Panthers 38, Raiders 14

Victory Lane

5-4 Panthers follow Fred to flatten Oakland

Told that the Oakland Raiders locker room was filled with players who had never heard of him before Sunday afternoon, Carolina running back Fred Lane said: ``Now they know.'' Now everybody knows.

Lane came off the bench after Tshimanga Biakabutuka suffered a rib injury and delivered the most astounding performance by a running back in the Panthers' three-year history.

He rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns to lead Carolina's 38-14 victory that was an absolutely necessity to its playoff hopes.

``Now that it's over, we can say it: This was a must-win game,'' said tight end Wesley Walls. ``We had to have it. If we had gone down to 4-5, it would have really hurt us. But we're 5-4 and we're all starting to believe.''

The win was the Panthers' third straight after a 2-4 start and gives them momentum for road games the next two weeks against teams with the NFL's best record -- Denver and San Francisco, both 8-1.

Sunday's game at Ericsson Stadium featured teams loaded with high draft picks and expensive free agents. But it was Lane, an undrafted rookie, who got the glory.

He burned the Raiders with his speed and quickness and bowled over them with his powerful, churning legs.

``I always think I'm not going to go down,'' he said.

Lane escaped the obscurity of his Lane College background by running into, around and through a defensive line that included four starters who were first-round picks in the 1990s.

He set single-game team records for rushing yards and touchdowns and helped the Panthers set a team record with 216 yards on the ground.

Lane celebrated each of his scores with end zone dances so full of bodily contortions that they looked like human imitations of a ``Slinky'' toy.

``It was fun to watch,'' said center Frank Garcia. ``And it was contagious. Anytime you've got a back running that hard, you're going to fight your tail off for him.''

The Raiders (3-6) were so frustrated by the pounding they took that two of their defensive linemen, Chester McGlockton and Russell Maryland, started a fight with Garcia, Blake Brockermeyer, Lane and some of the other Panthers late in the fourth quarter and got ejected.

Leftover emotions from the incident spilled over into the Carolina locker room, where Garcia bluntly assessed why the offense was able to have its way against a defense ranked last in the NFL.

``It's a dream for an offense to go against a soft defense like that,'' Garcia said.

As for the fight, Garcia said: ``They were frustrated, I guess. That's what happens when you get your butt kicked.''

The Panthers poured on the punishment in taking a 28-7 halftime lead, which matched the highest-scoring first half in team history (equaling the four touchdowns scored at home against St. Louis last season).

For the second straight week, Carolina scored on its opening drive. But unlike last week's game against Atlanta, Biakabutuka didn't do most of the work.

After rushing for 104 yards and two TDs against the Falcons, Biakabutuka's day ended when he suffered a rib injury on the game's fifth play.

Two plays later, Lane gained 2 yards on his first carry and later added a 6-yard reception to get the ball to the Oakland 15.

He took it to the end zone from there, bursting through the line to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.

Lane added an 18-yard touchdown run on the final play of the first quarter to complete a 75-yard Carolina drive.

It was his signature play of the day. He was hit at the line of scrimmage and appeared to disappear beneath a clump of Raiders defenders. Then he suddenly emerged, spinning, churning and darting in for a 14-0 lead.

``He ran into anybody and everybody on the way to the end zone,'' said Walls. ``I think I even hit him on that run.''

The Raiders hardly knew what hit them when they drove to the Carolina 34 on their next possession, only to get stopped cold on third- and fourth-down plays.

On third-and-2 from the 35, running back Napoleon Kaufman gained 1 yard.

On fourth-and-1, with coach Joe Bugel choosing to go for a first down instead of trying a field goal, Kaufman was dropped for a 3-yard loss by Sam Mills and Chad Cota, turning the ball back over to Carolina.

``They went for it all and we were able to break them down,'' said Panthers linebacker Lamar Lathon. ``That took a lot out of their team. You could see it in their eyes.''

The offense responded with another methodical, ball-control scoring drive. It started with a 14-yard pass from quarterback Kerry Collins to Rae Carruth, got a boost from a 15-yard run by Lane and ended on a 6-yard touchdown run by Collins.

The TD play was an audible the coaches had hoped to call when they noticed a flaw during their study of previous Oakland games last week.

``We saw something on film where they brought everybody to the outside of the line,'' said Garcia. ``So we just schemed something up. There was nobody in the middle and we figured, `Why not run it up in there.' ''

After the Raiders cut the lead to 21-7 on a 23-yard pass from George to Kaufman, the offense got rolling again.

Dwight Stone's 37-yard kickoff return gave the Panthers possession at midfield. They needed seven plays to score, getting the TD on a 10-yard run by Scott Greene.

The Raiders got within 14 points again when they scored on their first possession of the second half, but the Panthers answered with a 32-yard touchdown run by Lane and then shut down Oakland the rest of the way.

The convincing win was by far Carolina's most impressive showing of the season, especially at home, where they were 0-3 before winning the past two weeks.

``What we did today was reclaim Ericsson Stadium,'' said Walls. ``It really hurt when teams came in here and beat us and talked smack in our faces. Today, we beat a very talented team and we didn't take any crap.''

A few feet away from Walls in the Panthers' cheery locker room was cornerback Eric Davis, who was kidding with general manager Bill Polian about Carolina being the lucky team that signed Lane as a free agent after the NFL draft in April.

Davis said it happened because Polian was such a genius.

``No,'' Polian said with a chuckle, ``if I had been a genius, I would have drafted him.''

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