DeAngelo Williams rushed for a franchise record 186 yards and two touchdowns as the Carolina Panthers took over first place in their NFL division with a 38-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
|Williams motors away to touch down [GALLO/GETTY]
Jonathan Stewart also ran in a pair of touchdowns and had 115 rushing yards as Carolina, with 10 wins and three defeats, moved a game ahead of Tampa Bay (9-4) in a showdown between the two top teams in the National Football Conference (NFC) South.
"This was a big stage and I like the way our guys met that challenge," Carolina coach John Fox said on Monday.
"Both of those backs are pretty special and we're built around the running game."
Carolina rushed for 299 net yards and blew open the game with three rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers set a team record for yards-rushing for the second time in the past month.
"We did an outstanding job today blocking," said Williams, who also set a career-high with his 186 yards.
"That made it much easier for both of us to do what we did."
The Panthers' dominance on the ground was even more impressive considering that the Buccaneers defence were ranked fourth in the league going into the game and had allowed just one rushing touchdown all season.
"Those guys are that good," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden.
"Those guys are going to make guys miss. Both of them."
The Bucs were more effective in the air and quarterback Jeff Garcia threw a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Bryant, who had 200 yards on nine receptions for the night.
Tampa Bay's usually stingy defence had no answer for the Panthers running attack, however, and Carolina racked up 464 yards in total offence despite quarterback Jake Delhomme throwing just 20 times for 173 yards.
Delhomme threw two interceptions and one 38-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith, who caught nine passes for 117 yards as the Panthers snapped the Bucs' four-game winning streak.
"Our defence has bailed us out so often this season," Garcia said. "This was one of those nights where offensively we needed to be better."