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Panthers’ Ted Ginn Jr. plays bigger role in San Francisco this time

PANTHERS_49ERS_29
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., mostly an afterthought in the receiving game for the San Francisco 49ers last season, played a big role for the Panthers on Sunday, including a punt return that set up the winning field goal. This first-half return was just the appetizer.

San Francisco With less than 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Ted Ginn Jr. casually caught an 11-yard pass from Cam Newton at the San Francisco 49 for a first down.

He dragged his back foot while his motion sent him slowly out of bounds. He stood there at the San Francisco sideline, staring at 49ers safety Bubba Ventrone.

Ventrone wasn’t even on the 49ers team last year, but that didn’t seem to bother Ginn, the former 49er.

In his return to Candlestick Park in the Panthers’ 10-9 victory Sunday, Ginn made it clear he was looking to make a statement against his old team.

Ginn finished with two catches for 19 yards, including that third-down conversion on the sideline, and returned three punts for 65 yards.

“Any time a team says we don’t want you anymore, obviously there’s a little bit of a chip on your shoulder,” said Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who has played against Chicago twice since leaving the Bears after four seasons. “I know I felt that way for a while. I’m happy for him and happy for a lot of our guys that got wins.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last week he knew the San Francisco game would mean a little extra to Ginn, who toiled on the receiving depth chart for three years before being signed by Carolina during the offseason.

Ginn, who was not in the locker room during media availability, had 12, 19 and two catches, respectively, in his three seasons with the 49ers. Last year his two catches harvested 1 yard.

Entering Sunday, he had 21 catches for 367 yards through Carolina’s first eight games.

More than being a threat in the receiving game, Ginn’s return abilities helped Carolina’s field position.

He returned a second-quarter punt 19 yards to the Carolina 43, but the drive stalled.

In the fourth, his 25-yard return went to the San Francisco 44. Seven plays later, Carolina had its first lead of the game, on a 53-yard field goal by Graham Gano.

“The special teams was outstanding,” Rivera said. “(Ginn) was wired up and he wanted to crack one. He had a couple chances and made a couple plays.”

Ginn left the game and went to the locker room during the third quarter with leg cramps and received an IV. He returned to the sideline early in the fourth quarter, though.

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell filled in for one punt return, which he downed at the Carolina 11. Rivera said Ginn’s brief absence didn’t change much other than giving No.4 wide receiver Domenik Hixon an opportunity to make a catch.

Ginn fair caught a punt at the Carolina 32 with less than three minutes left in the game. And as he stood there, he mockingly offered the ball to 49ers gunner Darryl Morris, who didn’t even attempt to take it.

“Those punt returns, those are hidden-yardage plays that have a huge effect on the outcome of the game,” Olsen said. “When you’re playing a good team, field position battles are so important. Having a guy like Ted, I know this meant a lot for him, but he’s been playing like this all year.”

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