When he took over as the Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 tight end, Ed Dickson was confident he could be more productive than he’d been during his first three years in Charlotte if he just got the chance.
Instead, Dickson did what hadn’t been done by an NFL tight end in 56 years.
With Greg Olsen missing his third game with a broken foot, Dickson stepped up with a history-making performance in the Panthers’ 27-24 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
Dickson pulled down five catches for 175 yards, becoming just the second tight end to finish with 175 yards on five receptions or fewer. The Chargers’ Dave Kocourek reached 175 yards on just three catches in a game vs. Buffalo on Dec. 10, 1961.
Dickson, who had a 54-catch season for the Ravens in 2011, hardly seemed surprised by his outburst.
“If anybody followed my career, they know exactly what I can bring to the table,” Dickson said after Sunday’s game. “I pride myself on being an all-around tight end.”
Being an all-around tight end has been mostly blocking since the Panthers signed Dickson before the 2014 season.
Dickson’s arrival from Baltimore coincided with the best years of Olsen’s career – or of any tight end, for that matter. While Olsen became the first tight end in history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Dickson did the dirty work.
He’d line up in the backfield as a blocking fullback, align next to a tackle to help with pass protection on the edge and occasionally would have a ball thrown in his direction.
Dickson’s seasons receiving totals his first three years with the Panthers were 115, 121 and 134 yards.
He had surpassed those totals by halftime against the Lions.
Dickson caught an 18-yard pass during the Panthers’ first series, but was just getting warmed up. On the next possession, Dickson got open down the middle of the field, snared Cam Newton’s pass and shook off a couple of tackle attempts for a 64-yard pickup to the Lions’ 4.
Graham Gano added a short field goal a few plays later to tie the score at 3.
“They left the seam open. Cam did a great job of putting the ball on me. I tried to break a couple tackles,” Dickson said. “I probably would have gotten in the end zone but my shoe came off a little bit. It was a great play to start the game off early on in the first quarter and we rolled from there.”
Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess wasn’t buying Dickson’s my-cleat-came-off excuse.
“Shoelaces, shoes fall off all the time,” Funchess said jokingly. “You still (need) to get in the end zone.”
Dickson had another huge play in the second quarter on a play-action pass on third-and-1. Newton got the linebackers and safeties to freeze on a fake to Jonathan Stewart, bootlegged to his left and dropped a pass to a wide-open Dickson, who rumbled for 57 yards before again being dragged down inside the 10.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton’s bootleg “was about as good as it gets in terms of action.”
The receptions were the longest and third-longest of Dickson’s career, although Funchess chided him for not scoring on either of them.
“I’m glad he got the two long runs,” Funchess said. “I’ve still got to run some gassers with him after practice so he can get in the end zone.”
After Dickson was targeted just once (resulting in an 8-yard catch) in the Week 3 loss to New Orleans, Rivera said the Panthers needed to get him more involved.
Dickson caught three passes for 62 yards in the victory at New England before enjoying an even bigger day at Detroit.
Rivera chalked up Dickson’s success Sunday to the Lions’ rolling their man coverage toward wideout Kelvin Benjamin, leaving the middle of the field vulnerable, and Dickson’s rapport with Newton.
“As long as you practice hard and do the things that make the quarterback feel comfortable, this is the way Ed practices every day. He comes out and practices hard,” Rivera said. “Cam I think has gotten comfortable with him. It’s like Greg. Greg practices hard all the time. So what happens is Cam knows where he’s going to be.”
Dickson’s going to be in the starting lineup for at least five more games before Olsen is eligible to return against the Jets on Nov. 26. He and Olsen talk every day, and Dickson is looking forward to having the Pro Bowler back in the field.
But in the meantime, Dickson – the only Panthers player with a Super Bowl ring – wants to seize the plays.
“Its opportunity. You never know how your opportunity is going to come,” he said. “Missing a player like Greg Olsen, you know we miss him dearly. I’m going to hold it down until he gets back. When they ask me to do a job, that’s what I try to do on each and every play.”