CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Players mobbed each other in a pile on the ground, new coach John Fox jumped high into the arms of his assistants, and the Carolina Panthers celebrated their first victory in 364 days.
The Panthers turned to their veterans for scoring and to their youth to save the game Sunday, beating Baltimore 10-7 to snap a 15-game losing streak and give Fox a win in his head coaching debut.
|Wesley Walls celebrates as he scores the only TD for Carolina.(AP)|
"I'm going to enjoy it, this team is going to enjoy it, I hope the whole town enjoys it," said Wesley Walls, who caught a 20-yard TD pass from Rodney Peete.
"It just feels so incredible to finally win again and to finish a game and just put an end to all this misery."
The Ravens, two years removed from winning the Super Bowl, felt little shame in losing to Carolina, the worst team in the league last season.
"Carolina's record last year was just that -- last year," said coach Brian Billick. "I don't know how good Carolina is right now, but they are one of 16 teams that are going to be 1-0 at the end of the day."
John Kasay, the only original Panther on the roster, kicked a 27-yard field goal, and Walls, a member of Carolina's 1996 team that went to the NFC championship game, caught Carolina's only touchdown pass as all the scoring came in the first half.
So the Panthers had to sweat this one out after Kasay missed a 50-yard field goal with 2:00 left -- enough time and a short enough field for the Ravens to pull it out.
But Chris Redman, making his first career start for the Ravens, had his third-down pass batted away by Julius Peppers, the second overall pick in the NFL draft.
The ball landed right in the hands of Dan Morgan for an interception. Morgan, Carolina's first-round pick a year ago, raced 22 yards downfield to preserve the Panthers' win.
"I didn't feel any pressure to make something happen today," said Peppers, who assisted on just one tackle. "I just relaxed and sat back and waited for my time to make a play. It just happened to come on the last play of the game."
As the players celebrated in a heap near the end zone, Fox sprinted down the sidelines leaping into the air and pumping his fists, while defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio joined the pile of players.
And the home crowd, so apathetic at times, cheered long and loud to salute the energy and effort that Fox has installed in this team.
"I really like this team, they've worked really hard to come from a team that was in disarray when I got here," said Fox, hired in January to replace George Seifert.
"I'm not making any predictions except that I like this bunch and they worked hard today to end the losing."
The Panthers were conservative in breaking their streak, even though Fox gambled by benching struggling quarterback Chris Weinke in favor of the 36-year-old Peete.
His reason was simple: The rebuilding Ravens were an easy target and Peete -- who last started a game in 1998 -- gave Carolina a better chance to win.
In a blue-collar game plan, Peete went 12-for-19 for 136 yards, spending most of the game handing off to Lamar Smith, who ran for 84 yards against a Baltimore defense that ranked second in stopping the run last season.
Peete, who had not attempted a pass in two seasons, said he quickly got back into the flow of things.
"I felt like a kid in a candy store," Peete said. "After the first series, I got into a routine and I did not feel rusty at all."
The Ravens, in a salary-cap-related rebuilding mode, had little to work with offensively.
Redman, a third-year pro, went 20-for-34 for 218 yards and an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ron Johnson on Baltimore's second possession.
But that was all the Ravens could muster as they stalled out time and time again in the second half.
"If you look around the league, I think there are five teams that are more veteran and have the sharpness and crispness," Billick said. "Those are things that are team will have four or five weeks from now."
- Carolina's victory was the first at Ericsson Stadium since Dec. 17, 2000.
- Baltimore receiver Brandon Stokley set career-highs with six catches for 83 yards.
- Running back Jamal Lewis, who missed all of last season for the Ravens with a knee injury, marked his return with 64 yards on 17 carries.
- The Panthers ran for 145 yards -- they didn't eclipse the 100-yard mark until their sixth game of last season.
- Carolina's defense held Baltimore to 77 yards on the ground, the first time in nine games it had held an opponent under 100 yards.
The Associated Press News Service
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