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Panthers sack Bulger, hand Rams fifth straight defeat

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Who knew that weekly steak dinners would
be the cure to Carolina's defensive struggles?

The Panthers sacked Marc Bulger seven times and shut out St.
Louis 15-0 on Sunday, the fifth straight loss for the Rams. Jake
Delhomme threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith, and the
Panthers' dominating defense made it stand up.

The Panthers came into the season feeling they had the best
defense in the league. But Carolina struggled with injuries and
chemistry. The problems magnified when Dallas scored 25
fourth-quarter points in a game three weeks ago.

Safety Mike Minter called a players-only meeting a few days
later, suggesting all defensive players meet for dinner each
Thursday night.

Since then the Panthers have allowed 10 points in two games. The
Rams, devastated by the loss of Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace in
last week's game, were shut out for the first time since 1998.

Mike Rucker had two sacks, including one for a safety with 2:24
left, while former Ram Damione Lewis and Chris Draft each had 1½
sacks for Carolina, which tied a team record for sacks in a game.

"I don't know if [the dinners] are the magic formula, but they
are a piece of the puzzle," Rucker said. "It's harder for me to
shut down on you if I know you personally. I think it makes me play
harder if I know you personally."

Rookie DeAngelo Williams took over for injured running back
DeShaun Foster and rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries as the
Panthers (6-4) won their second straight game and moved into a
first-place tie with New Orleans in the NFC South.

The Panthers, coming in ranked 28th in the league in rushing,
had a team-record 244 yards on the ground against the Rams, who
have allowed seven different running back to rush for over 100
yards.

"Any back in the country that was in the backfield could have
been in the backfield for us today would have rushed for 100
yards," Williams said. "They were just doing that good of a job
up front."

Bulger was 19-of-34 for 142 yards and two interceptions, while
the Rams (4-6) dropped five passes -- three by Isaac Bruce, who left
in the fourth quarter with blurry vision.

On 12 possessions, the Rams had nine punts, an interception, a
fumble and a safety as they finished with 111 yards. All from a
team that was averaging more than 22 points a game.

"For us to come in and put up a dismal performance like that is
very humbling," said running back Steven Jackson, who was held to
27 yards on seven carries.

The Rams, forced to shuffle their offensive line after losing
Pace, had no answer to the Panthers' pass rush. Carolina, sending
six or seven defenders on nearly every play, sacked Bulger five
times in the first half.

Carolina's banged up secondary was never threatened despite
being without starting cornerback Ken Lucas (thigh). Rookie Richard
Marshall started opposite Chris Gamble.

Christian Morton, signed off the practice squad less than a
month ago, intercepted Bulger deep in Rams' territory late in the
third quarter. It led to John Kasay's 34-yard field goal that put
the Panthers head 13-0 heading into the fourth quarter.

With just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Dion
Byrum, signed on Thursday off Tampa Bay's practice squad, ripped
the ball away from Torry Holt to end the Rams chances.

"We held a team like that, with all their weapons, to 15
points. You would think you could win a game, but we came out and
pitched a goose egg," Holt said.

The Panthers led 3-0 late in the second quarter when Delhomme
lofted a deep pass down the left sideline. Smith extended his arm
to create some space against Oshiomogho Atogwe, caught the ball at
the 15, and beat Corey Chavous to the end zone for a 62-yard
touchdown.

Smith appeared to injure his left shoulder early in the third
quarter. After being helped off the field, Smith vomited in the
trash can -- the second straight week he was sick during a game.
Smith returned on the next series, had four catches for 90 yards.

The Panthers, who came in averaging 92.3 yards rushing per game,
dominated despite losing Foster in the second quarter to an elbow
injury. X-rays were negative but Foster, who had nine carries for
63 yards, did not return.

Delhomme was 13-of-25 for 191 yards and an interception. He was
sacked twice by La'Roi Glover.

Game notes
Keyshawn Johnson had eventful back-to-back plays in the
fourth quarter. After catching a pass over the middle, Johnson
tried to stiff arm rookie cornerback Tye Hill, but ripped off his
helmet and was called for a 15-yard face mask penalty. On the next
play the Panthers tried a trick play, but Johnson's pass for Smith
was badly underthrown and intercepted -- by Hill. ... The Rams' last
shutout loss was 14-0 Miami in Oct. 1998. ... The Rams wore white
pants for the first time since they moved from Los Angeles.

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