Smith comes up big in second half to lift PanthersNov 14, 2006 - 5:11 AM CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Ticker) -- For a while, Steve Smith epitomized how most people felt at Bank of America Stadium.
Smith came alive in the second half as the Carolina Panthers overcame a poor start en route to a 24-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Coming off their bye week, the Panthers (5-4) managed under 100 total yards, committed a costly turnover and had numerous untimely penalties in the first half, which ended with the Bucs holding a 7-0 lead.
Smith also struggled in the first half while playing through a bout of the flu. Television replays captured the Pro Bowl wide receiver vomiting into a garbage can on the sidelines.
"Everything was coming up water," Smith said. "After awhile, I was dry-heaving."
After intermission, Smith flourished as he finished with eight catches for 149 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown catch with 3:11 remaining that gave the Panthers a 24-10 lead. He had five receptions for 117 yards in the second half.
"I'm not sure exactly what was wrong with him, but he gutted it up, literally, and was able to get back in and help us," Panthers coach John Fox said. "He's a tough young man. We needed him to be tonight."
Jake Delhomme completed 22-of-34 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for the Panthers, who pulled within a game of first-place New Orleans in the NFC South.
Julius Peppers carried things on the defensive side of the ball as he tied a career high with three sacks. The Pro Bowl defensive end leads the league with 11 sacks.
"(Peppers is) a pretty remarkable player," Fox said. "He's disrupted a few teams along the way, and we're thankful we have him."
Rookie Bruce Gradkowski threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard in the first quarter for the Bucs (2-7), who lost their third straight game.
Gradkowski's score was set up when former Buc Keyshawn Johnson lost a fumble at his own 48. The young signal-caller then had a 27-yard completion to Joey Galloway.
In just his sixth career start, Gradkowski completed 17-of-32 passes for 173 yards and two interceptions. He was just 6-of-12 for 63 yards with a lost fumble in the second half.
Smith immediately became involved in the third quarter, catching a 43-yard pass down the right sideline on the Panthers' first possession. The reception set up John Kasay's 28-yard field goal.
On the Bucs' ensuing possession, Gradkowski scrambled up the middle and was stripped of the ball by linebacker Chris Draft. Peppers fell on the fumble at the Tampa Bay 44.
Delhomme then had completions of eight and 21 yards to Smith. The second also featured a 15-yard face-mask penalty on free safety Will Allen, moving the ball to the 4.
On 3rd-and-goal, Delhomme found Johnson in the back of the end zone for a four-yard touchdown, giving the Panthers a 10-7 lead with 8:27 left in the third quarter.
"I can't say much about the first half, but if I had my druthers, I'd rather get it finished and our guys did that," Fox said. "We had some guys step up and keep swinging their sword, and we were able to pull it out."
Another turnover late in the third quarter helped the Panthers increase their advantage.
Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who was limited to 44 rushing yards on 15 attempts, fumbled and free safety Mike Minter recovered at the Tampa Bay 16.
Four plays later, fullback Brad Hoover plowed up the middle for a five-yard touchdown to make it 17-7.
"(Turnovers) are always big plays," Fox said. "It takes players making plays, and that's what they did."
After Matt Bryant kicked a 28-yard field goal with 8:32 remaining to pull the Bucs within 17-10, the Panthers answered with an eight-play, 72-yard drive. Delhomme capped the march with the connection to Smith down the left sideline.
It was the fourth 100-yard game of the season for Smith, who had seven receptions for 112 yards in a 26-24 win at Tampa Bay on September 24.
"We've started this second season (the last eight games) a lot better than we started the first one," Fox said. "We're 1-0 as opposed to 0-1. All it means is one more victory and all of our focus will be on St. Louis next week."
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