Wyche: Panthers control early action

Steve Wyche reports from the Buccaneers-Panthers game. Check back later for his complete column.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The game for NFC South supremacy is far from over, but Carolina has set the tone against Tampa Bay with a bowed-neck sequence that could allow it to emerge with a victory and the division lead.

Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart will go on record with the glamor of plunging in from the 2-yard line to give Carolina a 10-3 halftime lead. Yet it was the stout play of the defense, mashing attitude of the offensive line and running back DeAngelo Williams that resoundingly delivered the advantage.

While Carolina got in from the 2, Tampa Bay couldn’t as the Panthers defense denied two pass attempts and stonewalled Cadillac Williams on a short run to force a 20-yard Matt Bryant field goal. Mind you, the stand came after the Panthers allowed a 52-yard completion from Jeff Garcia to Antonio Bryant that got the Bucs to the 2. It also came in response to Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber picking off a Jake Delhomme pass.

Stewart’s touchdown followed the defensive stand. The Panthers’ momentum didn’t end with Stewart giving them the lead. Carolina sacked Garcia twice to end the half.

Contests aren’t won at halftime, but the home team is playing like it wants the game a lot more than the Buccaneers, who entered the game with a swagger that rivaled that of the NFC-leading Giants.

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