Steve Smith stepped up in the second half as Carolina rallied from a poor start to post a 24-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday.
Coming off their National Football League bye week, the Panthers (5-4) managed under 100 total yards, committed a costly turnover and had numerous untimely penalties in the first half, which ended with the Bucs holding a 7-0 lead.
Smith also struggled in the first half while playing through a bout of the flu. The Pro Bowl wide receiver appeared to vomit into a garbage can on the sidelines.
After intermission, Smith flourished as he finished with eight catches for 149 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown catch with 3:11 remaining that gave the Panthers a 24-10 lead.
Jake Delhomme completed 22-of-34 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for the Panthers, who pulled within a game of first-place New Orleans in the NFC South.
Julius Peppers carried things on the defensive side of the ball as he tied a career high with three sacks.
Rookie Bruce Gradkowski threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard in the first quarter for the Bucs (2-7), who lost their third straight game.
Gradkowski's score was set up when former Buc Keyshawn Johnson lost a fumble at his own 48. The young signal-caller then had a 27-yard completion to Joey Galloway.
In just his sixth career start, Gradkowski completed 17-of-32 passes for 173 yards and two interceptions. He was just 6-of-12 for 63 yards with a lost fumble in the second half.
After Matt Bryant kicked a 28-yard field goal with 8:32 remaining to pull the Bucs within 17-10, the Panthers answered with an eight-play, 72-yard drive. Delhomme capped the march with the connection to Smith down the left sideline.
It was the fourth 100-yard game of the season for Smith, who had seven receptions for 112 yards in a 26-24 win at Tampa Bay on Sept. 24.