Panthers' Williams rushes into record book

jjones@charlotteobserver.comDecember 31, 2012 

— In the second quarter of Sunday’s game against New Orleans, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams ran off left tackle and rushed down the sideline for 65 yards.

Saints safety Roman Harper pushed Williams out of bounds at the 1, and Carolina sent in fullback Mike Tolbert to punch in the 1-yard touchdown.

“I love him,” Tolbert said. “He set me up so many times. I love it when he goes out on the 1. I don’t mind giving him a game ball at all.

“He just came off saying, ‘Man, come on fat boy.’ I said, ‘You’re the one that did it! You’re the one who didn’t get in the box.’ ”

Williams did find the end zone twice in Sunday’s 44-38 victory against the Saints, on runs of 54 and 12 yards.

And he went one better. He set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game, with 210 on 21 carries.

He has four of the top-10 rushing performances in team history.

“It feels good to just get the opportunities that were given to me today, or just the running backs in general,” Williams said. “The (offensive) line was moving guys off the ball. I think everything was working in our favor today.”

Starting his fifth consecutive game, Williams was a key to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s plan against a New Orleans defense that had struggled all year. The Saints (7-9) entered the game with the league’s 29thranked rush defense and left with a dubious NFL record, for most yards allowed in a season.

It took Williams a while to get started. Before the 65-yard run, he had 7 yards on seven carries.

But he finished with five rushes of at least 11 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to counter New Orleans’ touchdown to start the second half.

“I know this much: We found some really good things in terms of what we did today,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I thought (Chudzinski) made great adjustments. We hit a couple of runs early and we stayed with it.

“Probably the best thing is that DeAngelo was able to use his abilities and he made some plays for us.”

Williams humbly deferred credit to his offensive line, which was using its eighth starting lineup this season, the most recent change coming because of left guard Amini Silatolu’s wrist injury.

“They came in with a chip on their shoulder and they got it done,” Williams said. “Last week a lot of people in the media called them patchwork o-linemen filling in the holes. They came out and showed us they were more than just a patchwork offensive line. They came in and got it done.”

Williams’ previous high was 186 yards, set against Tampa Bay in 2008. The 210-yard day broke the franchise record of 206 yards set by Jonathan Stewart in 2009.

When asked what was different about Sunday, Williams said the Panthers (7-9) “actually called runs.”

He had lost his job earlier to Stewart, who sat out his fifth consecutive game with a high ankle sprain. Williams’ demotion prompted trade speculation and leaves him unsure about his future with the Panthers.

But if it was his last game as a Panther, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher made it count.

“I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy to have the opportunities I had today,” Williams said. “I had no idea coming out here how this game was going to come out, I just knew that I was going to come out and have fun win, lose or draw.

“We ultimately did win the game and I’m very excited about that.”

Jones: 704-358-5223; Twitter: @jjones9

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