While a couple of Carolina Panthers players exhibited questionable effort late in Saturday’s 33-16 loss to Atlanta, the guy whose effort has come into question the most this season was going all-out to convert a fourth down in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who has not tried to hide his frustrations this season, fought through a few tacklers – stiff-arming one of them – to pick up 18 yards on a catch-and-run to convert a fourth-and-2.
After finally being pushed out of bounds, Benjamin punctuated the play by emphatically spiking the ball. It was the kind of passion that’s largely been missing from the Panthers’ No. 1 wideout.
“I think it’s just all the frustrations from this year,” Benjamin said in explaining his spike.
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Benjamin caught four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown – his best performance since a seven-catch day against Kansas City on Nov. 13. Benjamin has battled shoulder and back injuries and threw a tantrum in a loss at Oakland last month after he was removed from the game.
But he was all smiles Saturday, saying getting involved in the offense early helped him find a rhythm.
“I definitely haven’t played with that energy I played (with Saturday). It was a crazy season. There was a lot going on,” he said. “But you can’t really dwell on it. It’s whatever. You move on. The criticism, I take it. I just take it, eat it up. This offseason, I’m going to go work and come back even better.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it was great to see Benjamin be productive and play hard.
“You guys saw the energy he can bring when he is making plays and getting opportunities,” Rivera said. “Kelvin probably had his best week this week. I thought he practiced very well. It looked like he was healthy. I don’t think there are any lingering effects of his shoulder.
“He went out and was physical and that is the kind of receiver he is. He can be a dominant guy in this league.”