Unbeaten Teams Tangle; Davis Leads Panthers against Colts and Manning

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Byline: David Elfin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Carolina hasn't had a winning season since 1996. Indianapolis hasn't won a playoff game since 1995. But the NFC South-leading Panthers and AFC South-leading Colts are a combined 9-0 heading into their showdown today at RCA Dome.

The Panthers' defense has slipped from second last year to 22nd, but Stephen Davis is running wild. The former Washington Redskin already has recorded the second, fourth and sixth biggest rushing days in team history. Davis' 565 yards are the most by a veteran back in his first four games with a new team and put him on pace for an NFL-record 2,260.

"Stephen is the best thing that's ever happened to us," Panthers safety Mike Minter said. "You can't do anything but give him the ball."

Carolina, 1-15 in 2001, has lost once in its past nine games. However, this year's victims (Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans) are 5-14 combined.

Meanwhile, the Colts are on the verge of the franchise's first 6-0 start thanks largely to quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison, the heroes of the record comeback from a 21-point deficit in the final four minutes in Tampa on Monday night.

Manning's scintillating past two games (54-for-72, 700 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception) have made him the NFL's top passer after he started the season with the least productive three-game stretch of his career. Harrison had 11 catches, 176 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers. Manning and Harrison's next scoring hookup will be their 65th, tying Buffalo's Jim Kelly-Andre Reed combination for third all-time.

"I'm kind of getting numb to Marvin and Peyton," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "They do some unbelievable things quite often."

Chiefs-Packers - In a game that features such weapons as Kansas City running back Priest Holmes and Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, the big story is whether the Packers' stellar coverage teams - ranked first on punts and third on kickoffs - can control Chiefs mighty mite return man Dante Hall. The 5-foot-8 Hall has seven return touchdowns (all at least 73 yards) in his last 10 games and has taken a kick back a record four straight weeks to push Kansas City to the first 5-0 start of its 44 seasons.

Only one of the 19 teams that started 5-0 from 1990 to 2002 didn't reach postseason. The Chiefs haven't done so since 1997.

"I kept thinking I should stay within myself and not try to do something special, but it's hard when you have fans that come to watch something happen," Hall said after he dealt AFC West rival Denver its first loss with a dazzling 93-yard punt return last Sunday.

Favre - 19 of 25 for 185 yards and two touchdowns last week in ruining a perfect season for former coach Mike Holmgren and Seattle - still makes plenty happen in his 12th season running the Green Bay offense. …