PHILADELPHIA — With Steve Smith effectively taken out of the game after the first quarter, the Carolina Panthers had to turn to their secondary receivers to carry the load.
Brandon LaFell, Louis Murphy and even seldom-used tight end Gary Barnidge stepped up Monday night to help boost a Carolina offense struggling again to establish a rushing game in a 30-22 victory against the Eagles.
Carolina could only muster 109 yards on the ground, most of which came via quarterback Cam Newton. His 52 yards led the team in rushing for fifth time this season.
Smith caught two passes for 23 yards in the first quarter, pushing him past 11,000 career receiving yards. He was 12 yards shy of the mark entering the game, and he became only the 27th player in NFL history to reach that milestone.
But the Eagles secondary keyed in on Smith after those two catches and shut down the 12-year veteran. Newton targeted Smith five more times in the game, but hit him only twice.
“The beauty of is they are taking away our best receiver and the other guys have to step up and they did,” coach Ron Rivera said. “It was not just one guy in particular but the whole group. Our tight ends made some plays, I thought that was really great to see.”
Barnidge, out of a two tight end set, went down a seam and Newton hit him for a 24-yard touchdown. Entering the game, Barnidge had three catches for 28 yards with a long of 13, coming against Washington.
The first-quarter touchdown for Barnidge was his first in five NFL seasons.
Tight end Greg Olsen brought in four catches for 50 yards, one of four Panthers with at least 50 receiving yards.
The No. 2 receiver, LaFell was the Panthers’ leading receiver for the third time this season. LaFell and Newton took advantage of a corner blitz by Brandon Boykin, which running back DeAngelo Williams picked up, and LaFell went untouched for the 43-yard score late in the first quarter.
Louis Murphy has had a string of drops lately but got in the mix with one big reception for 55 yards in the third quarter. On a second-and-11 from the Carolina 16, Newton connected with Murphy, who timed his jump perfectly and hauled in the pass despite defensive pass interference on cornerback Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie.
One week after catching what could have been a game-sealing third-down reception against Tampa Bay, Murphy brought in a key 10-yard grab on third down with just more than three minutes remaining in the game and Philadelphia out of timeouts.
“When one guy is covered, you know, this is the NFL,” said Williams, who salted the game away with several late-game carries. “You don’t just have guys taking up spots. You’re in there to play and produce and make plays and I think we got that done today.”
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