The Panthers were on the verge of squandering a 17-point lead when Roman Phifer intercepted a pass from Steve Beuerlein at the Panthers 43 and steamed toward the end zone for the apparent game-winning score.
"I thought I was home free," Phifer said.
But Carrier stripped Phifer of the ball at the 5, Carolina center Frank Garcia covered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback with 2:41 to go, and the Panthers escaped with a 24-20 victory Sunday.
Fittingly, the Panthers gave the game ball to Carrier, who knew he had little chance of bringing down Phifer in time and decided his best shot was to knock it loose.
"If I try to tackle him, he's just going into the end zone," Carrier said. "So it's get the ball or nothing."
As it turned out, it was everything. The Panthers joined Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Washington at 2-9.
"We've had our share where the breaks went against us this year," said defensive end Sean Gilbert, who had a sack and forced a fumble. "It's about time we got some breaks."
The Rams, 8-19 under Dick Vermeil, were hoping it was their turn.
"It's just kind of been the story of this year," Phifer said. "We had great expectations for this team. I've got to try to shake it off, but rigt now it hurts."
There were about 14,000 no-shows at the sold-out Trans World Dome, which had an announced crowd of 50,716. The Rams bought about 2,000 tickets to ensure their sellout streak since moving to St. Louis in 1995 went to 30.
The rams (3-8) lost for the 10th time in 11 games at home as well as losing quarterback Tony Banks to a sprained right ankle. Vermeil believes it's a high ankle sprain, which could sideline Banks for a while.
| Wesley Walls goes into the end zone on his 13-yard TD as the Panthers scored early and hung on late vs. the Rams. (AP) |
Banks took himself out of the game.
"I felt like I would have been a sitting duck, so I chose not to play," he said.
Banks also injured his left ankle and was to undergo an MRI on the right ankle Sunday night.
St. Louis got a final chance at the Carolina 40 following a 19-yard punt by Ken Walter. The Rams advanced to the 14, but Amp Lee dropped a pass inside the 10 as the game ended.
The Panthers are now 1-5 on the road, but four of the losses were by a combined 17 points, and the only game that wasn't close was a 51-23 blowout at Atlanta Oct. 4 right before Kerry Collins asked out of the lineup. They've won three in a row at St. Louis, with their only loss in the Rams' first game at the dome, Nov. 12, 1995.
Carolina's only other victory this year was Nov. 1 against New Orleans.
For most of the game, Beuerlein, the NFL's most accurate passer at 63.7 percent, topped himself. He was 13-for-14 for 100 yards and two touchdowns, both to Wesley Walls, in the first half and finished 21-for-26 for 211 yards.
Banks limped through the first two series, then left to have X-rays taken. His replacement, seldom-used Steve Bono, fumbled the snap from the shotgun in his first series to set up a Panthers score, but finished strong, going 16-for-33 for 221 yards.
Beuerlein and Walls hooked up for a 1-yard TD with 1:56 to go in the first quarter. Bono's fumble on the ensuing series was recovered by Kevin Greene at the Rams 15, and two plays later Walls caught a 13-yarder.
A 35-yard field goal by John Kasay made it 17-0 with 6:55 to go in the first half.
The Rams answered on a 4-yard pass from Bono to long-snapper Jeff Robinson, announced as an eligible receiver for that play only, with 38 seconds left in the half, and cut the gap to three points on a 7-yard run by Jerald Moore in the third quarter.
The Panthers responded with an 82-yard drive capped by a 1-yard run by Fred Lane with 14:57 left to make it 24-14. The Rams could manage only field goals of 39 and 41 yards by Jeff Wilkins the rest of the way.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved