Panthers rookies taking advantage of opportunities

jjones@charlotteobserver.com jperson@charlotteobserver.comDecember 1, 2013 

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Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) missed the first two plays of Sunday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Bucs, the penalty for being late to a meeting.

DAVID T. FOSTER, III — dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

Carolina Panthers rookies A.J. Klein and Wes Horton continued to make the most of their opportunities during Sunday’s 27-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as key veterans sat out with injuries.

Klein started at weakside linebacker in place of Chase Blackburn for a fourth consecutive game and got his second career sack along with three tackles for a loss.

“A.J.’s playing great,” middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “You look at the film and every play he does his job.”

Klein’s sack of Mike Glennon late in the third quarter was the second of his career. The first came against Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10.

“I was just hoping he didn’t roll out or throw the ball away before I got there,” Klein said. “But that just goes to show the preparation and coach (Sean) McDermott putting us in the right situation at the right time with the play call.”

With Charles Johnson sidelined with a knee injury for a second straight game, Frank Alexander and Mario Addison got the bulk of snaps at defensive end. But it was Horton, an undrafted rookie, who had a team-high two sacks Sunday.

Horton dropped Glennon twice for a combined 9-yard loss on sacks in the second half.

“The more playing time I get the more I want to show them that I can be productive with the minutes that I do get,” Horton said, “and that there isn’t a drop off between Charles and Greg (Hardy) and the secondary options.”

Hardy benched : Defensive end Hardy was benched for the start of the game for being late to a meeting last week, according to a team source. Hardy also was fined by the team for being tardy, and apologized to coach Ron Rivera in the locker room after the game.

Hardy missed the first two snaps before entering the game, and had one of the five sacks of Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. It was Hardy’s only tackle, although he added a pair of quarterback hurries.

Hardy played with stitches in his left thumb after tearing the base of his thumb last week in the win at Miami. Hardy said the injury affected him primarily when he lined up on the left side and used his left hand in his pass-rush moves.

“I didn’t want to look at it until today,” Hardy said. “That thing hurt.”

Line holds its ground: For the first time since November 2012, the Panthers did not allow Newton to be sacked.

Tampa Bay entered Sunday’s game with 24 sacks in 11 games but didn’t have any against the Panthers. The Bucs’ blitzes rarely worked and often left receivers open underneath.

“It wasn’t just the offensive line, but the offensive line has done a great job,” Rivera said, also pointing to the running backs and tight ends blocking.

“They have worked very hard at picking up blitzes. Again, I think there is a little bit of a residual from what happened earlier in the year when we did give up some plays.”

Newton was sacked 15 times in the first four games of the season, including a seven-sack game against Arizona in Week 4. Newton has not been sacked more than three times in a game since.

Sunday was the fourth game in Newton’s career in which he was not sacked.

Smith makes top 20 : Steve Smith continued his climb up the NFL all-time receiving yards ladder Sunday with a 51-yard day.

Smith, a 13-year veteran, is 20th all-time in receiving yards with 12,084. Only three active players – Tony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson – have more career yards than Smith.

He passed Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward on the list with his final catch of the game, an 18-yard pass from Newton in the fourth quarter on third down.

Of the 12 players on the list in front of Smith who are eligible for the Hall of Fame, six are in.

War Cam Eagle : A Panthers spokesman opened Newton’s post-game press conference by telling reporters not to ask any questions about the previous night’s Auburn-Alabama football game.

Newton didn’t seem to care.

“War Eagle. War Eagle. War dang Eagle,” he said in his opening statement.

Auburn secured its first win against Alabama since Newton led the Tigers to a comeback 28-27 victory against the Crimson Tide in 2010.

Saturday’s game was an all-time classic ending in Auburn returning a missed field goal more than 100 yards for a touchdown with no time remaining.

“Let’s just say it was rather exciting to see,” Newton said. “Did I say War Eagle? War Eagle. That team is fun to watch and these past couple weeks watching those guys get big wins versus Georgia as well as that other team is great. Coach (Gus) Malzahn is a warrior, he’s a winner, he’s won at every level of football everywhere he’s been, and I’m not surprised.”

Observations

•  Curiously, Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano did not use his timeouts to preserve the clock in the closing minutes of the first half. His team got the ball following a Carolina touchdown with 25 seconds left and took a knee.

•  Rivera said after the game he expects Johnson (knee) and running back DeAngelo Williams (quad) to practice on Wednesday. Johnson tweeted after the game he will be in uniform for the New Orleans game.

•  Linebacker Jordan Senn tweaked his hamstring in the third quarter and did not return. After the game he said he’d be fine to play against New Orleans.

By the numbers

3 Consecutive games Newton has led the Panthers in rushing.

220 Advantage in total yards for the Panthers over the Bucs.

34 Total kick return yards for Ted Ginn Jr., who did not make it to the 20 on either kickoff he returned.

10 Total first downs for Tampa Bay.

1 Third-down conversion for the Bucs in 10 tries.

Quotes

•  “He (Glennon) maybe looked more like a rookie than he’s looked.” – Schiano.

•  “When we don’t beat ourselves, we’re a great team. We didn’t do that today and the results showed.” – Tampa Bay running back Bobby Rainey.

•  “We’ve said it all along we’re not going to have any one individual that’s up in the top of the league lead in anything.” – Carolina tight end Greg Olsen.

•  “It’s a great feeling but we’ve got a lot of unfinished business. We’re going to enjoy this win and keep rolling.” – Carolina wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

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