Bears’ hit on Delhomme sparks Panthers’ 20-17 win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Whether the hit was dirty or not, it changed everything for the Carolina Panthers.

As Jake Delhomme grabbed his head Sunday following a questionable shoulder-to-helmet hit by Chicago’s Lance Briggs, the Panthers appeared finished.

CHARLOTTE, N.C.    Whether the hit was dirty or not, it changed everything for the Carolina Panthers. As Jake Delhomme grabbed his head Sunday following a questionable shoulder-to-helmet hit by Chicago’s Lance Briggs, the Panthers appeared finished. They could barely get a snap off without a false start penalty. The defense was allowing time-consuming drives, and the Panthers were fortunate to be down only two touchdowns. But Briggs’ hit as Delhomme began a protective slide following a scramble in the third quarter created a stir. Former Bear Chris Harris gathered the team on the sidelines. "I told them we’re not taking it," the safety said. "It turned into more than a game after that. Guys were upset. After that we got after it." They sure did. Delhomme, Harris and rookie Jonathan Stewart fueled a comeback, and the Panthers scored the final 17 points to stun the Bears 20-17 for their first 2-0 start since the Super Bowl season in 2003. "It’s just a really good team right now," said receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who surpassed 10,000 yards receiving against his former team. "We want to build on that every week and gain a little more trust." After Delhomme was able to walk off the field following the hit, the Panthers took over. Harris forced a fumble on Chicago’s next possession, leading to the first of Stewart’s two touchdown runs. The second, a 1-yard scamper, put the Panthers ahead for the first time with 3:52 left. The Panthers then stuffed fullback Jason McKie on fourth-and-1 from midfield with under 2 minutes left to seal their second straight comeback win despite star receiver Steve Smith’s suspension. With Smith set to return to the team Monday, the Panthers are full of confidence. "I’m excited to have our rocket back," Delhomme said. I’m looking forward to having him back. I know the players are, too. He gives us that explosiveness." The Bears (1-1) couldn’t build off last week’s impressive win in Indianapolis, despite 92 yards rushing from Matt Forte. Kyle Orton didn’t have a turnover for a second straight game, but passed for only 149 yards and consistently overthrew receivers. Tight end Greg Olsen lost two fumbles and Chicago kick returner Devin Hester left in the third quarter with a rib injury. "Any loss is tough to overcome, especially a game like today’s where we kind of gave it away," Forte said. Delhomme threw for only 128 yards, but he was 3-for-3 for 43 yards on the winning drive, which included a bruising 11-yard rush by Stewart. Delhomme is now 2-for-2 on fourth-quarter comebacks following reconstructive elbow surgery. The Panthers stunned San Diego last week on Delhomme’s touchdown pass on the final play. The Bears seemed to be in control after Charles Tillman intercepted Delhomme’s pass that bounced off tight end Jeff King. It quickly led to McKie’s 1-yard touchdown run that made it 17-3 early in the third quarter. On the next possession, Briggs leveled Delhomme, who ripped off his helmet and grabbed his head. No penalty was called, and the drive ended with John Kasay’s 45-yard field goal. "There are emotional plays in the game," Panthers coach John Fox said. "That one does come to mind." The Panthers got back in it on the next possession, behind Harris. In his first game against Chicago since being traded for a fifth-round pick during training camp last year, Harris stripped the ball from Olsen. Chris Gamble recovered at the Chicago 21, and Stewart’s first NFL touchdown — a tough 4-yard run — made it 17-13. It was Harris’ second forced fumble this season, after he led the NFL with eight a year ago. But it was his talk that seemed to ignite the Panthers, who got off to a horrible start by allowing a blocked punt for a touchdown 2 minutes into the game. "We were just so inept on offense in the first half," Delhomme said. "We just couldn’t get anything going. We’d jump offsides, just every time we made a play there was something. They had the lead, but that was the thing at halftime, just stay calm." Eventually everything clicked, at the expense of the Bears. "It’s a tough one to handle," Olsen said. "The fact that we pretty much dominated the game, and had a lot of critical errors that we did to ourselves as a big part of them coming back and beating us in the end." Notes: Muhammad, who had five catches for 59 yards, has 10,049 yards receiving. Smith provided no update on the extend of Hester’s injury. The Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak in home openers and improved to 4-10 overall. The teams combined for only 468 yards of total offense and 22 penalties. AP ______ In photo: Chicago Bears’ Matt Forte (22) runs during the second quarter of their 20-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers in an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Rick Havner)

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