot to do with losing," Carolina coach John Fox said. "We are 3-2, we are not 0-5, and I don't think all is lost."

Neither team was strong offensively, with the Panthers needing a pair of third-quarter field goals from Graham to put them up 13-6.

They clung to that lead through the fourth quarter until Arizona's Coby Rhinehart intercepted Rodney Peete to start one of two late scoring drives.

Arizona started on its 25-yard line and needed seven plays to score when Jake Plummer dumped a short pass to Freddie Jones, who rambled 15 yards for a touchdown that tied it at 13 with 2:38 to play.

The Panthers couldn't answer and had to give the ball back to Arizona with just under two minutes left.

Carolina came close to taking control when defensive end Julius Peppers knocked the ball loose from Plummer, but Plummer scooped it back up and threw downfield to MarTay Jenkins for a 17-yard gain.

Damien Anderson, a rookie activated before the game from the practice squad to fill in at running back, had two catches for 12 yards and Plummer had a 6-yard quarterback draw to set up Gramatica.

Aside from a 31-yard touchdown from Peete to Isaac Byrd, Carolina's offense did little else, gaining 244 yards.

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