CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Given a national stage, the Carolina Panthers made a pretty good case to be included among the NFL's top teams.
Running all over Tampa Bay with their emerging tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers seized control of the competitive NFC South with a 38-23 win over the Buccaneers last night.
Williams rushed for a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns, Stewart added 115 yards and two more scores and the Panthers set a team record for yards rushing for the second time in a month.
And this time it was against a team that came in having allowed only one rushing TD all season.
The Panthers (10-3) avenged their worst loss of the season and grabbed the top spot in the division, moving one game ahead of the Buccaneers (9-4).
Steve Smith added nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, and the Panthers overcame Jake Delhomme's two interceptions behind their dominating ground game and an effective second-half defensive performance.
The Panthers moved within a game of the New York Giants for the best record in the NFC. The Panthers will visit the Giants in two weeks in a showdown for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
The Buccaneers wasted a career day from Antonio Bryant, who caught nine passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, including a one-handed TD grab with 2 minutes, 29 seconds left.
Carolina finished with 299 yards rushing, surpassing the team-record 264 it had last month against Detroit.
Panthers offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges was deactivated for the game, one day after he was arrested for the second time in 16 months.
Bridges was charged Sunday with two misdemeanor counts of simple assault and battery and one count of communicating threats in connection with a disturbance at a Charlotte restaurant.
Andersen retires. Morten Andersen, the NFL's career-leading scorer, is retiring because of knee problems.
The 48-year-old Dane, who scored 2,544 points during his 25-year career, played for the Atlanta Falcons the last two seasons but was not able to get a contract this year.
Raiders. With a loss to San Diego on Sunday, Oakland joined Tampa Bay (1983-94) and Detroit (2001-06) as the only teams in NFL history with double-digit losses in six straight seasons.
With one more loss, the Raiders will become the only team to lose at least 11 games in six straight seasons.
Lions. Center Dominic Raiola says he has no remorse for making an obscene gesture toward Detroit fans because their heckling went too far.
"I don't take one thing back," he said. NFL spokesman Randall Liu said the league will look into it.
The team put linebacker Alex Lewis, a five-year veteran from Delran High in Burlington County, on injured reserve and activated linebacker Darnell Bing.
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper had an MRI exam on his shoulder, leading to doubt that he will play in Indianapolis this Sunday.
Steelers. Asked about facing Baltimore in what has become the AFC North's biggest rivalry, Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison said, "We're not thinking about Baltimore. We're thinking about the next game."
Harrison apparently did not know that Baltimore was that next game. The Steelers visit Ravens on Sunday.
Packers. Veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher will miss Green Bay's last three games because of a a torn ligament in his left knee.
Broncos. Rookie Peyton Hillis has a torn right hamstring and is done for the season.
Jaguars. Receiver Mike Walker will have to bury his best friend and his father in a span of days.
Walker did not travel to Chicago to attend the Saturday funeral of his best friend, Winfred L. Ezell, who was fatally stabbed Nov. 27 in an Orlando nightclub. Walker's father, Michael Sims, died the same day as the funeral. Details were not available.
Saints. New Orleans placed kick returner Courtney Roby on injured reserve and waived cornerback David Pittman.
Texans. Steve Slaton, a graduate of Conwell-Egan High in Bucks County, has rushed for 1,024 yards this season, the first Houston player to gain 1,000 yards since 2004. Domanick Williams ran for 1,188 yards that season.