Daryl Worley marched right up to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a grin after picking him off in the first quarter of Carolina’s 31-24 victory Sunday.
The Green Bay receivers, said Worley after the game, were pulling double moves left and right on the secondary, in an attempt to get enough separation on defensive backs to get Rodgers into an early rhythm in his first game since breaking his collarbone in Week 6.
“(I just told him), ‘Let’s get back to running regular routes, no more double moves,” said Worley.
“He said something like, ‘Early Christmas present.’”
Worley has plans for the ball, too.
“I’m going to try to get (Rodgers) to sign it,” he said. “When he retires. Maybe when he loses a little of that competitiveness.”
Rodgers certainly got into the gift-giving spirit Sunday. He threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions for a 71.0 passer rating.
Carolina forced four total turnovers despite featuring a bit of a new-old look in its nickel assignments.
Base nickel Captain Munnerlyn was a healthy scratch (head coach Ron Rivera made the decision Saturday, just days after Munnerlyn left practice while it was still in session). Carolina was also without big “buffalo” nickel Shaq Thompson as he continues to recover from plantar fasciitis.
So Carolina relied on cornerback Kevon Seymour as the “little nickel” in the slot, while playing longtime safety (and largely special-teamer) Colin Jones in their “frog” package, which is just a variation of the package used for Thompson. In fact, the “frog” was used by Carolina before Thompson ever arrived in Charlotte.
Jones made the most of his opportunity with three tackles, two passes defensed and an interception.
“‘Cream,’ he’s awesome,” said Worley, calling Jones by his nickname. “Cream is old reliable. We know he’s going to be out there and he’ll make a play. And honestly, he’s just doing his job. That’s one thing you can always count on Cream to do. He went out there and made a play on the ball. It was amazing. That’s just him. Cream gets in where he fits in.”
Naturally (because this is just the oddly identical way the two second-year cornerbacks’ seasons have played out), Jones’ pick was bookended by a third-quarter interception from James Bradberry, who says that anytime he sees Worley make a splash play, he feels like he needs to get one, too.
The two have combined for four interceptions in two weeks, after both entered Week 14 without an interception.
“I mean, we’re working on it,” Worley joked. “It hasn’t come to us all season and you guys (in the media) were hassling us, so we’re just trying to get you guys off our backs.”
A huge factor in the success of Carolina’s takeaways was the pressure the front seven – especially the defensive line – attained early and often. While the first sack on Rodgers didn’t pop until the second half, the Panthers got penetration against the Packers line enough to force Rodgers to scramble. Two of the three interceptions he threw came after heavy pressure – both were underthrown, and off Rodgers’ back foot.
“The one thing we didn’t want him to do is get comfortable back there,” said defensive tackle Kawann Short, who had one quarterback hit on Rodgers. “We wanted him moving around, and him and the receivers getting on different pages. So I think that was one of the big things we had going into this weekend.”
Defensive end Wes Horton finally broke the seal on the sacks for Carolina in the fourth quarter, and he was followed shortly after by the combined efforts of Thomas Davis and Star Lotulelei, and then Mario Addison and Julius Peppers on a huge fourth-down stop.
Peppers and Addison were credited with a half-sack apiece, which means they are still tied for the team lead with 10.
The sack, which came on fourth down and 14 (and immediately after Davis and Lotulelei’s), should have sealed the effort.
But big plays from opposing offenses borne of mental mistakes do at times still hamper the Panthers defense.
Rodgers connected with tight end Richard Rodgers for a wide-open 24-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that brought the game within a touchdown with 2:48 to play.
“We know how to keep it interesting,” joked quarterback Cam Newton after the game, when discussing the near-comeback by Green Bay in the fourth quarter after that touchdown, followed by the Packers’ successful onside kick.
On the next drive, Bradberry was called for a hold on Rodgers (the receiver). But on the very next play, Bradberry “Peanut-punched” the ball out of receiver Geronimo Allison’s arms (a move taught to him by the man himself, Charles “Peanut” Tillman when he spent time with the young corners last year).
Safety Mike Adams recovered the fumble to seal the game.
“I was very happy for those guys because they have worked at it,” said Rivera. “I know they (were) much-maligned at one point because we weren’t getting the takeaways. Those guys have worked, they focused in, they concentrated on doing things the right way. ... When we do those things, we give ourselves a chance to have success.”