Panthers’ Domenik Hixon delivers when it counts

jjones@charlotteobserver.comDecember 22, 2013 

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Carolina Panthers receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. (19) hugs teammate Domenik Hixon (87) after Hixon caught the game-winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers won 17-13

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

Three hundred sixty-four days had passed since Domenik Hixon last caught a touchdown in a regular season game.

Since then he has switched teams, dealt with a hamstring injury for the better part of training camp and fell from the Carolina Panthers’ No. 3 wide receiver to hardly getting on the field.

But when his number was called Sunday in the final minute of the game, he answered.

“In practice, in games, whatever Dom is asked to do, he does it,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “Coming into block, coming into catch, just picking up the rifle and keep shooting in battle. And his presence was felt today.”

Hixon caught his first touchdown as a member of the Carolina Panthers with 23 seconds remaining in a 17-13 win against the Saints that gave Carolina control of the NFC South.

It was Hixon’s second catch of the game, one that sent him sliding to the ground and getting his hands underneath the ball in the front-left corner of the end zone.

Like all scoring plays, Hixon’s catch was under review. When referee Gene Steratore announced the touchdown ruling was confirmed, the press box at Bank of America Stadium literally shook with the fans’ reaction.

“People were asking me if I caught it and I was about 99 percent sure,” Hixon said with a smile. “But you like to hear the confirmation.”

This season had not been easy for Hixon. Acquired by general manager Dave Gettleman in the spring from the Giants, the eighth-year receiver was thought to compete for the No. 3 wide receiver position that had been a revolving door for Ron Rivera’s first two seasons. Legedu Naanee didn’t work for the team in 2011, and the Panthers passed on Louis Murphy after one season in 2012.

But Hixon struggled to get in a rhythm with Newton in training camp, and a hamstring strain kept him out of practice for most of August and into the first game of the season.

Meanwhile, Ted Ginn Jr. overtook Hixon and since-released receiver Armanti Edwards for the No. 3 position, and Hixon had been relegated to a handful of snaps per game and special teams duties.

Entering Sunday, Hixon had three catches for 21 yards, and not more than one catch in any game.

“It’s one of those things, been through some things throughout my football career, throughout my life, and to be able to help out a team that you come to – the new guy – you always want to prove your worth,” Hixon said. “Me not being able to play in preseason and just kind of practicing, I want to show these guys not only do I appreciate them but I’m here and I want to help you guys win. I had that opportunity today.”

Hixon got his opportunity because of Steve Smith’s first-half knee injury, which would sideline him. Smith said after the game he was happy for Hixon, who finally got his opportunity.

“He’s kind of my big brother, and (I) wanted to make him proud and go out there and make plays,” Hixon said.

The game-winning touchdown was the first for Hixon in his NFL career, but he had one in college. In the 2005 Mid-American Conference Championship game, Hixon caught a Hail Mary to help Akron win 31-30.

“That was big, but not as big as this one,” he said.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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