Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin continued to wow in his rookie season with four catches for 94 yards in the 13-9 loss to Seattle, including a 51-yard catch in double coverage Sunday against Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
He also continued to behave like a rookie.
Benjamin sat out the first three plays of the game because he was late for a Saturday meeting, team sources told the Observer.
Benjamin and coach Ron Rivera said it was a coach’s decision that sat Benjamin for the first few plays, but the decision came from a continued lack of work ethic from Benjamin.
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Rivera said the message to Benjamin was “that you are accountable just like everybody else.”
It didn’t take long for Cam Newton to find Benjamin in the game after the rookie started to play. On the Panthers’ fifth offensive play, Benjamin hauled in a 17-yard pass from Newton against Sherman.
“I really didn’t worry about it,” Benjamin said of not starting. “When I got my chance and got in, I just wanted to make my mark and get the offense going and help the team.”
Early in the second quarter, though, Benjamin dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone. He got two hands on the ball, which was placed where only he could catch it, but he couldn’t bring it in.
During the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 6, Benjamin caught a 51-yard pass from Newton on third-and-11 over both Sherman and Thomas. The play got the Panthers past midfield and in position for a 46-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
“He’s a really good receiver,” Sherman said. “He’s huge and he has a huge catch radius. You have to be aware of all that. He has speed. He made some fantastic plays today.”
Bell suffers through injury: Left tackle Byron Bell didn’t have his best day against the Seahawks, and as injuries mounted, so did pressure from Seattle outside linebacker Bruce Irvin.
Bell played through elbow and leg injuries, but he left the game on the final series. Rivera wouldn’t go as far as to say Bell had become a liability.
“I don’t want to say that,” Rivera said. “He tried the best he could.”
Undrafted rookie David Foucault played both right and left tackle because of injuries to Nate Chandler and Bell throughout the game. At one point, Rivera considered using an offensive guard at tackle.
“I thought (Bell) fought, he did the best he could,” Rivera said. “At the end of the day it got us. He did the best he could against Bruce and we were shuffling in between Nate and Byron with David Foucault, we were trying to play the healthiest guy out there. We were in a tough position and I thought the three of those guys tried to do things the right way.”
Bersin’s ups and downs: Brenton Bersin returned a kick for the first time since he played at Charlotte Latin, and his 49-yard return was the longest kickoff return for the Panthers since 2011.
“I just took it right up the middle,” said Bersin, who jokes that he’s a one-cut-and-go type of returner. “Great blocking by the wedge and I just cut it up. I got tackled by the kicker, which is never good. But it was a good return.
“(Special teams coach Richard Rodgers) came up to me and I said, ‘I know I know, I got tackled by the kicker.’ He was like, ‘Good return.’ ”
Bersin’s day wasn’t all big returns and sideline smiles, though. With starting returner Philly Brown out with a concussion, he muffed the first punt of the game at the Carolina 28, but Carolina recovered it.
“I didn’t secure it,” Bersin said. “I started running without the ball. That’s on me.”
‘Kings’ of the South: Despite a 3-4-1 record, Carolina still leads its division. The NFC South limped to an 0-3 afternoon with losses by Tampa Bay and Atlanta, and despite Carolina’s loss, the Panthers still were in first place.
With three wins and one tie, Carolina had a better winning percentage than its division foes no matter the outcome of the Packers-Saints game Sunday night.
Thomas Davis said the Panthers can’t keep counting on other teams to beat division rivals.
“We’re sitting in the spot right now, but it really boils down to us winning the division games right now,” Davis said.
• The Panthers didn’t pick the best day to be in their black jerseys. It was 77 degrees at kickoff, and the team had shade screens over the bench through most of the game.
• Jonathan Stewart came in with 16 forced missed tackles on 42 touches, and he forced numerous others Sunday on his way to 79 rushing yards.
• Rookie defensive end Kony Ealy got his first sack of the season against Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He was pumped up after the game. “When I get that first one, the spark will be lit. Now that fire is staying up. I know what it feels like to get that monkey off your back as a rookie.”
• Safety Thomas DeCoud pulled his hamstring on a deep second-half pass and was replaced by Tre Boston. DeCoud said the team staff would have to drag him away “kicking and screaming” for him to miss Thursday’s game.
• Backup safety Colin Jones got the start at nickel cornerback and said the position felt natural to him after he got reps at it in practice last week. He had experience with it in college.
• Quarterback Joe Webb was active for the second time this season. He was in for a handful of offensive snaps and returned one kick for 27 yards.
By the numbers
3 Targets for tight end Greg Olsen, his fewest since Week 10 of last year.
19:06 Time of possession for Carolina in the first half.
61.0 Passer rating for Newton, which was his worst since Week 12 of last year against Miami.
28 Wins for Newton and Rivera all-time with the Panthers.
28 Losses for Newton and Rivera all-time with the Panthers, with one tie.
• “When I don’t play my best, I look forward to the next opportunity I have. And that’s every week.” – Seattle quarterback Wilson.
• “We don’t have a real bye coming for quite some time so we are just going to have to play who is healthy and keep going forward.” – Rivera.
• “We have to be better. We know that. We don’t need anybody to tell us that when we look at the statistics at the end of the game.” Newton.
• “We know what type of quarterback (Newton) is and that is how we played this game; we adjusted. I think he’s only scored one touchdown against us since we’ve been playing.” – Seattle safety Thomas.