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Last-minute field goal sinks Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The celebration -- just a slight jump in
the air before he ran off the field pumping his fists -- was a
little bit muted by Bill Gramatica's standards.

Question on the Panthers: Have the Panthers suddenly been brought back down to Earth?
The Panthers have a good defense that will keep them in ballgames. As long as they can keep it close, Rodney Peete can do enough to win a game or two. So far, they've already played above everyone's expectations, and they should win a couple more games.

Question on the Cardinals: Are the Cardinals suddenly a contender in the NFC West?

Yes, they have to be now. Seattle and St. Louis are both playing very poorly. QB Jake Plummer is inconsistent but if he goes on a hot streak, the Cardinals should be able to stay in that No. 2 spot and get a playoff bid.

Eric Allen played 14 seasons in the NFL for the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

That's the way the Arizona Cardinals want it for their
game-winning kicker.

Gramatica kicked a 50-yard field goal with 16 seconds left to
lift Arizona to a 16-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers on
Sunday to equal the Cardinals' best start since 1991.

After tearing a ligament in his knee while celebrating a field
goal last season, Gramatica made sure to tone down his joy after
the long kick.

"The snap was perfect, the hold was perfect, I couldn't ask for
anything better,'' he said. "It was just an unbelievable feeling,
and when I jumped, I made sure to land with both feet at the same
time.''

Reminded the Cardinals don't want Gramatica jumping anymore, the
kicker simply shrugged.

"I couldn't help it, I just jumped,'' he said.

Gramatica, who also made field goals of 41 and 28 yards, shook
off a Carolina timeout designed to put the pressure on him, lined
up, and sent the ball straight through the uprights to move Arizona
to 3-2, equaling its 1991 start.

"This is exactly what I envisioned 18 months ago when I started
putting these guys together,'' said Arizona coach Dave McGinnis.
"We've got an open date and we're 3-2 and that's sweet, sweet,
sweet!''

It was the second straight week a kicker has felled the Panthers
(3-2).

Last week, Carolina's Shayne Graham missed a 24-yarder with 16
seconds left that could have sent the Panthers into overtime in
their 17-14 loss to Green Bay.

This time it was Gramatica -- as well as four Carolina turnovers,
including two fumbles by running back Lamar Smith.

"Again, we finished minus in the turnover margin this week and
I think that has a lot to do with losing,'' said Carolina coach
John Fox. "We are 3-2, we are not 0-5, and I don't think all is
lost.''

Neither team was strong offensively, with the Panthers needing a
pair of third-quarter field goals from Graham to put them up 13-6.

They clung to that lead through the fourth quarter until the
Cardinals caught a break when Coby Rhinehart intercepted Rodney Peete to start one of their two late scoring drives.

Arizona started on its 25 yard line and needed just seven plays
to score when Jake Plummer dumped a short pass off to Freddy Jones,
who rambled 15 yards into the end zone for a touchdown that tied
the game at 13-13 with 2:38 to play.

The Panthers couldn't answer and had to give the ball back to
Arizona with just under two minutes left.

Carolina came close to taking control when defensive end Julius Peppers knocked the ball loose from Plummer on a jarring hit, but
Plummer scooped it back up and heaved it downfield to MarTay Jenkins for a 17-yard gain.

"He's Jake Plummer, he's my quarterback, and that is exactly
why he is there,'' McGinnis said.

Damien Anderson, a rookie activated before the game from the
practice squad to fill in at running back, then had a pair of
catch-and-runs for 12 yards and Plummer had a 6-yard quarterback
draw to get the ball to midfield and give Gramatica a chance.

The Cardinals struggled against Carolina's top-ranked defense,
which made Anderson work hard for his 61 yards rushing and three
catches for 36 yards. But he stuck it out and had the two big
catches late in the fourth to set up Gramatica's game-winner.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy,'' Anderson said. "I just
had to grind it out, if there was a hole, hit it, and when they
went into prevent late in the game, I just had to hang on to the
ball.''

The Panthers had a miserable day offensively. Aside from a
31-yard TD pass from Peete to Isaac Byrd, Carolina managed little
else.

Peete finished 20-of-34 for 196 yards and two interceptions,
Lamar Smith ran for just 49 yards on 18 carries and had two
fumbles, and the Panthers gained just 244 yards.

"It's just a matter of me not turning the football over,'' said
Smith. "And it's just a matter of us finishing the football game
offensively.''

Game notes
The Panthers, who lead the NFL with 17 sacks, had just
one from Mike Rucker -- his team-leading sixth. ... Arizona's
Renaldo Hill recovered both Carolina fumbles. ... The Panthers
tried a fake punt on their first possession that went for just two
yards when they needed eight. ... Peete and receiver Steve Smith
were seen arguing on the sideline at least twice over formations
and routes. ... Arizona fullback Joel Makovicka left the game in
the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.

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