TAMPA, Dec. 26 -- The Carolina Panthers are one step closer to overcoming a horrendous start and making NFL history.
No team has ever lost seven of its first eight games and rallied to make the playoffs, but the defending NFC champions have a chance after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37-20 Sunday to keep pace with New Orleans for a wild-card berth.
Carolina WR Muhsin Muhammad (87) celebrates his second TD reception of the game. The Panthers can make the playoffs with one more win despite a 1-7 start.
(Chris O'meara -- AP)
The Panthers (7-8) won for the sixth time in seven games and can earn the last wild-card spot in the NFC by beating the Saints (7-8) at home next Sunday.
"We've given ourselves another opportunity next week. We play another division foe at our place and we'll see how it all settles," Carolina Coach John Fox said.
"These guys have believed all year that it isn't where you start but where you finish, and we have one more step to get into the next tournament."
Jake Delhomme threw for 214 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to Muhsin Muhammad, who had his seventh 100-yard game and set single-season Carolina records for yards receiving (1,310) and touchdown catches (14). Delhomme and an opportunistic Carolina defense led the Panthers' to their fourth straight win against the Bucs. Defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead's interception and 17-yard return for a touchdown wiped out any hope for a Tampa Bay comeback with just less than five minutes remaining.
Delhomme threw scoring passes of 15 and 6 yards to Muhammad and the Panthers blocked a punt to set up a field goal as the first half expired to build a 17-7 lead. Carolina marched 70 yards after the second-half kickoff to go up 24-7 on Delhomme's four-yard touchdown throw to Keary Colbert.
The Bucs (5-10) lost for the third straight time since routing NFC South champion Atlanta 27-0. With the loss, Tampa Bay is assured its worst finish since 1996. A loss at Arizona in the season finale would give the Bucs 11 defeats for the first time since 1993.
Delhomme completed 19 of 24 passes, and the Panthers didn't have any turnovers. Meanwhile, Nick Goings continued to impress with his fifth 100-yard game, finishing with 127 yards on 33 carries.
Taking up where he left off in a 10-catch, 135-yard performance the previous week against Atlanta, Muhammad had eight receptions for 115 yards. His one-handed catch over Brian Kelly gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead, his second touchdown catch made it 14-7, and he gained 20 yards on a catch to set up John Kasay's 26-yard field goal on the last play on the first half.
Tampa Bay's Brian Griese tossed three touchdown passes, but also threw two interceptions and lost a midfield fumble that led to Delhomme's fourth scoring pass, a two-yard throw to Mike Seidman for a 30-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.