Not too bad, for openers

Philyaw sparks third-quarter surge in victory over Bears

For a while, it looked like the best fireworks at Ericsson Stadium Saturday night went off at halftime.

In a sluggishly played Charlotte debut befitting an early August exhibition game, the Panthers beat the Chicago Bears 30-12 in their exhibition opener.

The game was the first played at Ericsson Stadium, the Panthers' $187 million, 72,685-seat stadium in Uptown Charlotte.

The Panthers first-team offense looked hauntingly like last year's unit, which ranked 26th in the NFL.

The team's new weapons clearly need more time to jell and it wouldn't hurt if first-round draft pick Tshimanga Biakabutuka's contract holdout ends soon. Rookie Marquette Smith, a fifth-round pick, started at halfback in Biakabutuka's absence and managed just 8 yards on six carries.

It was Dino Philyaw, not Marquette Smith or Tony Smith, who brought dazzle to the backfield. His 44-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter was the biggest play of the night.

Philyaw, who's from Dudley, N.C., gained 77 yards on eight carries, all of them coming in the third quarter.

Quarterback Kerry Collins played the first half and wasn't sharp. He was 9-of-24 passing for 70 yards and an interception. But he could have been intercepted four times; Bears defenders dropped three passes that Collins threw into their hands.

The interception actually came on a well-thrown pass that rookie Muhsin Muhammad, a second-round draft pick, allowed to slip out of his hands and into the hands of Bears safety Anthony Marshall.

Another prized rookie, Winslow Oliver, dropped a third-down pass that might have been a big gainer, but scored the team's first offensive touchdown at the stadium on a 5-yard run early in the third quarter.

That score gave the Panthers a 13-6 lead and was set up by the kickoff team. Michael Bates hit Chicago kickoff returner Bobby Engram and caused a fumble, which was recovered by Chad Cota at the Bears' 17.

Carolina's defense accounted for the game's first points.

Cornerback Eric Davis, an all-pro last season with the San Francisco 49ers who was signed as a free agent, intercepted a pass by Bears quarterback Dave Krieg and returned it to 25 yards for a touchdown.

Davis dropped into zone coverage and was in perfect position to intercept Krieg's errant pass. It was just the type of big play Panthers officials had in mind when they signed Davis.

The Panthers added a 28-yard field goal by John Kasay after a drive stalled at the 11 early in the fourth quarter.

The Panthers' final touchdown came on fourth-and-1 from the 7, when Tony Smith scored on a run off tackle, making it 30-6 with just over five minutes to play.

The Bears scored a meaningless touchdown in the final minutes.

On third and 1. Brandon Bennett got the first down to the Carolina 5. After Carolina batted down a pass and sacked Stenstrom at the 12, cornerback Mike Senters interfered with Engram in the end zone.

Ed Hobbs then caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Stenstrom. A two-point conversion pass failed.

The Carolina defense looked tough, as expected, and got a surprisingly strong performance by outside linebacker Darion Conner, who had two sacks. Conner started last year but is listed at second team behind newcomer Kevin Greene.

Lamar Lathon, Jeff Zgonina and Les Miller also had sacks.

The win was the Panthers' first over the Bears in three tries. Chicago beat Carolina 18-15 in the preseason last year and then won 31-27 in the regular season. Both games were played at Soldier Field.

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