- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Stephen Davis exited his post-game news conference yesterday at Ericsson Stadium, he let out a yell that would have made Ric Flair smile.

A week’s worth of emotions was bottled up inside the normally reserved Carolina Panthers running back and they finally erupted.

Davis downplayed the revenge factor of facing his former team all last week when he spoke to reporters, but admitted Carolina’s 20-17 victory over the Washington Redskins meant quite a bit more to him than he had let on.

“I played it down a little bit, but I had to keep y’all selling newspapers,” Davis said. “It was personal. I spent seven years of my career there and I know a lot of people there. It was very personal.”

Davis couldn’t have written a better ending.

He had 132 all-purpose yards, including 92 on the ground, but none bigger than his 3-yard touchdown run on second down with 1:09 left in the game. That helped cap Carolina’s come-from-behind win and perhaps deliver a fatal blow to the Redskins’ playoff hopes.

On his previous five touchdown runs this season, Davis ran his hands over his jersey as a gesture to signal he was wiping off the dust since he scored “only” seven touchdowns last season with the Redskins.

But after yesterday’s touchdown run, Davis spiked the ball in a rare show of emotion.

“I was closing the door to my past,” Davis said.

When asked if he wanted to give Davis a chance to win the game, Panthers coach John Fox said, “Deep down, yes. I was happy that he was able to do that.”

As it turned out, Davis’ touchdown run probably was the last opportunity he would have had to get into the end zone.

“We talked about that we were going to take four downs, two of them were going to be runs and then we were going to come back and run play-action fakes on third and fourth down,” Fox said.

For as well as Davis’ day finished, it couldn’t have started any worse.

He came into the game needing only 8 yards to become only the second Carolina running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He got that on the first carry of the game, but he fumbled at the end of the run and gave the Redskins prime field position at the Carolina 25.

However, Carolina’s defense bailed him out four plays later as Brentson Buckner stripped Davis’ buddy Rock Cartwright of the ball at the goal line and Shane Burton recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

“I’m glad they didn’t announce that I got [to 1,000 yards] after that first fumble,” Davis joked afterward.

Yards came tougher than normal for Davis as the Redskins stacked eight and sometimes nine men in the box to stuff the run. He had just 70 yards on 21 carries entering the fourth quarter.

Ironically, the biggest play Davis made all day came on a pass reception.

With Carolina trailing 17-13 with 2:50 remaining in the game, the Panthers needed 1 yard on fourth down to keep the game-winning drive alive.

Davis slipped out of the backfield past linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and quarterback Jake Delhomme threw back across the grain to an open Davis, who rambled 25 yards for a first down. Three plays later, Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Davis’ former coach, Steve Spurrier, had little to offer on the back’s big day.

“What do you want me to say?” Spurrier said. “Stephen is having a wonderful year. We all know that. I don’t know if he had his best game today or so-so, or what. That’s not for me to judge. He’s an excellent back, we know that.”

So does Fox.

Without Davis, Fox knows the Panthers wouldn’t be 8-2 this season and likely headed to the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

“It’s been huge having him,” Fox said. “He’s been a great influence on our offense as a running back and as a leader in the locker room. We are blessed and fortunate to have him. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s just been fantastic for us this season.”

After the game, Davis was all smiles and admitted he was glad to have this game behind him.

“It was very emotional,” Davis said. “They did a lot of talking out there, thinking they could get in my head. They know the type of person I am. They could do all of the talking in the world, but they couldn’t get in my head.”

And in the end, they couldn’t stop him either from getting the revenge he so desperately craved against his former coach and team.

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