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Panthers RB Stewart leads second-half comeback past Bears

CHARLOTTE, N.C -- The latest jarring hit by the Chicago Bears left Jake Delhomme holding his head and the Carolina Panthers staring at yet another home flop.

As Delhomme wobbled to the sideline with the Panthers trailing by two touchdowns in the third quarter Sunday, ex-Bear Chris Harris was fed up.

"I gathered everybody up and told them, 'Hey, we aren't going to take that,'" the safety said.

They didn't. Harris, Delhomme and rookie running back Jonathan Stewart led a stirring comeback for a 20-17 win that gave the Panthers an unlikely 2-0 start.

Harris forced a fumble on the next possession that led the first of Stewart's two touchdown runs, the second of which was the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.

"I felt it should have been a penalty but it wasn't," Harris said of Lance Briggs' shoulder-to-helmet hit as Delhomme began to slide following a scramble in the middle of the field. "I told them we're not taking it. It turned into more than a game at that. Guys were upset. After that we got after it."

After going 7-9 without Delhomme last season, the Panthers stunned San Diego last week with Delhomme's touchdown pass on the final play. But for more than a half Carolina looked like the 2007 edition that went 2-6 at home.

Then, just as the Panthers looked intent on extending a streak of four straight losses in home openers, Briggs' hit completely changed the game.

Suddenly Carolina's defense made big plays, including a fourth-down stop with under 2 minutes left to seal the win, as Delhomme shook off the effects of the hit to make it 2-for-2 in fourth-quarter comebacks following reconstructive elbow surgery.

And they did it without their three-time Pro Bowl receiver. Steve Smith's suspension for sucker-punching teammate Ken Lucas in training camp ends Monday.

"I'm excited to have our rocket back," said Delhomme, who threw for 128 yards. "It's great to be 2-0."

The Bears (1-1) couldn't build off last week's impressive win in Indianapolis, despite 92 yards rushing from rookie Matt Forte. Kyle Orton didn't have a turnover for a second straight game, but passed for only 149 yards and consistently overthrew receivers.

Tight end Greg Olsen lost two fumbles and kick returner Devin Hester was sidelined with an apparent rib injury in the third quarter.

Chicago's chances ended when Na'il Diggs, Julius Peppers and Damione Lewis combined to stop Jason McKie on fourth-and-1 from midfield.

"A disappointing loss," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Whenever you have control of the football game like that, you've got to be able to finish."

The Bears built a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter behind their ferocious defense. Charles Tillman intercepted Delhomme's pass that bounced off tight end Jeff King and it quickly led to McKie's 1-yard touchdown run.

On the next possession, Briggs leveled Delhomme, who ripped off his helmet and grabbed his head. No penalty was called, and John Kasay kicked a 45-yard field goal on the next play.

The Panthers got back in it on the next possession, behind Harris. In his first game against Chicago since being traded for a fifth-round pick during training camp last year, Harris stripped the ball from Olsen. Chris Gamble recovered at the Chicago 21, and Stewart's first NFL touchdown -- a tough 4-yard run -- made it 17-13.

It was Harris' second forced fumble this season after he had an NFL-best eight in 2007.

"Anytime you have two critical errors that lead to your team losing, it's tough to swallow," Olsen said.

Stewart's 1-yard TD run with 3:52 left put the Panthers ahead for the first time. Delhomme was 3-for-3 for 43 yards on the drive, which included a bruising 11-yard rush by Stewart.

The 13th pick in the draft, Stewart had only one carry for 1 yard in the first half. But he took over for DeAngelo Williams after halftime, and the Panthers overcame a heat index around 100 degrees with a win that had some players thinking Carolina could become a player in the NFC again after a two-year playoff drought.

"We really think we're a different team this year," tackle Jordan Gross said. "We've had two close games, two nail-biters and we were able to win both of them. It just adds onto the belief that we've got what it takes to win a few games."

Game notes
Smith said he did not know the severity of Hester's injury. ... The Bears took a 7-0 lead 2 minutes in when Jason Baker's punt was blocked by Darrell McClover and Brandon Lloyd returned it 9 yards for a TD. ... Geoff Hangartner started at left guard for Carolina in place of Travelle Wharton (knee).

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