Brandon LaFell thought he was about to score a touchdown early in the fourth quarter of Carolina’s 34-10 win Sunday against Atlanta.
Asante Samuel tried to intercept Cam Newton but instead missed and fell to the ground. LaFell headed for the end zone, but Samuel got up, poked the ball from behind and forced a fumble inside the Atlanta 10.
“Sink?” LaFell responded rhetorically on if his heart sank when he fumbled. “It drowned. It was like, man, I make a big play, then I think I’m going in for the touchdown, boom, out of the blue the guy pokes the ball out. I was just praying the ball comes back to me.”
Falcons cornerback Robert Alford tried to scoop the ball but instead pushed it right to LaFell on the ground. Officially, it was a 30-yard reception to put the Panthers (5-3) in position for a much-needed go-ahead touchdown.
LaFell’s six catches for 74 yards made him the team leader in receiving yards for the second time this season. The same Panther hasn’t led the team in receiving yardage in consecutive games in the past seven games. Tight end Greg Olsen was was the leader in the first two games.
“It just comes down to when your number is called, you got to answer it,” Newton said. “You don’t want to mope or complain and say, ‘I’m not getting the ball.’ This offense is set for us to be equal as far as distribution throughout the week. One week it could be Ted (Ginn Jr.), it could be Brandon, Steve (Smith) or the running backs. Whoever’s number is called you have to be ready.
“These guys responded extremely well, and Brandon had a great game today.”
A handful of LaFell’s catches were quickly followed by punishing hits. LaFell has been battling muscle spasms in his back since the Week 5 loss at Arizona. He admitted with a laugh that despite his team-high receiving total, he still felt the pain.
“It feels good. They hurt, but hey, when you’re winning your body feels that much better,” LaFell said. “Everything’s great.”
Starting with Week 2, the leading receiver in each game has been: Olsen, Ginn, Olsen, LaFell, Smith, Ginn and LaFell on Sunday.
Olsen, the team’s leading receiver this year with 426 yards, said the Panthers, and especially the receivers, don’t get too wrapped up in statistics.
“That’s not what we’re all about,” Olsen said. “It’s a collective effort. Each game it’s different guys chipping in and doing their job. In the long run I think that’s better off.”
The formula has paid off for the offense, which has posted at least 30 points in five of the past six games.
But the Panthers still remember the past vividly.
In the season opener against Seattle, down 12-7, DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the 8 – site of LaFell’s fourth-quarter recovery – and the Seahawks recovered. Seattle held on to win.
But the breaks seem to be evening out.
“We’ve had balls that haven’t bounced our way for a couple years,” Olsen said. “By no means are we going to apologize for a ball that bounced back to us.
“You won’t hear us apologize for that.”
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