The Panthers' tag-team running attack bowled over Indianapolis Colts defenders, broke tackles and eventually set up a 47-yard winning field goal from John Kasay to keep the Panthers unbeaten with a 23-20 overtime win.
"Coach let me know Stephen was down and it was going to be on my shoulders," Foster said. "I just tried to go out there and make the most of my opportunity."
The Panthers (5-0) have now won seven straight dating to last season and are one of three remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL. The others are Kansas City (6-0) and Minnesota (5-0).
But this win was atypical for Carolina.
Just six days after Peyton Manning miraculously rallied the Colts (5-1) from a 21-point deficit in the final four minutes at Tampa Bay, he nearly did it again.
Manning led the Colts on an improbable 91-yard, game-tying drive in the final three minutes against another one of the NFL's best defenses -- but he never got a chance to win it.
To compound the Panthers' problems, Davis, the NFC's leading rusher, watched most of the final 21 minutes with a bruised arm. He finished with 76 yards rushing, his first sub-100-yard game since joining the Panthers and a dramatic drop-off from last week's 159-yard effort.
Davis' absence forced Carolina to use Plan B -- making Foster the workhorse.
"If you're going to be a running team like we envision ourselves to be, you have to have that," coach John Fox said of the Panthers' depth at running back.
Foster carried 16 times for 85 yards, his best day as a pro, after missing all of his rookie season with a left knee injury.
For the Colts, it was that kind of day.
After dominating both offensively and defensively in the first half, Indianapolis did little right in the second half.
The offense had just 66 yards in offense before their final drive and turned the ball over twice.
The defense couldn't get off the field and eventually broke down.
Foster and Davis made the Colts pay.
"They have two pretty good running backs, but we didn't stop them, that's all," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said.
The Panthers got back into the game after Manning was intercepted and Davis broke four tackles en route to a 28-yard TD run that made it 13-10 early in the third quarter.
Even when it appeared the Colts made a play, like when Chad Bratzke snatched a Delhomme pass out of the air at Carolina 5 early in the fourth quarter, it turned out wrong.
Fox challenged the call and won.
"In the replay, I thought that both players grabbed the ball and never had control of it and the ball popped out," referee Larry Nemmers said. "Therefore, it's an incomplete pass."
Colts coach Tony Dungy was puzzled by the change.
"I'm watching the same replay, trying to see what they saw to overturn it," he said. "He said he didn't think Chad cever had the ball. That's his opinion."
Carolina kept possession and chewed up another five minutes before Manning & Co. got the ball back.
Then Manning was at his best.
He hooked up with four different receivers, including Marvin Harrison who caught his 700th pass and became the NFL's fastest to that mark Sunday, before spotting Reggie Wayne for a 25-yard TD pass. That tied the score with 45 seconds left in regulation.
Manning finished 23-of-34 for 293 yards with one touchdown, while Harrison caught eight passes for 119 yards and became the Colts' all-time leader in receiving yards.
But Foster dominated the overtime.
He carried four times for 26 yards, including an 11-yard run on third down and a 12-yard run to get the Panthers in position for the field goal, Kasay's 13th in a row this season.
"The spark was in the second half, getting the turnover and Stephen scoring the touchdown," Delhomme said. "Then we started doing what we do best."
Stephen Davis rushes for 76 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. (AP)
|FG||John Kasay 29 Yd, 2:32. Drive: 7 plays, 47 yards in 4:17.|
|TD||James Mungro, 1 Yd run (Mike Vanderjagt kick is good), 13:33. Drive: 8 plays, 81 yards in 3:59.|
|FG||Mike Vanderjagt 39 Yd, 8:19. Drive: 6 plays, 15 yards in 2:31.|
|FG||Mike Vanderjagt 22 Yd, 0:15. Drive: 12 plays, 76 yards in 6:10.|
|TD||Stephen Davis, 28 Yd run (John Kasay kick is good), 13:59. Drive: 1 play, 28 yards in 0:08.|
|TD||Steve Smith, 52 Yd pass from Jake Delhomme (John Kasay kick is good), 10:22. Drive: 5 plays, 85 yards in 2:17.|
|FG||John Kasay 23 Yd, 11:17. Drive: 5 plays, 21 yards in 2:48.|
|TD||Reggie Wayne, 25 Yd pass from Peyton Manning (Mike Vanderjagt kick is good), 0:45. Drive: 9 plays, 91 yards in 2:23.|
|FG||John Kasay 47 Yd, 9:21. Drive: 10 plays, 43 yards in 5:39.|
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