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Panthers win feisty battle with Rams

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The way the Carolina Panthers handled themselves in a feisty, confrontation-filled game with the St. Louis Rams made them proud.

The Panthers were most pleased that they ended up with a 30-15 victory, too.

"It was a great bonding game," Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "We kept our heads. Sometimes you have to step away in this game and don't get a personal foul."

Munnerlyn scored on the game's first snap and the offense eventually pitched in Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.

St. Louis lost quarterback Sam Bradford to a fourth-quarter lower-body injury, and that just added to the ill feelings between the teams.

Munnerlyn returned an interception for the game's opening points as the Panthers (3-3) won for the second week in a row. The outcome snapped the Rams' two-game winning streak.

Cam Newton of Carolina and Bradford each tossed one touchdown pass. Bradford, who threw for 255 yards on 21-for-30 passing, exited with an injury with 5:06 to play.

He tumbled as he ran out of bounds, tripped by Carolina safety Mike Mitchell.

"I'm praying for Sam," Rams tight end Jared Cook said. "Usually quarterbacks are protected when they're running out of bounds."

The tension seemed to build in the third quarter when St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn hit Newton after a handoff.

"It was a legal hit, just out there trying to make plays," Quinn said. "On that play, my job was to take the quarterback."

Newton said, "When you get hit like that, you have to stop to see if everything is OK."

From then on, there were countless post-whistle faceoffs.

St. Louis defensive end Chris Long was ejected with 9:45 remaining in the third quarter during a fracas that involved players from both teams.

Long said he apologized to his teammates but that they "understand I'm going to stand up for guys" on this team.

"We all could have kept our composure," Quinn said. "We're all grown men."

St. Louis was called for four second-half unsportsmanlike conduct or personal foul penalties.

"We did a good job of being the more composed team," Mitchell said. "We had to play disciplined. They wanted to try to pick a fight with us. They had four quarters to do that."

Newton completed 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards.

"The sad thing about it, I feel like I could have played a little bit better," Newton said.

On the first play from scrimmage, Munnerlyn dove to pick off Bradford's pass, with no Rams in the area. Munnerlyn got to his feet and made a 45-yard return to the end zone, barely avoiding stepping out of bounds.

Carolina's offense did enough, chewing up second-half minutes.

A 13-play drive resulted in Graham Gano's 31-yard field goal after eating up more than 8 minutes of the third quarter on the half's first possession.

On the drive, the Panthers reached the St. Louis 1-yard line and used a replay challenge hoping that receiver Steve Smith reached the end zone. When that call was not overturned, two dives into the line by fullback Mike Tolbert did not produce a score, and then Tolbert was called for unsportsmanlike conduct to thwart the drive.

The Rams (3-4) responded in a hurry, with Bradford's 73-yard hookup with Brian Quick coming two plays before a 4-yard pass to Zac Stacy, giving St. Louis its first touchdown on its third trip inside Carolina's 10-yard line. That trimmed the deficit to 20-12.

The Panthers were back in charge on the next drive, with Newton connecting with Steve Smith on a 19-yard touchdown play.

Gano's 50-yard field goal created a 30-12 advantage with 11:32 left.

St. Louis botched scoring opportunities, unraveling with penalties in the second half.

The Rams drove to inside the Carolina 1-yard line on their second possession of the game, but Bradford did not have an open receiver and threw an incompletion on fourth down.

It was not a total lost cause for the Rams. On Carolina's next snap, Tolbert was tackled in the end zone by defensive end Eugene Sims for a safety.

The Panthers built a 10-2 lead on Gano's 37-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter.

St. Louis had a 63-yard Bradford-to-Tavon Austin touchdown pass wiped out by offensive lineman Jake Long's tripping penalty. The Rams eventually converted on the possession with Greg Zuerlein's 28-yard field goal.

Tolbert scored on a 1-yard plunge with 1:05 left in the first half as Carolina held a 17-5 edge at the break.

Notes: These teams are former division rivals, though they had not met since 2010. The Panthers lead the all-time series 12-8. ... Smith's touchdown catch in the third quarter came on his 800th career reception. ... CB Cortland Finnegan of the Rams remained sidelined with a hamstring injury. ... Former Rams receiver Torry Holt, who is from North Carolina, met with some of the team members prior to the game. ... The Panthers played their only home game during a five-week stretch, which included their open date. They are at Tampa Bay on Thursday night for their first game against an NFC South Division opponent. ... The Rams will be at home for three of their next four games, including next week for a Monday night game against the Seattle Seahawks.

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