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Defense overcomes offense again

Except for two drives, the Panthers and rookie quarterback Randy Fasani gained few yards.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 2002

Except for two drives, the Panthers and rookie quarterback Randy Fasani gained few yards.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Panthers quarterback Randy Fasani demonstrated good speed, a strong arm and ability to take a hit.

What he did not have was much of a chance to beat the Bucs.

Tampa Bay improved to 7-1 against rookie quarterbacks since 1996, holding Fasani and the Panthers to a team-record 15 yards of offense in the first half during Sunday's 12-9 victory.

Fasani finished 5-of-18 for 46 yards and was intercepted three times, twice by safety John Lynch.

Carolina converted 1 of 12 third downs against the Bucs, whose defense remains No.1 in the league.

The defense's performance was enough to overcome the performance by the offense, which managed four field goals.

"For the most part, we played extremely well," Lynch said. "At the start of the second half, they started getting some drives. They have a little bit of a different running game, kind of a finesse, gadget play run game that can give you some problems. They hit us there.

"We got settled down and played some great defense."

The Panthers' only success came on the ground. Running back Lamar Smith gained 82 yards on 22 carries.

The Panthers mounted drives of 44 and 34 yards to start the second half and took a 9-3 lead on field goals of 47 and 39 yards by Shayne Graham.

"That was unbelievable," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of his defense. "I tip my hat to Fasani. I thought he came out of the locker room at halftime and really had two excellent drives.

"He made a couple of throws and a couple of scrambles. Our defense hung in there, screwed the wheel back on and finished this game like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that we know."

Carolina coach John Fox said he didn't want to put the game on Fasani, who made his first start in place of the injured Rodney Peete and Chris Weinke.

The only rookie to beat the Bucs since '96 is former Lion Charlie Batch.

"We didn't add any plays or take a lot of plays out," Fox said.

"Tampa Bay has a pretty good defense. I don't want to say we pulled in our horns a lot with him."

Fasani nearly did enough to win.

Carolina sacked Rob Johnson six times, including two by rookie Julius Peppers, who leads the league with nine.

"We knew they had a good defense, but they were more impressive in person," Lynch said. "I could tell once the game got going, it was going to be a struggle. Our offense, give them credit, they kept going. I'm sure they're going to be disgusted with the way things went. But when we needed it in the end, they got enough yards and set Martin (Gramatica) up.

"Our job is to outplay the other defense, and that took a great effort because they were playing extremely well. We'll stay focused on that. Our special teams had been struggling, and they made plays, too, to win it. I've got all the confidence in the world in Jon and the guys over there, and they'll get it rectified. We're going to need them."

Until then, the defense again showed it is good enough to win games on its own, especially against rookie quarterbacks.

"They've got the No.4 (defense) in the league, and we're No.1 in the league. But it's on us to win games all the time, anyway," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "It's nothing new. There's no use denying it or trying to run away from it. That's the way we win games.

"For us to do what we've done and really have a chance to be undefeated on the road, that's exciting for us, to find a way to win, ugly or otherwise."

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