Panthers planned to pound the ground

When Panthers guard Mike Wahle heard the team's game plan against the Buffalo Bills, his eyes grew wide. "The coaches came in this week and said, 'We're going to give you an opportunity to be a power running team,'" Wahle said. "We (as an offensive line) were certainly excited about that." Trying desperately to re-establish themselves as a running team, the Panthers ran the ball 33 times on Sunday for 113 yards, including 77 yards by DeShaun Foster.

The Panthers benched Stephen Davis early on and went with Foster as their primary back. The fourth-year pro from UCLA carried a season-high 23 times and finished with 101 all-purpose yards. Davis had six carries for 22 yards and didn't see any action in the second and third quarters.

"We started running some misdirection stuff, and it worked today," Wahle said.

After allowing eight sacks last week to the Bears, the Panthers allowed only one on Sunday, although that did result in a Jake Delhomme fumble.

"We obviously had a terrible performance (the previous) week, the offensive line in particular," Wahle said. "You don't want people talking about you, and we had discussed that all week. I think it was really put up or shut up this week. I think the guys stepped up and played well. It wasn't perfect by any means, but we certainly played hard."

The Panthers were determined the run the ball early on.

On their second drive of the game, the Panthers ran 12 times on a 16-play, 74-yard drive before having to settle for a 25-yard field goal by John Kasay. Later on, they settled for yet another 25-yarder by Kasay as they struggled putting the ball in the end zone against the league's worst red-zone defense.

Said right tackle Jordan Gross: "We kind of came in this week with the attitude of, it hasn't happened yet (this season), so let's make it happen this week," Gross said. "The coaches told us, 'We're going to give you guys the opportunity to get it done.' They stuck with it and called a lot of downhill plays. I was happy to see that, and we took advantage of that."

It helped that the Bills had the league's 31st-ranked defense.

The Panthers now can turn their attention to Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, which will be crucial in determining the division champion.

"(Buffalo) was very big win for us," said safety Mike Minter, who had one of Carolina's four sacks on the day. "The Falcons had a great game on Thursday.

"This was one of those game we had to win. Even though their record was what it was, you've got to win this type of game to go where we want to go. It was a huge, huge game for us."

* * *

The Panthers needed a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme to Michael Gaines and a game-saving interception from Chris Gamble with 41 seconds remaining to defeat the pesky Buffalo Bills 13-9 on a fairly mild 40-degree day at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Panthers sacked J.P. Losman four times and held the Bills to three field goals.

Carolina's win coupled with Tampa Bay's 13-10 loss to Chicago left the Panthers alone again atop the NFC South at 8-3, one game ahead of the Bucs and next week's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. It also assured the Panthers of their fourth non-losing season in 11 years.

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