CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Stephen Davis was careful all week to keep his level of dislike for the Washington Redskins bottled up. Scoring the winning touchdown against his former team finally allowed him to release it.
Davis screamed as he exited his post-game news conference, a jubilant cry after he lifted the Carolina Panthers to a 20-17 victory over the Redskins on Sunday.
“He was their focal point, their stud, their Pro Bowl guy,” Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “I guarantee that that yell he let out—it was relief that it was over and we got it done. He’s not one to rub it in.”
He downplayed the showdown with the Redskins and coach Steve Spurrier, who phased him out of the offense last season before ultimately releasing him. After seven seasons, three of them 1,000-yard years, and two Pro Bowl appearances, Davis couldn’t believe he was cast off.
So he set out for a “take-that, Steve Spurrier” game and delivered with the winning score on a 3-yard run with 1:09 remaining to help Carolina (8-2) continue its roll through the NFC.
“It was personal, very personal,” he said softly. “I spent seven years of my career there and I know a lot of people there. It was very personal.”
The Panthers knew that and were intent on not letting Washington (4-6) spoil Davis’ day of redemption.
“There is a lot of loyalty already built with our team with Stephen, even though he is a new player,” said coach John Fox. “They knew it was a very important game for him.”
But he didn’t get off to the greatest start, fumbling on his first carry— he later chalked it up to nerves—and spending long gaps alone on the bench with a towel over his head as he rested the sprained ankle that sidelined him last week.
On fourth-and-1 on the Carolina 38, everyone in Ericsson Stadium expected a handoff with the game on the line. Instead, Jake Delhomme tossed to Davis, who scampered 25 yards up the sideline.
After a 30-yard completion to Steve Smith to the 7, it was all Davis. He broke a tackle at the line and used a huge second effort for a 6-yard gain, then took another handoff and barely scored before the ball was knocked out of his hands.
“I don’t think he scored, but it’s not my call,” safety Matt Bowen said. “Whether he got in or not, we don’t let him down there in the first place and we don’t even have to talk about that play.”
Davis went to the sidelines and stood alone to watch Washington’s final drive. Ramsey threw four consecutive incompletions and Davis rushed out onto the field to celebrate with the defense when it was over.
“Those guys had my back on this one,” he said. “They knew that it was important for us as a team and for me personally.”
He finished with 92 yards rushing on 28 carries, compared to the 54 yards rushing the Redskins managed. Davis now has 1,084 yards.
“What do you want me to say?” Spurrier said when asked about Davis. “He’s having a wonderful year, we all know that. He’s an excellent back, we know that.”
The Redskins played a terrible first half, with just 41 yards total offense and several failed scoring opportunities after Carolina turned the ball over three times.
Davis fumbled on his first carry—an 8-yard gain that gave him 1,000 yards for the season—and the Redskins recovered on the Carolina 25. But Rock Cartwright, one of Davis’ closest friends, fumbled in the end zone and the Panthers recovered.
The Panthers saw a near replay of that sequence in the second quarter when a ball bounced off Smith’s hands for Bowen’s interception that Washington turned into Hall’s 23-yard field goal.
“We had a lot of opportunities early in the game, a lot of opportunities to get points,” Spurrier said. “It rocked around to where we came back and took the lead in the fourth quarter, but we didn’t hold onto it.”
NOTES:@ Muhammad had nine catches for a season-high 189 yards. … Carolina kicker John Kasay went 2-for-4, missing for the first time after 22 consecutive field goals. … The Redskins were not called for a penalty. … Delhomme finished 20-of-30 for 317 yards with two interceptions and a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down. … Ramsey was 16-for-35 for 150 yards and two TDs.