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Panthers’ secondary plagued by more than injuries

The Panthers’ secondary was plagued by more than injuries in Sunday’s 24-23 loss to Buffalo.

A communication breakdown in the defensive backfield doomed the Panthers on the game’s decisive play.

Buffalo rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson came after two defensive backs failed to switch on the Bills’ rub route.

D.J. Moore, lined up opposite Johnson in the slot, anticipated the route – which the Bills had run earlier on the drive – based on Buffalo’s formation. TV replays showed Moore signaling to cornerback Josh Norman, who had man coverage on wideout Chris Hogan.

Moore said he wanted Norman to switch to Johnson on the corner route, with Moore covering Hogan on a drag pattern.

Instead, no one covered Johnson, who was wide open in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning score with two seconds left.

“Apparently Josh Norman didn’t play it. It’s one of those things, it’s a critical situation. You get a communication,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “You’d like to believe the call’s made, you execute you the call, you’re in a position to help make a play.”

Norman said he never looked inside for the call.

“I was zoned in and he gave a call and he expected me to do something,” Norman said. “I didn’t expect (Moore) to get off. Just communication.”

Johnson Restructures: Defensive end Charles Johnson restructured his contract last week, converting about $6 million in salary to a signing bonus in a move that created $4.26 million in cap space for the Panthers, according to two league sources.

Johnson’s salary dropped from $6.75 million to $715,000 this season. His cap number dipped from $13 million to $8.74 million.

Carolina could be clearing space to sign defensive end Greg Hardy to a long-term deal. Hardy’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has been talking to the Panthers about an extension since spring.

Johnson signed a six-year, $76 million extension in 2011, the most lucrative deal in team history. With the restructuring, Johnson’s cap numbers increased by $1.42 million the next two years – to $16.42 million in 2014 and $17.42 million in 2015.

No setback: Starting left guard Amini Silatolu said he suffered no setbacks after playing in his first game of the 2013 season on Sunday.

Silatolu had been battling a hamstring strain, but the second-year lineman returned to the team Sunday at Buffalo and felt he was effective – at least in the first half.

“Conditioning could have been better,” Silatolu said. “I felt good the first half. I got to step it up in the second.”

The Panthers offensive line had seen better days than the one it played against the Bills. While Carolina did muster 125 rushing yards on 32 attempts, quarterback Cam Newton was sacked six times, which was the second-most of his career.

Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive end Mario Williams all had at least a half-sack on Newton, with Williams leading the way with a career-high 4 1/2 sacks.

“We struggled to contain Mario Williams,” Rivera said. “He had a big day against us. You have to give him credit. You’d like to say everyone can make that block against him or everybody can make that block against their linebacker, but again you got to give a little credit to your opponent.”

Kenjon hopeful: Sixth-round draft pick running back Kenjon Barner was optimistic he’d be ready to play Sunday in his first regular-season game.

Barner injured his foot in the Panthers’ third exhibition at Baltimore and has not seen the field since. He said he still has not run at full speed since the injury but has been working on the sidelines rehabbing during practices.

Last week, Rivera was hopeful Barner could return for the Giants game. Barner refuted conventional wisdom on Monday when asked if it’d be more logical to rest this week, take the bye and return in Week 5 at Arizona.

“I can’t help my team if I’m on the bench,” he said.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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