If you were stunned by Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s lack of production Sunday, you weren’t the only one.
“He didn’t have any catches?” Minnesota Vikings defensive back Captain Munnerlyn asked incredulously following his team’s 22-10 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
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Munnerlyn, a former Panther, spoke during the week of relishing a chance to cover Benjamin, who had 13 receptions for 199 yards in Carolina’s first two games.
Benjamin anticipated greater attention from defenses going forward. But he never expected to be snuffed out so thoroughly. Not only didn’t Benjamin have a catch, but it took until late in the fourth quarter for quarterback Cam Newton to target him with a pass. Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels broke up that pass attempt.
Worse still, Benjamin was called for a block-in-the-back penalty that negated what would have been a 56-yard touchdown reception by running back Fozzy Whittaker.
Asked how this day compared to all his others with the Panthers, Benjamin said, “Probably the worst all-around.”
Benjamin didn’t see anything particularly exotic in how the Vikings defended him. But they did appear to slide a safety in his direction on a regular basis.
According to Munnerlyn, the Vikings just never let the 6-foot-5 245-pound Benjamin out of their sight.
“I just think we knew where Benjamin was the whole time,” said Munnerlyn. “(Devin) Funchess, we weren’t worried about him. It was Kelvin Benjamin.
“I’m just gonna be honest. Me personally, and I never talk like this, I personally don’t think (Funchess is) that good. So we weren’t really worried about him. We were just worried about Benjamin and Ted (Ginn Jr.) and Philly (Brown). We knew those guys would come in, they would feed them well and we just tried to communicate and make plays.”
Newton completed 22 passes, spread among seven receivers not named Benjamin. Newton has sometimes been criticized for locking on Benjamin as a target, making the Panthers’ offense predictable.
“Whatever they were doing was effective,” Newton said of how the Vikings neutralized Benjamin. “We have to have answers for it so that can’t happen again. We have to get our playmakers involved in the game plan and it starts with me as the signal-caller.”
Newton was as shocked as Munnerlyn was by Benjamin’s zero-catch day.
“For him not to have any touches is, you know, really baffling and wowing,” Newton said. “But you know, we just had to find ways.”
Benjamin said the situation was complicated by all the sacks the Panthers gave up Sunday and the penalties they committed.
“How many sacks did we give up? Seven? Eight? That’s self-explanatory, right?” Benjamin said of an offense that went scoreless the last three quarters. “We gave up a lot of sacks that put us in bad third-down situations. We weren’t converting.”
The Panthers committed 10 penalties, costing them 65 yards. Benjamin was called for holding and later the block-in-the-back that negated Whittaker’s score.
“I had one hand on the back of his shoulder and one on the front. So they called it,” Benjamin recalled of the block-in-the-back.
“As a team, you can’t leave it in the officials’ hands. We had a team down 10-0. You’ve got to finish.”