CHARLOTTE, N.C., Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Julius Peppers, playing his first professional game, forced a turnover inside the two-minute warning Sunday that preserved a 10-7 victory for Carolina over the Baltimore Ravens and ended the Panthers' 15-game losing streak.
The surprise victory made the debut of Carolina Coach John Fox a successful one. Carolina won its opening game last season under George Seifert and then lost every other one.
A hometown star who played collegiately at North Carolina, Peppers was taken second overall in April's draft with the hope that he could be the pass-rushing impact player the Panthers have been lacking.
Lining up at left end, Peppers was invisible for most of the afternoon, failing to register a tackle. But he made a crucial play at the game's biggest moment.
On a third and four play at the Baltimore 47, Peppers blew past tackle Ethan Brooks and slammed into quarterback Chris Redman as he threw. The ball popped into the air and linebacker Dan Morgan came up with an intercepetion that he returned inside the Ravens' 20 to seal the victory.
"I'm excited that I was able to make the big play," Peppers said. "I put pressure on myself to make plays. I feel that it's my job. I was just going for the quarterback. I don't know who was supposed to block me and who wasn't."
"I never really got a chance to set myself," Redman said. "Everybody was to slide down the line and block the gaps."
As the celebration ensued, Fox sprinted down the sidelines, pumping his fists in the air to celebrate with his jubilant team.
"That's what makes this the greatest game in the world," Fox said. "It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, so we'll enjoy this for six hours and get back to work for Detroit."
Veteran Rodney Peete, named the starter earlier in the week, threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Wesley Walls in the first quarter for the Panthers.
Redman threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to rookie Ron Johnson in the opening quarter for the Ravens.
Replacing Seifert on the the Carolina sidelines after serving as the New York Giants' defensive coordinator, Fox made a bold move earlier this week when he named Peete to start over incumbent Chris Weinke.
Fox employed a conservative game plan that the 36-year-old Peete ran efficiently, completing 12 of 19 passes for 136 yards.
"You play this game to play," Peete said. "The feeling I had out there was great. I felt very comfortable. There is a big, big weight lifted off of everyone's shoulders."
"Rodney (Peete) managed the game superbly," Fox said. "He didn't turn the ball over. We thought Rodney was the guy (to start). It was a very tough decision. He had 32 wins in this league. The other two guys had one combined."
But early on it was the youngster Redman, who was making his first career start who was able to make the plays.
On the Ravens' third possession of opening quarter, Redman engineered a nine-play, 80-yard drive. He kept the march alive with a 22-yard pass to Brandon Stokley on a third-and-nine play to the Baltimore 43.
Later in the drive, he hit Travis Taylor for 36 yards to the 11. Two plays later, Redman culminated the march with an eight-yard pass to Johnson that made it 7-0 with 2:43 left in the quarter.
Peete and the Panthers were able to respond on their next possession, going 80 yards in four plays. He capped the march with 36 seconds left in the period, finding Walls for a 20-yard touchdown.
Peete was complemented with a consistent ground attack as Lamar Smith carried 24 times for 84 yards.
The Ravens relied on Jamal Lewis, who made his return after missing the 2001 season with a torn ACL. He finished with 64 yards on 17 carries.
A pair of big plays on offense helped the Panthers take the lead for good in the second quarter when they went 40 yards in 10 plays.
Peete found Walls for 18 yards on third and 13 to keep the drive alive. Nick Goings also ran 20 yards on third and eight to the Baltimore 12.
The drive stalled and John Kasay kicked a 27-yard field goal with 9:40 left before intermission, giving the Panthers a 10-7 lead.
Also playing conservative on offense, the Ravens moved to the Panthers 29 late in the third quarter. But Matt Stover hooked a 47-yard field goal to the left.
Redman failed to get the Ravens into position the rest of the way as he finished 20 of 34 for 218 yards and one interception.
"We were in it the whole game. It's definitely frustrating and it was just a lack of execution," Redman said.
Fox had a tough call at the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter when he called on Kasay to attempt a 50-yard field goal, rather than punting. Kasay missed to the right, giving Baltimore a final chance.
But three plays later, Peppers ensured the victory when he made his big defensive play.
"There's a fine line between playing smart and playing scared," Fox said. "I wanted to show our team we weren't scared. If we made the field goal, we would have forced them to score a touchdown to win."