Texans wrangle Panthers

The Panthers are probably thrilled to be heading back on the road this week to face the Atlanta Falcons. The Panthers lost their fourth consecutive home opener and were booed by their fans after blowing an early 14-0 lead to the Houston Texans and losing 34-21 at Bank of America Stadium.

The concern from this past week isn't as much about the offense -- although they have plenty of issues to overcome there -- but about their defense.

Houston isn't exactly an offensive powerhouse, but the Texans managed to put up 346 yards and 34 points on the Panthers. Matt Schaub completed 20 of 28 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, both to Andre Johnson.

But it was the simple things that threw off the Panthers.

The Texans effectively mixed the running of Ahman Green -- 71 yards and one touchdown -- and short passes by Schaub to his tight ends and fullback, as well as running bootlegs and play-action fakes, to fool the Panthers.

"They were pretty much running your basic stuff," said linebacker Dan Morgan. "Throwing quick outs, fullbacks in the flat, it wasn't anything crazy. We were just ineffective."

Said coach John Fox: "They obviously came to play and they kept playing. I didn't think we did a very good job late in the first quarter and second quarter defensively. They didn't do anything we hadn't seen, we just didn't execute and make plays."

Defensive end Julius Peppers, considered one of the better defensive players in the league, was quiet again, finishing with two tackles and no sacks. Peppers has yet to make an impact in a game this season.

The Panthers managed to force just one turnover.

The big blow came after the Panthers went up 14-0 and the defense allowed Schaub to complete passes of 34 and 31 yards to Andre Johnson on a three-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that quickly cut the lead in half. From then on, the Texans had the momentum and the Panthers had no answers on defense.

That, said defensive end Mike Rucker, is unacceptable.

"You've got to answer back," Rucker said. "This is a heavyweight fight. It's 12 rounds and you can't stop till the match is over. We might have knocked them down early, but they came back and knocked us out. You've got to get back up and be able to fight all 12 rounds. They got the best of us."

The loss offset a terrific game by Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith.

Smith caught eight passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were simply amazing grabs. The first came when Smith reached behind a Texans cornerback and tipped the ball into the air to himself. The second came when he broke no fewer than five tackles and raced the final 60 yards for a touchdown.

But the Panthers need someone else to step up.

Keary Colbert had three drops and running backs DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams combined for just 53 yards on 17 carries. Carolina finished with just 66 yards rushing one week after putting up 189 yards on the St. Louis Rams.

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