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Panthers beat Buccaneers

Panthers beat Buccaneers

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Panthers beat Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Bruce Gradkowski (7) fumbles the ball after being hit by Carolina Panthers' Chris Draft (52) during the third quarter of the Panthers' 24-10 win in an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 13, 2006. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Carolina Panthers deserved the boos that chased them off the field at halftime. Even Steve Smith's stomach was turning.

As the second half wore on, Smith was feeling better, the Panthers got it turned around - and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were feeling all the worse for it.

Jake Delhomme threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson for the go-ahead score in the third quarter and Julius Peppers had three sacks and recovered a fumble as the Panthers beat the Buccaneers 24-10 on Monday night to end a two-game losing streak.

Smith was seen repeatedly vomiting into a garbage can on the sidelines, once after a long catch early in the second half. But he stayed in the game, catching eight passes for 149 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter that sealed it.

"My little girl was sick,'' Smith said, "and so, and she's a daddy's girl, kissing on me and so - I got the flu. What happens in the house just goes around the parents.''

Smith said he fought through the wooziness, because "this is how I feed my family.''

Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw two interceptions and lost a fumble for the Buccaneers (2-7), who committed turnovers on four of five possessions in the second and third quarters to blow a 7-0 halftime lead in their third straight loss.

Forced to wait 15 days to play again after allowing 25 fourth-quarter points in a loss to Dallas, the Panthers managed only three first downs and 98 yards in the first half. Their drives in that half went: punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt, interception.

Fans, upset with the play-calling and the Panthers inability to run, showed their displeasure early and saved the loudest boos as the Panthers walked off the field at halftime with only three first downs against a team missing three defensive starters to injury, including Simeon Rice.

Carolina scored on four of its first six drives in the second half - but then, the Buccaneers made it easy for the Panthers to come back.

After such a long wait for the Panthers, even an ugly win keeps Carolina in the playoff hunt.

"It was more than a day, it was the last 15 days,'' Panthers Delhomme said. "We really laid an egg 15 days ago against Dallas. It's just nice to get a win. It's a crazy league.''

Gradkowski's third turnover of the game, a fumble forced by Chris Draft and recovered by Peppers, gave Carolina the ball at the Tampa Bay 44.

Delhomme then found Smith for a 21-yard catch-and-run, setting up Delhomme's 4-yard TD pass to Keyshawn Johnson. It gave Carolina it's first lead, 10-7 midway through the third quarter.

"My two bigs, Keyshawn (Johnson) and Steve (Smith), I just try to get them the ball and they make me look good,'' Delhomme said.

Carnell "Cadillac'' Williams, held to 44 yards on 15 carries, fumbled on the next possession and Mike Minter recovered at the Tampa Bay 16. Four plays later Brad Hoover's 5-yard touchdown run put Carolina up 17-7.

It marked the eighth time in nine games the Panthers held the lead going into the fourth quarter. Unlike on the last three occasions, the Panthers held on.

Peppers, going up against second-year offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood after a season-ending injury to Kenyatta Walker, took over the NFL lead with 11 sacks.

Gradkowski, who came into the game with only one interception in 186 games - an NFL record for most attempts to start a career without two picks - struggled with his accuracy. He overthrew an open Joey Galloway for what would have been a touchdown in the first quarter.

He later underthrew two passes near the end zone, resulting in interceptions for Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble. He even bounced a pass off Peppers' helmet, causing coach Jon Gruden to start screaming at him in the first half.

But Gradkowski, who was 17-of-32 for 173 yards, did take advantage when Ronde Barber ripped the ball away from the ex-Buccaneer Johnson near midfield late in the first quarter. Five plays later Gradkowski tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard.

That was enough to take a halftime lead on the Panthers, who were inept in the first half. The boos started early when offensive coordinator Dan Henning called for a running play on third-and-11 and DeShaun Foster gained only five yards.

Barber intercepted Delhomme at the Panthers' 30 late in the first half, but the Bucs were called for a 15-yard celebration penalty, knocking them out of field goal range.

The Panthers had only 80 yards rushing, despite getting rookie DeAngelo Williams back from a sprained ankle. He had seven carries for 19 yards.

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