Emotions aside, things are going so wrong for the Panthers that even their castoffs are making them look bad.
Collins led the game-winning scoring drive and Cooper notched the first sack of his career to lead the Oakland Raiders to a 27-24 victory over Carolina on Sunday.
Collins, the first-ever draft pick in Carolina history, was vilified when he left—quitting the team midway through the 1998 season.
Even though he was just average in his first game against the Panthers, the win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Raiders (3-6) and was sweet satisfaction for Collins.
“It was a little redemption,” said Collins, who passed for 231 yards but threw his 12th interception of the season. “Obviously, I didn’t leave here under the best circumstances. But one of the things I learned is to keep plugging away.”
Cooper is learning that now.
A popular special-teamer for four years in Carolina, he was waived by the Panthers (1-7) two weeks ago for “football reasons.” The move came after the team learned he had been arrested for driving without a license and giving police false information.
The return was emotional for Cooper and many of his former teammates.
“It was weird seeing Coop, I didn’t like it at all,” Panthers captain Mike Minter said. “He was down. We all were. This is his home.”
Cooper struggled with his emotions throughout the game, even after his 17-yard sack of Jake Delhomme.
“I didn’t know if I was going to laugh or cry,” Cooper said. “So I just ran away from him to deal with it. I love those guys, every one of them. I hate to be gone, so it was pretty rough for me.”
The Oakland win was the sixth consecutive loss for the slumping NFC champions, who feel strongly that they aren’t as bad as their record indicates.
“If we cut out critical mistakes, we’ll win one game,” Minter said. “That’s all we need. One win will make us feel a little better about ourselves.”
In a game of errors, the most critical came late in the game.
After Carolina tied the game at 24 with 2:25 to play, Collins threw completions of 19 and 12 yards to move the Raiders into Panthers’ territory.
His next pass was incomplete to Doug Gabriel near the end zone, but Dante Wesley was flagged for pass interference. The 38-yard penalty gave Oakland the ball at the 4, and Janikowski kicked the game-winner three plays later.
“I think it was a bad call,” Wesley said. “One official said it was pass interference, and the other said it wasn’t. I hate it had to come down to a pass interference.”
But the Panthers were done in by their own mistakes most of the day. Todd Sauerbrun’s blocked punt set up the first of Wheatley’s two 1-yard TD plunges and a myriad of other errors cost Carolina.
Colin Branch’s interception of Collins was negated when Julius Peppers was called for offsides. Collins then threw a 20-yard completion to Ronald Curry on the very next play. It set up Zereoue’s 7-yard TD run that gave the Raiders a 24-14 lead with 9:14 to play.
Delhomme was off most of the game despite passing for 299 yards and three touchdowns. His passes sailed over receivers heads or out of bounds, ruining several opportunities.
He was at times, overcoming an offensive holding and a fumble under pressure, to set up John Kasay’s 38-yard field goal that cut Oakland’s lead to 24-17 with 3:57 to play.
After a defensive stop, Delhomme needed just 51 seconds to tie the game on a 3-yard TD pass to Nick Goings.
Then Collins moved the Raiders into position to win.
The Panthers had just 37 total rushing yards. …. Carolina is 0-4 at home this season. … Panthers rookie cornerback Chris Gamble left the game with a sprained knee. … Wheatley, who got the start, ran for 54 yards on 19 carries. Zereoue had seven yards on seven carries. … Ronald Curry, who starred at North Carolina, had four receptions for 63 yards. …