Carolina running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka breaks away from Kenard Lang of the Redskins to score his first of 3 touchdowns. (Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)
LANDOVER, Md. - Montreal's Tshimanga Biakabutuka continued his white-hot streak with three touchdowns in the first quarter for the Carolina Panthers yesterday, but still ended up on the losing side.
The Washington Redskins kicked a 31-yard field goal with six seconds remaining to win a wild game 38-36.
The 25-year-old running back, who only started playing football at 16, had given the Panthers a 21-0 lead with runs of 60, one and 45 yards. But the Redskins (3-1) rallied from the 21-0 deficit to win their third straight, although they blew a 35-24 fourth-quarter lead before the last-minute comeback.
The winning drive came after referee Ron Winter, checking the instant replay when Washington coach Norv Turner challenged the call, reversed a fumble on a punt return by Brian Mitchell at the Redskins' 19 with 4:19 to play.
The reversal took away Carolina's chance to put the game away and allowed Brad Johnson to put together a 69-yard game-winning drive. A 19-yard pass to Michael Westbrook, who had eight catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns, put the Redskins in position for Brett Conway, who is six-for-six this season.
Carolina (1-3) had taken the lead with 7:57 remaining on Steve Beuerlein's six-yard pass to Wesley Walls. It was the Panthers' first TD since the first quarter, when Biakabutuka performed his magic.
Biakabutuka's sensational runs followed two 60-plus touchdown runs against Cincinnati last week.
His sterling form follows an indifferent pre-season where he wasn't even assured of being the starting running back.
At the time, he said he was watching film trying to find out what he had to do to break a big run.
"You sit at home and watch those guys on TV break big runs and you're like, 'I can do that, too,'" Biakabutuka said then. "You put in your head that you want to break a big run and make things happen."
"My confidence is not shaken," he said. "I've just got to stay patient. ... Eventually, everything is going to happen."
Things have happened fast in his football life. He was born in Kinshasa, Zaire, and moved to Montreal with his family when he was four. He only started playing football when his Longueuil, Que., high school organized a team. Two years later he attended Vanier College, where he earned the nickname Touchdown Tim for his exploits.
From there he went to college powerhouse Michigan and was the eighth over-all selection in the 1996 NFL draft. He signed a seven-year, $12.7-million contract, but tore a knee ligament after four games and missed the rest of the season.
But this season he has come into his own, although coach George Seifert rotates his running backs. He stuck with that strategy yesterday and it cost the Panthers.
He took Biakabutuka out for two series and the Panthers offence, which had been moving at will, stalled, allowing the Redskins back into the game.
Biakabutuka ended with 142 yards on 12 carries.
For his first score he outraced the defence on a left sweep for a 60-yard TD. Then he ran right for a one-yard score three plays after Mitchell fumbled a kickoff.
He completed his hat trick when he ran untouched up the middle for 45 yards.
Johnson, who completed 20 of 33 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns, provided equal opportunity embarrassment for nearly all the Panthers defensive backs, picking on Eric Davis, Doug Evans, Michael Swift and Mike Minter with random ease.
Davis looked lost as he left Westbrook open for tiptoe touchdown catches of 17 and 11 yards and Albert Connell alone for a 32-yard score. Connell also burned Swift for 62 yards.
Connell had five catches for 134 yards, the second time this season he and Westbrook passed the 100-yard mark in the same game. Johnson has nine TD passes with no interceptions for an offence averaging 37.5 points per game.