You pick on rookies. That's a given in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks do it. Teammates do it even more.
Charles Godfrey will get picked on this week by his Carolina Panthers teammates for not scoring on his first career interception Sunday. His teammates gleefully promise that.
But Godfrey can take it. He has been a satisfying addition to the defense so far – making his mistakes, but rarely making the same one.
And even if he can't outrun Daunte Culpepper, at least he tricked the veteran quarterback in the first place.
On the most important play of Sunday's game, with Detroit trailing Carolina 24-22 in the fourth quarter, Godfrey hid behind the intended receiver and jumped out just as Culpepper threw the ball.
That hide-and-seek move resulted in Godfrey's first interception and his second very big play for this 8-2 Carolina team.
Then the rookie's instincts deserted him.
“I caught it (at the Detroit 20), and I kind of hesitated a little bit,” Godfrey said. “I was like, ‘Man, he threw this ball right to me!' I knew it was a big play. I kind of froze. My first interception – I kind of jibber-jabbered. But hey, I caught it.”
Jibber-jabbering, apparently, has the following definition: With acres of open territory in front of you, you instead run directly at the 260-pound quarterback who threw the interception and let him knock you down.
As Godfrey was getting interviewed by a group of reporters in the locker room Sunday, safety Chris Harris jumped into the fray, masquerading as a reporter so he could ask a question.
“Can you talk about the interception return?” Harris asked. “Can you talk to us about Daunte Culpepper tackling you?”
Harris later elaborated happily on Godfrey's mistake, saying the rookie broke one of the NFL's cardinal rules: Never get taken down by a kicker or a quarterback.
“He got tackled – form tackled! – by a quarterback,” Harris said. “He'll get it in the meeting rooms for about a week.”
Other Panthers defenders jumped on Godfrey for not scoring as well, but it was all in fun. In reality, he got the ball inside the Detroit 5 and the Panthers scored on the next play to clinch the game.
Godfrey also made a huge play against Arizona, sniffing out a fake field goal attempt. If he didn't make that tackle, the Cardinals would have scored a touchdown on the play. Instead Godfrey – the only rookie starter on Carolina's defense – stopped the play short of a first down.
His work ethic has also earned the respect of his offensive teammates.
“He gets it,” quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “He understands. It's not about flash. It's about coming to work every day. He's always here early. He cares.”
Godfrey has had down moments, too, this season. He got burned in San Diego for a touchdown. He got burned in Minnesota for a 48-yard completion that was key to the Vikings' win. And he will be tested repeatedly in these final six games.
A cornerback in college at Iowa, Godfrey was a third-round pick for Carolina in the 2008 draft.
“The biggest adjustment has been the speed of the game,” he said. “It all happens so fast.”
But Godfrey is learning. Even after making no move at all to avoid getting tackled by Culpepper, he made a nice one immediately after that.
Godfrey took the ball he intercepted to the sideline and – rather than keeping it – presented it to Carolina secondary coach Tim Lewis.
“He and the other coaches have helped me out so much,” Godfrey said. “I wanted to say thank you.”
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; email@example.com.
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