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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 2:01 p.m., Sunday, September 30, 2007

NFL: Bucs beat Panthers, lose RB Williams

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Behind a steady quarterback and a suffocating defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are erasing memories of a miserable 2006.

Jeff Garcia didn't throw an interception for the fourth straight game and ran for a touchdown, while the Bucs shut down David Carr, Steve Smith and the Carolina Panthers in a 20-7 win today to move atop the NFC South.

Ike Hilliard caught seven passes for 114 yards, Michael Pittman rushed for 90 yards and the Buccaneers (3-1) overcame the loss of running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams to a right knee injury to beat the Panthers (2-2) for only the second time in nine meetings.

A year after going 4-12 and finishing last in the division, the Bucs have been reinvented behind a new-look defense that made life miserable for Carr. Starting in place of Jake Delhomme, who was nursing a strained right elbow, Carr completed just 19 of 41 passes for 155 yards. He was sacked three times and the Panthers only avoided their first shutout in five years when Carr's screen pass to DeAngelo Williams turned into a 24-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left.

Jermaine Phillips intercepted Carr at the Carolina 28 early in the fourth quarter, setting up Matt Bryant's second field goal, making it 20-0 and sending thousands of booing fans to the exits.

Despite being without starting cornerback Brian Kelly (groin), Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon combined to blanket Carolina's receivers. Carr spent much of the day either running away from pressure or throwing the ball away when he couldn't find a receiver as the Panthers managed only 236 yards.

Smith, held to five catches for 32 yards, grew more furious as the game wore on.

He was seen screaming on the phone to the coaching staff during the third quarter, then spent part of the fourth sitting on the bench with a towel over his head as the Panthers gave up the top spot in the division to the surging Bucs.

The only concern for Tampa Bay was Williams and starting left tackle Luke Petitgout, who also left with a knee injury.

The Buccaneers already led 7-0 when Williams rumbled down the right sideline for an 18-yard gain. He was hit by safety Chris Harris, and Williams' leg bent awkwardly under him in front of Smith on the Panthers' sideline.

Smith immediately waved for the trainer as Williams clutched his knee in agony. Before he was carted off the field, every teammate came onto the field to give Williams encouragement.

Earnest Graham replaced him, and his 1-yard TD run made it 14-0. The Bucs finished with 189 yards rushing.

The Panthers, meanwhile, were getting little done offensively. Carr completed only three of his first 11 passes, and the longest play of the first half was when Carr eluded linebacker Derrick Brooks by leaping into the air and doing a summersault on a 15-yard gain.

Carr, in his first start with Carolina after five years as Houston's starter, got up and made a first down signal. But the drive stalled.

The 37-year-old Garcia, signed in the offseason, continued his mistake-free season. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 176 yards and got Tampa Bay on the board with a 3-yard scramble on the Bucs' first possession.

The Panthers, without middle linebacker Dan Morgan (ankle), put little pressure on Garcia. He wasn't sacked and the Panthers have only two sacks all season — none by Julius Peppers.