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Beuerlein’s Path Leads To Big Day In Carolina

September 23, 1996

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Nine years have taught Steve Beuerlein the meaning of patience. One game with the Carolina Panthers gave him a career highlight.

Inserted into the starting lineup because of an injury to second-year quarterback Kerry Collins, Beuerlein threw two touchdown passes to Wesley Walls and helped the Carolina Panthers earn a milestone victory, 23-7 over the San Francisco 49ers.

``I haven’t been this excited in a few years,″ Beuerlein said. ``It’s been a rough couple of years, a lot of ups and downs. It’s kind of the way my whole career has been. But, days like today make it all worth it.″

Beuerlein completed 22 of 31 pases for 290 yards, connecting with Walls on scoring plays of 19 and 7 yards. He was 17-for-20 in the first half, 9-for-10 in the opening quarter, all of which helped the Panthers (3-0) build a 17-0 halftime lead.

Yet, Beuerlein knows he could be standing on the sidelines as soon as Collins completely recovers from a knee injury suffered two weeks ago at New Orleans. He is comfortable with that, especially since he was Troy Aikman’s backup at Dallas for two years and Aikman has gone on to win three Super Bowls.

``There’s no doubt. Kerry’s the man. This is his team. I was brought here to do what I did today, and that’s to step in and, hopefully, play at a high level when called upon,″ Beuerlein said. ``That’s not to say I don’t want to play because I love playing. Today was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

``But my job is to step in when Kerry can’t do it. As soon as he’s ready to go, I will gladly support him and re-assume my role.″

Beuerlein won’t even start a quarterback controversy.

``The worst thing that any team could ever have is two guys wanting to start in the same spot and making a big deal out of it,″ he said.

Only once in his career has Beuerlein, a fourth-round draft pick in 1988, had double-digit starts. That was in the 1993 season when he started 14 games for the Phoenix Cardinals and set a team record for completion percentage with 61.7 accuracy.

What made Beuerlein’s performance more impressive was that it came against a 49ers defense that was the best in the NFL before it reached Ericsson Stadium and a near-capacity crowd of 72,224. Giving up a stingy 168 yards per game through two outings, San Francisco had surrendered just three yards below that total by the end of the first quarter.

``I’m surprised by what took place,″ 49ers coach George Seifert said. ``I expected us to be much sharper. I, and I think everyone, expected us to play much more sound defense.″

Cornerback Tyronne Drakeford said the 49ers didn’t do the physical things they normally do, which in part may have helped Carolina open up its 7-0 lead on its first possession, an 80-yard march that ended on Beuerlein’s 19-yard scoring pass to Walls.

``We were missing tackles, and then, when we did tackle, we didn’t tackle as hard as we should have because they kept making extra yardage,″ Drakeford said. ``It started to add up.″

With its defense stunned, the 49ers finally got their offense going long enough to get Steve Young’s 44-yard scoring pass to a wide open Derek Loville with 8:19 left in the third quarter. The Panthers retaliated with the second of John Kasay’s three field goals, a 35-yarder, on the subsequent possession for a 20-7 lead.

When it appeared the 49ers were ready to make their charge in the fourth quarter, a penalty choked one chance and the Panthers made a key stop of their own.

Carolina had just stopped the 49ers on fourth down at the Panther 22, but Tim McDonald returned an Beuerlein interception 19 yards to the Carolina 2. A holding call on Drakeford wiped out the theft.

Young later moved the 49ers from their 31 to the Carolina 9. On first-and-goal, his pass to the left for Terrell Owens was intercepted by Brett Maxie, who took it to the 38 with just under six minutes to go.

``I was trying to fit a a ball in and I thought Terrell would come underneath Brett Maxie,″ Young said. ``He felt he was in the way, so he stopped. We just need to spend more time together.″

A third-down conversion and clutch running by reserve Anthony Johnson set up Kasay’s 19-yard field goal with 38 seconds to go.

A new town essentially means an old scenario for Beuerlein, but he says he is far from despair.

``I love being a Panther. I love being here,″ he said. ``There’s no where else I would rather be.″

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