Trent Dilfer's vindication meant more heartbreak for the Carolina Panthers.
Tampa Bay's much-criticized quarterback rallied his team from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the winless Panthers 16-13 on Sunday.
Dilfer, bouncing back from a poor third quarter, threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Karl Williams to put the Bucs ahead with 1:39 remaining.
"One of the greatest things about playing this game, especially the quarterback position, is all of the adversity that you have to endure, and the mental toughness that you have to have," Dilfer said.
Steve Beurlein, making his second start since Kerry Collins was demoted to third-string quarterback and subsequently released, marched Carolina into position for a 47-yard, tying field-goal attempt. But John Kasay's kick sailed wide left with five seconds left.
The victory evened Tampa Bay's record (3-3) as it tries to work itself back into the NFC Central race with unbeaten Minnesota (6-0) and second-place Green Bay (4-2).
The Panthers (0-6) lost their eighth consecutive game dating back to last season. Five of their six losses this year have been by a touchdown or less.
"To lose the way we lose tears you apart. It's the worst feeling an athlete can have," Beuerlein said. "All losses hurt, but when you come so close, it gets frustrating. I felt we were in control at 13-3, but things kept going against us."
Dilfer scored on a 1-yard run to trim Carolina's lead to 13-10 with just over five minutes to go. He threw the game-winning TD pass to Wlliams one play after a pass interference call against cornerback Rod Smith gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Panthers 29.
| Raghib Ismail dives past Ronde Barber after picking up 22 yards on a pass from Steve Beuerlein. (AP) |
"Trent is very tough and mature ... We know he won't quit on us," fullback Mike Alstott said. "That last drive said a lot for him. He never looked scared, never panicked."
Michael Husted missed the extra point, giving Carolina a chance to force overtime with a field goal. Kasay, who earlier converted attempts of 53 and 20 yards, had plenty of distance on the 47-yarder, but it failed to curl through the uprights.
"This hurts more than you can imagine," Panthers defensive tackle Sean Gilbert said. "Our job as leaders is to keep the other guys out of the tank ... We're not jinxed. We do get the feeling of: `What more could go wrong?' We've got to keep fighting. I'm not giving up."
Dilfer completed 21-of-31 passes for 219 yards and was intercepted once, while Warrick Dunn rushed for 96 yards on 17 carries for Tampa Bay.
Beuerlein, who played well in Carolina's 27-20 loss to Dallas last week, was 22-of-31 for 234 yards and no interceptions.
Tampa Bay, 27th in the league in offense, had its most productive opening half of the season with 224 yards, but only had three points to show for it.
The Panthers stopped one drive when Dilfer fumbled an exchange from center and Carolina's Les Miller recovered at the Panthers 10.
Ten minutes later, the Bucs settled for Husted's 33-yard field goal that made it 3-3. Dilfer used a 25-yard run by Dunn and third-down completions of 19 and 23 yards to Reidel Anthony to move his team from its 15 to the Carolina 15.
"I think I was probably as vocal as I've ever been at halftime. Not yelling and screaming, but just saying: `I'm not going to spend a season doing this. We have to capitalize when we get down there.' ... I just had to get it out."
Beuerlein hit 18 of his first 19 passes against Dallas last week and was sharp again Sunday when his injury-riddled offensive line gave him enough time to throw.
He set up Fred Lane's 1-yard touchdown with a 27-yard completion to Wesley Walls, and the Panthers outgained the Bucs 112 yards to 4 in the third quarter to open a 13-3 lead.
Booed much of the afternoon, Dilfer won the crowd back with the long scoring drive that trimmed Tampa Bay's deficit to three. The fifth-year pro faked a handoff and circled left for the TD, then spiked the ball and pounded his chest in salute to fans in the end zone.
"We made it a little more exciting than we wanted to," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said.
"It's tough to win i this league, but I'll tell you this. I'd rather be frustrated for 59 minutes and win than play great for 59 minutes and lose."
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