The catch was just another reminder why the Carolina Panthers picked Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th overall selection in May’s draft.
His 26-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter to put the Panthers up 17-0 came when he snagged Derek Anderson’s pass over Tampa Bay cornerback Mike Jenkins’ left arm, despite getting interfered with earlier on the route.
Benjamin was less than impressed with his catch.
“I mean it was OK,” he said after the 20-14 win against Tampa Bay. “I’m pretty sure I’ll make greater catches than that down the line. I’m just real big on moving on from the past.”
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His big-play ability has commonly been referenced by Panthers coach Ron Rivera, general manager Dave Gettleman, receivers coach Ricky Proehl and anyone else who saw film of the 6-foot-5 Benjamin in his redshirt sophomore season at Florida State.
In his past six games going back to college and through the preseason, Benjamin has the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the BCS national championship game, a stumbling 31-yard touchdown against Buffalo in an exhibition and Sunday’s touchdown against the Bucs.
“I don’t know, man. It’s another catch to me,” he said. “It’s the past. It’s over. We got to get ready for the next upcoming game. I don’t really like to dwell on the past.
“I mean I’m big. You got to use your size. You got to overpower him, go get the ball and be strong with your hands.”
Rivera was happy to dwell on the recent past for his rookie receiver.
“It was a heckuva decision to throw the ball that (Anderson) did to Kelvin,” Rivera said. “He had a good read on the play and he was really trying to throw it back shoulder, and the defender was in the way and Kelvin made a helluva play.”
Benjamin finished with a game-high 92 yards on six catches, including two third-down conversions. On a late first-quarter pass, he stumbled on the route but regained composure and caught a ball lofted by Anderson across the middle for 22 yards.
Benjamin’s touchdown catch against Jenkins was the highlight of the game. He got off the ground and talked trash to a defeated Jenkins. He then strutted across the end zone, turned around and continued the strut to the Carolina sideline.
“Just to see his maturation as an overall player is great to see,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “Not only that, he’s always learning. This is his first year. We don’t have time for him to play like a rookie and he hasn’t been playing like a rookie since he came aboard. We’ve expected big things from him and that’s what we’ve gotten.”
For all the good Benjamin did in Raymond James Stadium, he still had one rookie moment. In the closing seconds of the first half, he caught a 13-yard pass to the Tampa Bay 11. He stayed on the ground and talked to his opponent rather than getting up quickly as the clock ticked toward the 11-second mark.
There were also issues with Benjamin’s alignment and route depth, Rivera said. But overall Rivera was pleased with his receiver, even if Benjamin wasn’t as impressed.
“He’s learning,” Rivera said. “And he’s got a lot of confidence in who he is and he makes plays for us.”