When he addressed his teammates before their flight to Kansas City last Saturday, Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad didn't mince words. He talked about how the team's younger players needed to capitalize on opportunities to make names for themselves. He mentioned two players specifically--third-year running back DeShaun Foster and rookie wideout Keary Colbert, who would be replacing injured stars Stephen Davis and Steve Smith, respectively--but everyone clearly got his message.
The following day Carolina upset the Chiefs 28--17, mostly because of contributions from less-heralded players. Foster, who rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown, and Colbert, who had three receptions for 46 yards and one score, received most of the credit, but they had plenty of help. Tight ends Kris Mangum and Mike Seidman caught touchdown passes, and fullback Brad Hoover added four catches and delivered several key blocks for an offense that averaged 4.7 yards per rush.
Not that this is anything new. The Panthers reached the Super Bowl last season by finding ways to win in the face of adversity. The losses of Davis (out two to five weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee) and Smith (out indefinitely with a broken left leg) should have crippled the offense, but it performed far more effectively than it did in the Monday-night loss to the Packers in the season opener. The key was getting back to the basics: After running only 13 times against Green Bay, the Panthers rushed 39 times against Kansas City and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes. They also used play-action passes to create opportunities for Mangum, Seidman and Hoover.
"Everybody has the ability to be the Man and make plays on this team," says Muhammad. "Other teams wait around for somebody else to be that kind of guy, but on this team we always find somebody who's willing to do his part."