CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Dec. 4, 2005) -- Michael Vick looked left, right and straight ahead, frantically searching for some running room.
For the first time in his career, the Carolina Panthers closed all Vick's available lanes and forced him to try to beat them with his arm.
"Mike had a lot of success against these guys and I know they had that in the back of their head," said Carolina linebacker Chris Draft, who spent five seasons in Atlanta. "So this is like finally getting the monkey off their back."
It was Vick's first loss to Carolina (9-3) in six starts. Atlanta (7-5) had won three straight and 12 of 14 against the Panthers.
"The streak was not going to last long, I knew that," said Vick, now 5-1 against Carolina. "I was just trying to keep it going as long as I could. Everybody hyped it up that they hadn't beat us in the last three years and they fed off that."
DeShaun Foster scored two touchdowns and became the first Carolina back to go over 100 yards this season while helping the Panthers build a two-game NFC South lead over the Falcons. They've got a one-game advantage over Tampa Bay -- setting up another huge division showdown next week against the Bucs.
The Falcons certainly will be questioning their strategy in this one. Carolina was repeatedly embarrassed by Vick on the ground in his five previous starts, when he ran 40 times for 356 yards -- a whopping 8.9 yards-per-carry average.
His success had the Panthers on edge all week, forced to issue repeated denials that Vick wasn't in their heads. But Atlanta coach Jim Mora wants Vick to improve his passing so the Falcons aren't forced to rely on his legs so much. Mora stubbornly stuck with that game plan, holding Vick to a baffling three carries for 36 yards.
Mora insisted that Carolina dictated Vick's ground game.
"I think people make it about schemes when it's really about athletes," Mora said. "I thought their team speed on defense showed up. They just played good solid team defense. I don't think it was anything schematic."
Vick finished 17 of 35 for 171 yards. He was sacked five times and intercepted twice, including Ricky Manning Jr.'s pick with 3:57 to play, which ended any hopes of an Atlanta rally. It set up Foster's second score of the game, a 6-yard run.
"I think Vick tends to get antsy in the pocket," said defensive end Mike Rucker, who had one sack. "If you can force him to stay in the pocket, you can force him to make some bad throws."
The Panthers weren't overly efficient, doing just enough to finally pull one out against their nemesis. Tensions were high between the rivals, with several on-field scuffles breaking out at the end of plays.
After Carolina fullback Brad Hoover and DeAngelo Hall took turns throwing the ball at each other -- Hoover was called for a personal foul -- the teams had to be separated following several seconds of shoving that drew Mora to midfield to pull away his players.
Jake Delhomme threw a pair of 18-yard touchdown passes, one to Foster, who rambled 18 yards for the score, and the second to Steve Smith, who stiff-armed his way past two defenders to dive into the end zone. He celebrated by pretending the football was a baby that needed its diaper changed.
Smith finished with seven catches for 65 yards.
Foster, meanwhile, continued his move toward becoming Carolina's featured back. Although Stephen Davis got the start, he had five carries for 8 yards and gave way to Foster midway through the first quarter.
Foster finished with 131 yards on 24 carries, and another 49 yards on three catches. Davis proved there's no animosity between the two by sprinting from the sideline to the far corner of the field to celebrate Foster's first score with him.
Notes: Todd Peterson's failed 49-yard field goal attempt was his first miss of the season. ... Atlanta kick returner Allen Rossum injured his posterior cruciate ligament and is expected to miss up to two weeks. ... Draft started in place of Dan Morgan, who missed his second game with an ankle injury. Draft finished with eight tackles and a sack. ... Warrick Dunn had 80 yards on 16 carries, giving him a career-high 1,174 on the season.