Gameday notes and quotes

Julius Peppers collected two more sacks and Tyler Brayton, Richard Marshall and Damione Lewis each added one Monday night for the Panthers. Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia had been sacked only 15 times this season coming into the game. Peppers, the NFC's Defensive Player of the Month for November, unofficially punched his ticket to Honolulu by equaling his career high in sacks with 13.

Both sacks killed Tampa Bay drives.

"There was a lot on the line, so both teams were playing hard and trying to get the job done," Peppers said. "Our guys stepped up and made plays on offense and gave us a little cushion, and we just had to close the door."

--Bucs WR Antonio Bryant (nine receptions, 200 yards, two TDs) hurt the Panthers all night long, catching four passes for 78 yards in the first half before beating Ken Lucas for a 50-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter to tie the game. He later snagged a 15-yard score.

The Panthers could have a tough time matching up against a similar receiver this week, Denver's Brandon Marshall.

--The Panthers offensive line -- Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, Ryan Kalil, Keydrick Vincent and Jeff Otah -- opened huge holes for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who both went over 100 yards rushing for the second straight game at home.

Williams now has five 100-yard games in his last six games.

"(The Bucs) were rotating guys in, but we wanted to keep playing hard," Wharton said. "That was the main thing, not letting up and continuing to play hard. The coaches were calling great plays, our running backs were hitting the holes hard and they weren't being denied by one guy. They were breaking tackles and running hard."

--CB Richard Marshall continues to struggle in pass coverage.

On one second-quarter drive Monday night, Marshall allowed Ike Hilliard to catch a 12-yard pass to move the chains on third-and-10. Two plays later, Marshall allowed Bryant to get behind him while playing a zone defense, and the receiver caught a 52-yard pass to the Carolina 3.

Fortunately for Marshall, the Panthers held and forced a field goal. Marshall made up for those mistakes later in the first half with a sack of Garcia.

--Here's a good sign for the Carolina offense: It converted eight of 10 third-down opportunities on Monday night, the best mark so far this season. In the previous meeting with Tampa Bay, the Panthers converted only three of 12 opportunities.

--Panthers kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd took the hit of the day when he got run over near the sideline while trying to tackle returner Clifton Smith.

--The Panthers now have 23 rushing touchdowns on the season, adding to their franchise record. The previous high was 17 in 2005.

--The Panthers are now 7-0 at home. "You have to realize it's tougher to play on the road than it is at home," Peppers said. "You have the fans behind you. It's a comfortable setting. So this year we are just protecting our home, and that's what we need to continue to do."

--There may have been some question about coach John Fox's future with the Panthers earlier this year, but no more. With Carolina reaching the 10-win plateau, rest assured Fox will be back next year. He's proven his doubters wrong, much the way Tom Coughlin did last year in New York.

That's a good thing for Fox, especially since he just built a big home in South Charlotte.

--The NFL moved the Panthers-Giants game on Dec. 21 to the Sunday night time slot. It makes perfect sense given the No. 1 seed in the NFC could be on the line.

--"I wouldn't necessarily call it a statement game. It was just a game with a lot on the line. And we played well at the right time." -- DE Julius Peppers, on Carolina's 38-23 win.

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