Green leads Packers over Carolina
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ahman Green ran up, down and all over the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
Green ran for two touchdowns and caught a third Monday night to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 24-14 victory over the Panthers, who became the sixth straight team to lose in the Super Bowl and their ensuing season opener.
Unable to stop the run or run the ball -- the two main principles that carried them all last season -- the Panthers were out of sync from start to finish.
Green scored on touchdown runs of 3 and 6 yards and rushed for 119 yards against a Carolina defense that only gave up four individual 100-yard rushing games last season. He did it with ease, giving no indication that this was the first time this year Green Bay's entire offensive unit was on the field together.
Carolina, meanwhile, showed just how bad its patchwork offensive line really is. With three of its starters from last season gone, a rotating group of aging veterans has gamely tried to fill the holes.
But behind 35-year-old Matt Willig, who last started a game at right tackle in 1997, and 33-year-old Rich Tylski, who was out of football the past two years, the Panthers could do nothing.
Stephen Davis, who ran for a career-best 1,444 yards last year, was held to 26 yards and the Panthers had a total of just 38 on the ground.
Jake Delhomme struggled to find time to pass, often throwing his hands up in disgust after hurrying a pass and angrily glaring at the sidelines after several knockdowns. The lone bright spot came on Delhomme's 30-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad that cut the score to 24-14 with 4:46 to play.
But that came one play after star receiver Steve Smith went down with what appeared to be a serious left ankle injury. Smith, who signed a $27.5 million contract extension during the offseason, dropped writhing to the ground when he was tackled after a short catch, and had to be helped off the field.
Carolina was also done in by its own mistakes. Two turnovers led to 14 of Green Bay's points.
Brad Hoover fumbled at the start of the second half, giving Green Bay the ball at the Carolina 31. Although Robert Ferguson's touchdown catch was negated by offensive pass interference, the Packers still converted the turnover into seven points when Green ran nearly untouched into the end zone for a 17-7 lead.
The Panthers then put together their own drive, only to turn the ball over again just as they got into scoring position. Delhomme threw a pass to Smith who bobbled it twice before it squirted up and into Nick Barnett's hands.
Green Bay took possession of the ball and handed off to Green, who steadily pounded away at Carolina's defense. Running through gaping holes late in the third quarter, he gained 43 yards in the quarter then scored his third touchdown of the game on a 3-yard catch at the edge of the end zone to give the Packers a 24-7 lead.
As rusty as the Panthers looked, so did Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, at least at the start.
Looking nothing like he did in his last Monday night game, when he passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a December win over the Oakland Raiders, Favre missed on three of his first five attempts and finished 15-of-22 for 143 yards.