As he puffed a victory cigar in the Carolina Panthers locker room, center Curtis Whitley wanted to clarify what he and his teammates should have made obvious in a 19-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday at Ericsson Stadium.
Told New Orleans defensive lineman Wayne Martin said the Saints gave the game away -- a repeat of his teammates' claims they had given the Panthers a ``gift'' in a 22-20 loss six weeks ago -- Whitley bristled.
``Go ahead,'' said Panthers guard Frank Garcia, urging Whitley to speak his mind. ``We don't play them again this year.''
``We went out there and took it to them, especially in the second half,'' Whitley said. ``Regardless of all they gifts they seem to have to given out, what we gave them was a surprise -- and that was one big whipping.''
Martin's boss, Saints coach Jim Mora, was more emphatic, duplicating Whitley's toughest words and adding harsher descriptions.
``I'm totally embarrassed and totally ashamed,'' Mora said. ``Our coaches did a horrible job. Our players did a horrible job. We got our (butts) kicked in the second half. . . . We stunk.
``The second half was an abomination. Terrible, terrible, terrible.''
With the Saints leading 7-6 at halftime, the Panthers received a passionate speech from coach Dom Capers and responded by pulverizing the Saints.
``Coach Capers got pretty fired up,'' said offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer. ``He challenged us to go out and show (the Saints) how physical we could be.''
The Panthers played like schoolyard bullies in the final two quarters, roughing up the Saints with a bullish running game and an almost impenetrable defense. They outgained New Orleans 186-62 yards and topped them 12-2 in first downs.
``Late in the game, you could see it in their eyes,'' said Whitley. ``They knew they couldn't stop us.''
So far this season, no opponent has been a match for the Panthers at home after halftime. Carolina is 4-0 at Ericsson and has outscored the Falcons, 49ers, Rams and Saints -- the other four members of the NFC West -- 45-7 in the second half.
``We just keep hammering away at you until we wear you out,'' said linebacker Kevin Greene. ``It's like chopping wood.''
Or pile-driving, which describes how the Panthers ran. Halfback Anthony Johnson had his third consecutive 100-yard performance, gaining 81 of his 123 yards in the second half.
Capers said the second-half performance ``epitomizes what we want to be as a football team'' and compared the game to a 15-round fight between two boxers.
The Saints also had to face the Karate Kid -- John Kasay, who kicked four field goals to run his total to nine against them this season.
The win furthered the Panthers' playoff aspirations. They improved to 5-2 and clinched a winning record in the NFC West. They're 5-0 in the division, with road games later this season at Atlanta, San Francisco and St. Louis.
Unlike the previous three games at Ericsson, the Panthers didn't score on their opening drive and didn't jump out to an early lead.
After Kasay's 23-yard field goal in the first quarter put Carolina ahead 3-0, the Saints took a 7-3 lead when running back Ray Zellars scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to a complete a 57-yard drive.
Kasay's 40-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining in the first half cut the margin to 7-6.
The Panthers began to assert themselves in the third quarter, but it was a critical mistake by the Saints to turn around the game.
With 9:33 left in the third quarter and New Orleans leading by a point, quarterback Kerry Collins was sacked by Rufus Porter and his fumble was recovered by Fred Stokes at the Carolina 40.
That appeared to end Carolina's drive deep into Saints' territory.
But a penalty negated the turnover. Linebacker Mark Fields was charged with holding tight end Wesley Walls, resulting in a 5-yard penalty and a first down for Carolina.
``That was huge,'' said Brockermeyer. ``To me, it was the play of the game.''
The Panthers drove to the Saints 8 and got another field goal from Kasay (26 yards) for a 9-7 lead.
Carolina never trailed again.
After the defense forced the Saints to punt, the Panthers came through with their only touchdown drive. They moved 63 yards in eight plays and got the score on a 13-yard pass from Collins to Mark Carrier.
The Saints tried to come back in the fourth quarter, driving to the Carolina 31. Their bid came down to a fourth-and-1 play, but linebacker Sam Mills spoiled it by bolting into the line and stopping Zellars cold.
``I don't know if anybody is better than Sam at being explosive and able to get a knock-back hit,'' said Capers. ``That was exactly what we needed there.''
Kasay closed out the scoring with a 39-yard field goal with 4:51 left.
After Damon Pieri intercepted Saints quarterback Jim Everett with 1:47 left to give the Panthers the ball on the Saints 24, Collins mercifully dropped to his knee four times to run down the clock.
The Panthers had made their statement.
``To me, 'well done' is a lot better than 'well said,' '' said Capers.