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Foster Finally Has Day in Sun

Former Bruin has big effort in overtime to help the Panthers beat the Colts, 23-20.

October 13, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Opposing tacklers have been the least of DeShaun Foster's problems. A suspension by the NCAA for driving a car owned by a Hollywood director ended the running back's senior year at UCLA prematurely. A preseason knee injury ended his first NFL season before it began. And in his second season with the Carolina Panthers, the arrival of Stephen Davis ended any hopes Foster had of being the feature back.

Ultimately, Carolina Coach John Fox had to steal Davis' helmet on Sunday to keep him off the field and give Foster his long-awaited moment in the spotlight.

And Foster, shaking off the years of frustration as surely as he did defenders, took advantage of the opportunity to gain the key yards that led to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a battle of unbeaten teams in front of 57,082 in the RCA Dome.

"I'm so proud of him," said Davis of Foster, who rushed for a game-high 85 yards, including the 26 in overtime that set up John Kasay's winning 47-yard field goal.

The Colts (5-1) had been riding high on the arm of Peyton Manning. Their explosive offense was the league's best with 158 points (31.6 per game). In his previous two games, Manning had passed for 700 yards and eight touchdowns with only one interception.

The Panthers (5-0) had plodded ahead with a grind-it-out ground game and a stifling defense. Having given up only 48 points, Carolina was tied with the Miami Dolphins for the league lead for fewest points given up.

Making it even tougher on the Colts, their leading rusher, Edgerrin James, didn't suit up Sunday because of flu symptoms.

Nevertheless, it was the Colts who were on top after the first half. Their defense held Davis to 10 yards in eight carries and their offense did enough to carve out a 13-3 lead.

James Mungro scored the only touchdown of the first 30 minutes on a one-yard run and Mike Vanderjagt had field goals of 39 and 22 yards. Carolina's score came on a 29-yard field goal by Kasay.

In a span of less than four minutes of the third quarter, however, the game turned. And it began with a turnover by a most unlikely culprit.

In the first quarter, receiver Marvin Harrison was celebrating passing Raymond Berry's team career record of 9,275 yards receiving. In the third quarter, Harrison was agonizing over a screen pass from Manning that squirted through his hands into the waiting arms of another Manning, defensive back Ricky Manning.

With the ball at the Indianapolis 28, it only took one play for Davis, who had rushed for 565 yards in his first four games, to re-emerge. He burst through the line of scrimmage and broke four tackles en route to the end zone.

On their next possession, the Panthers surged into a 17-13 lead when Jake Delhomme connected with Steve Smith on a 52-yard touchdown pass play.

The Panthers were too busy celebrating to realize it, but their chances for victory suffered a serious blow on that play, the blow being suffered by Davis.

Trying to block, he banged his right forearm on an opposing player's shin, bruising the arm.

When the Carolina trainers were unable to locate an X-ray machine, Fox decided the smart thing was to keep Davis on the sideline.

Davis, however, didn't think that was so smart. So, when Foster trotted off the field after gaining 16 yards late in the third quarter, Davis popped his helmet on and ran into the huddle.

Next thing Fox knew, there was Davis taking a handoff, there was Davis running off right tackle, there was Davis fumbling, unable to hold onto the ball with the injured arm.

Next thing Davis knew, his helmet had disappeared from the sideline.

"I made sure he couldn't find it," Fox said.

Although Kasay's 23-yard field goal moved Carolina into a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter, the Colts had a chance to get back in the game when Delhomme, on second and eight from the Carolina 13, threw a pass intended for tight end Kris Mangum that defensive lineman Chad Bratzke apparently picked off.

When Bratzke lost control of the ball, it was recovered by teammate Raheem Brock.

But after Fox challenged the call, it was ruled an incomplete pass, the officials saying neither Bratzke nor Mangum had control.

The Manning magic, which had been so evident in the previous two games, returned at the end of regulation play.

Faced with a fourth and four at the Indianapolis 15 and 2 minutes 27 seconds to play, Manning connected on six consecutive passes, the last a 25-yarder to Reggie Wayne for the score-tying touchdown.

After Carolina had won it in overtime, Foster smiled at a day that seemed to blur all his struggles.

"[The suspension at UCLA] was tough," he said. "I had to get past that. The knee injury was tough.

"It's life."

On Sunday, life was good.

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