Panthers fall hard

It was all in Carolina's grasp -- the NFC South title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. And then they let it slip through their fingers.

Giants running back Derrick Ward ran for 215 yards -- including 88 in overtime -- and Brandon Jacobs scored his third touchdown of the game with 9:57 left in overtime to lift New York to a 34-28 win over the Panthers Sunday night at Giants Stadium. With the win, the Giants wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and left quarterback Jake Delhomme feeling sick to his stomach.

The Panthers were in control most of the game, but surrendered a late touchdown at the end of regulation and missed two opportunities to score on offense before falling in overtime.

"I have a lot more anger and despair inside," said Delhomme. "That is why we play this game -- to win. The highs are extremely high and the lows are extremely low."

The Panthers (11-4) were oh so close to wrapping up the No. 1 seed for the first time ever, but John Kasay missed a 50-yard field goal in the wind with four seconds left in regulation. They also had the ball at their own 46 in overtime, but Delhomme's pass to Muhsin Muhammad on third-and-3 was batted away and the Panthers were forced to punt.

The Panthers, who are assured a playoff spot, can still wrap up the NFC South title and secure a first-round bye with a win next week over New Orleans or with an Atlanta loss to St. Louis.

Carolina will either be the No. 2 or the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, depending on whether they win the division.

However, if the Panthers want to reach the Super Bowl, there's a good chance they will have to go back to the Meadowlands to do it since the defending Super Bowl champion Giants have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

"If we are lucky enough to get back here that would be fantastic," Delhomme said. "That would mean things are going well. But we have to worry about going to New Orleans and clinching the division."

The Giants ran for 301 yards against the Panthers, who were without 345-pound run-stopping defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu.

"We ended up giving up long plays on defense and allowing them to (go) down the field and get a touchdown and a two-point conversion," said defensive tackle Damione Lewis. "That is where it is on us as a defense allowing them to get down the field."

The loss offset a terrific effort by DeAngelo Williams, who scored four touchdowns for the Panthers.

"It's very disappointing, but we're still in a dance," Lewis said. "We just might have to do it a different way then we planned on doing. But sometimes things don't work out the way you want them to but in the end the goal is the same."

Lewis said it was one of the best games he's ever been a part of.

"This was a heavyweight slugfest and they happened to get the best of us tonight," Lewis said.

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