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They Take Exception to Low Expectations

September 23, 2002|From Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — It's hard to tell how good Carolina is this early in the season, but the Panthers are not surprised by their successful start.

Lamar Smith carried 30 times for 154 yards and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns Sunday in Carolina's 21-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 1996.

"Nobody really expected it, except for the people in this locker room," said quarterback Rodney Peete, a surprise choice to be the starter this year over Chris Weinke.

Peete wasn't perfect, but the veteran from USC did his part, completing 20 of 30 passes for 221 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.

The Panthers, 1-15 in 2001, played strong defense against a team that scored 39 points last week. The Vikings, 0-3 for the first time since 1967, had only 250 yards and turned the ball over four times.

"You guys keep using that word surprised," first-year Coach John Fox said. "Nothing surprises me. Am I pleased? Am I happy? Am I proud of where our team is? Yes. But not surprised."

Daunte Culpepper completed 19 of 30 passes for 191 yards, a touchdown and a career-high four interceptions.

"We couldn't get in sync," Culpepper said. "On offense, you've got to be in rhythm. It's all about rhythm."

Culpepper's frustrations were visible early in the fourth quarter. He hopped up and down and yelled at Randy Moss on the sideline after a third-down overthrow forced another punt.

"Daunte just wants to win, just like any guy in his profession," said Moss, who had four catches for 16 yards. "I think he's just very frustrated that we're sitting right now at 0-3."

Deon Grant had three interceptions, the last coming on a heave by Culpepper on the game's final play as boos resonated throughout the emptying Metrodome.

"I knew for a fact we were frustrating him," Grant said. "We were disguising our coverages early and that got him confused."

The Panthers trailed, 7-0, until late in the third quarter when Steve Smith slipped behind Greg Biekert for a 14-yard touchdown reception to tie it.

Lamar Smith burst up the middle for a 12-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead with 13:28 remaining.

The Vikings' next drive ended after two plays when Michael Bennett had the ball stripped by Mark Fields, and Reggie Howard recovered it at the Minnesota 48. Carolina got a touchdown nine plays later on a 24-yard run by Lamar Smith on third and 11.

Trailing by 14, Culpepper drove the Vikings 89 yards in nine plays--finishing with a four-yard touchdown pass to Chris Walsh in traffic that cut it to 21-14 with 3:29 left.

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