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Kasay kicks Panthers past Buccaneers

Sep 24, 2006 - 8:24 PM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Steve Smith made his return for the Carolina Panthers, but it was another reliable veteran who came through in the clutch.

John Kasay booted his fourth field goal of the game, a 46-yarder with two seconds remaining, to lift the Panthers to a critical 26-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In a matchup of NFC South rivals who both made the playoffs last season but were looking to avoid 0-3 starts, the Panthers squandered a 17-0 first-half lead before recovering late.

The Panthers (1-2) were boosted by the return of Smith - a Pro Bowl wide receiver - who missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury. He helped Carolina to its best offensive showing of the season with seven catches for 116 yards.

"It was a really big win," Smith said. "Obviously our first four games are in the division and conference, so they are really big."

A 16-year veteran, Kasay proved to be another offensive weapon as he converted field goals of 51, 50 and 49 yards before coming through one final time.

"He's pretty special," Carolina coach John Fox said. "He's been pretty special for us for a while. I thank God for John Kasay. He's been a big part of my tenure here."

Quarterback Jake Delhomme also overcame two second-half fumbles to lead the winning eight-play, 48-yard drive. He had a 25-yard completion to Keyshawn Johnson and a 12-yard run on a 4th-and-7 play to the Tampa Bay 30. Two plays after Delhomme's run, Kasay came on to split the uprights.

"I don't think (Delhomme's run) was a huddle call," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "That was a real instinctive play."

Delhomme's miscues and a fumble by DeShaun Foster led to 17 second-half points for the Bucs.

Chris Simms passed for a touchdown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams rushed for a TD for the Bucs (0-3), who won the division last season. Now they find themselves in a major hole as only five teams have made the playoffs after losing their first three games.

Simms underwent surgery hours after the game to have his spleen removed. He is in stable condition at St. Joseph's Hospital.

"I don't go down this road to often," said Gruden after the Bucs fell to 0-3 for the 10th time in franchise history. "I'm not familiar with losing. Until we do much better, we'll be in more situations like this."

A former Buc who was deactivated for the final six games of the 2003 season, Johnson also exacted a measure of revenge against Gruden, his old coach.

Less than a minute into the game, Johnson caught a 31-yard TD pass along the left sideline. He ran four yards for a score on an end around with 12:41 left in the first half to give the Panthers a 17-0 lead.

Johnson's first score came after Simms was intercepted by cornerback Chris Gamble on the Bucs' first offensive play. Johnson was booed all afternoon by the Raymond James Stadium crowd.

"Anytime you play for that team and then not play for them anymore, it's going to be that way," Johnson said. "Whether it's New York, Dallas, or here. Whether it's Carolina, wherever the case may be, I don't know many players that get clapped and cheered when they come back."

Simms was intercepted six times without a touchdown in the first two games in which the Bucs were outscored by a lopsided margin of 41-3.

After the rough start, Simms did settle in and threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway with 6:57 left in the first half to draw the Bucs within 17-7.

Kasay increased the lead for the Panthers with a 50-yard field goal with 50 seconds left in the half.

Thanks to their defense, the Bucs got back into the game in the third quarter.

On the Panthers' first possession of the second half, defensive end Simeon Rice sacked Delhomme and jarred the ball loose. End Dewayne White fell on the fumble for Tampa Bay at the Carolina 15.

Williams had a four-yard run before bursting up the middle for an 11-yard score to pull the Bucs within 20-14. Williams rushed for a season-high 48 yards on 19 attempts.

Foster lost a fumble just across midfield on the Panthers' next possesion. The Bucs converted by moving 51 yards in 10 plays.

Simms capped the march with a two-yard TD run around the left side on 4th-and-2, giving the Bucs a 21-20 lead.

Simms retreated to the locker room with 25 seconds left in the third quarter with what Gruden called a rib injury and cramps. He returned and finished 13-of-24 for 139 yards.

Kasay kicked a 49-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the third quarter to give the Panthers a 23-21 lead. The drive featured a 41-yard completion from Delhomme to Smith to the Tampa Bay 37.

Delhomme completed 22-of-36 passes for 272 yards.

Matt Bryant's 28-yard field goal with 5:01 remaining gave the Bucs a 24-23 lead.

Tampa Bay also had a chance to run out the clock, but Simms threw an incompletion on a deep pass to Galloway on a 3rd-and-5 play at the two-minute warning.

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