The Carolina Panthers refused to talk any trash before their game against Tampa Bay. After beating the Super Bowl champions for the second time this season, they wouldn’t shut up.
Jake Delhomme’s five-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith with 1:06 remaining overcame a late Tampa Bay rally and lifted the Panthers to a 27-24 victory Sunday in the matchup of two suddenly bitter rivals.
The victory silenced the Buccaneers (4-5) and dropped them three games behind the Panthers (7-2) in the NFC South. And Carolina holds the tiebreaker.
“I’ll say it: I can’t stand them,” said defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. "... They talk too much, they want to flash ‘I’m a superstar.’ Well, now that talk don’t mean nothing.
“We beat them not once, but twice, and I’m going to celebrate while they go home to watch TV.”
Defensive end Simeon Rice guaranteed a Buccaneer victory last week, but the defending champions are now left with a rocky road to even make the playoffs.
Still, not even their third division loss of the season -- they lost to New Orleans last week -- silenced Rice.
“There’s going to be a guarantee next week too because that’s me,” Rice said. “No situation is going to break me.”
The Panthers declined to respond to Tampa Bay’s baiting all week, promising they would have plenty to say Sunday.
“They thought they were going to win, and we thought otherwise,” Delhomme said. “We just kept our mouths shut and went to work.”
But it was difficult, especially when Tampa Bay tackle Kenyatta Walker called his battles with Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers “personal.” They sparred on nearly every play. There was also trash talking and taunting.
“I pay him as little attention as I pay someone walking down the street,” Peppers said. “They were the world champs last year, and now they have five losses. Maybe now we won’t have to hear all the talk, talk, talk that they do.”
But the Buccaneers almost backed up their words with a late rally behind Brad Johnson, who threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lift them out of a 20-7 hole.
His 23-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson made it 20-14 with 10:19 to play. On the next possession, facing fourth and one, Brad Johnson dumped off an 18-yard pass to Warren Sapp to keep the drive alive.
Keenan McCardell then made a one-handed catch at the edge of the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown and a 21-20 Tampa Bay lead with 4:44 to play.
The Buccaneers appeared to put the game away when Delhomme was intercepted for the second time by Tim Wansley, who returned the first one 23 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. The second interception set up Martin Gramatica’s 39-yard field goal for a 24-20 lead.
But the Buccaneer defense failed to come up with the big stop it needed, continuing a season-long trend.