Before we reveal the number nine moment in Carolina Panthers history, I want to remind everyone that we are selecting games that had a major impact on the franchise and its direction.
The game that comes in at number nine was big for three reasons – 1) The team the Panthers were playing were in only the second game of their defense of a Super Bowl title, 2) The Panthers were in the second game of a season that would find them in the Super Bowl – a game that would set the tone for the year (they would start 5-0 on the season) and 3) The plays that decided this game were absolutely incredible.
Thus, we present the number nine moment in team history.
#9. 2003 Regular Season Game Two - Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, September 14, 2003
The Panthers entered this game with a brand new starting quarterback – some guy named Jake Delhomme who had taken over the previous week in a comeback win at home versus the Jaguars. Honestly, few of us knew who this guy was at the time. Sure, we had heard that he had been in Europe a couple of times and that he had been riding the pine in New Orleans but most of us only knew what we saw the week before and what we saw was incredible.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one week removed from a shutout win over the Eagles (17-0). The Tampa Bay defense had turned the Philadelphia passing game into minced meat allowing only 148 yards passing and only one pass of 15 yards.
This was shaping up as a defensive battle. It wouldn’t disappoint since only 21 total points would be scored. The game would also feature 23 combined penalties.
The Buccaneers were able to manage 378 yards of offense but would find the going tough each time they mounted a drive to convert the yardage into points. The Panthers would counter with 258 yards of offense with Stephen Davis accounting for 142 yards rushing.
The teams slugged it out in the first half with the only points coming from John Kasay who would boot field goals of 28 and 35 yards giving the Panthers a 6-0 advantage. The second of those field goals was set up by an interception by Al Wallace which he returned 53 yards.
Also, Kris Jenkins would block a 38-yard Martin Gramatica field goal attempt halfway through the first quarter.
The second half was more of the same as Kasay added a 20-yard field goal which was countered by a 41-yarder by Gramatica. After three quarters the Panthers still held a six-point advantage at 9-3.
The lead remained six as Julius Peppers would also block a Gramatica 47-yard try in the fourth quarter.
With only 1:49 remaining, the Buccaneers gained posession at their own 18-yard line. They would use eleven plays to march down the field capping the drive with a Brad Johnson to Keenan McCardell touchdown pass covering 6 yards to tie the score. That’s when things got really interesting.
Tampa Bay lined up for the extra point. “We knew they had to go out and make the extra point. We blocked two kicks prior to that, so we thought: `Hey, we’ve got a chance. … By the grace of God we blocked it,” said Brentson Buckner.
It was Jenkins again providing the heroics as he penetrated the middle of the Bucs’ line on what looked like a jail break. He was able to easily get his hand on what would have been the decisive point of the game batting it right back where it came from.
“I went in and blocked it. I don’t think it was rocket science or anything,” said Jenkins. “It was now or never. We didn’t have a choice. Somebody had to get it.”
On to overtime where with 6:18 to go, Tom Tupa made a critical error. He punted to Steve Smith who made him pay with a tremendous return. He fielded the ball near the sidelines at his own 8 yard line, dodged and split defenders up the field and wound up taking it back 52 yards.
From there the offense didn’t have to do much. They ran only three plays gaining 11 yards setting up John Kasay for the game-winning 47-yard field goal.
There was fallout from this game. First, Tampa Bay had lost on their own field in attempting to defend their title. Keyshawn Johnson didn’t see the loss as a problem. “Last year, we were 1-1 at this point and went to the Super Bowl,” he said. “There’s no panic setting in for us. We just have to evaluate where we are at and what we did that was wrong out there and try to make the corrections.”
Utlimately, the Buccaneers would not be able to finish that evaluation as the loss would be the beginning of the end. They would go on to lose six out of their next nine games and wind up with a 7-9 record and miss the playoffs.
The game became the springboard to bigger things as the Panthers (as stated earlier) would start 5-0, finish 11-5 and go on to Super Bowl XXXVIII.