Michigan alumnus Devin Funchess never got to match up against Ohio State product Marshon Lattimore in the famous collegiate rivalry.
Funchess also missed out on squaring up with the rookie cornerback twice this year in the heated NFC South rivalry, as Lattimore missed both games against the Carolina Panthers in the regular season while dealing with injuries.
But Funchess, now the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver, is eager to see Lattimore across the line of scrimmage in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game.
“It’s going to be fun. He plays his game, I play my game,” said Funchess this week. “They’ve got 10 other people on the field too, that have to play their game too. Like I said, it’s going to be fun on Sunday.
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“What time do we play? Just be in for the show.”
Lattimore earned the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the month award for December – his second time getting the honor this year – despite missing a game with an ankle injury. He had three interceptions during that time, including the now-famous “butt pick” in which he secured the ball against his behind.
The No. 11 overall draft pick finished the regular season with 52 tackles, 18 passes defended, five interceptions, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble and one touchdown.
Carolina’s receivers were very complimentary of Lattimore this week and expect him to lock in on Funchess for most of Sunday’s game.
“He’s a very talented kid, man. Long, rangy, he’s a guy that they ask, I think he’s going to match Funchess,” wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “I think he’s going to follow him around. When Funch isn’t in, I think he’s going to be a guy that kind of dictates the defense. But he’s a very talented guy. Watching him and (Tampa Bay’s) Mike Evans go at it last week was pretty impressive. I look forward to finally going out there and seeing him play.”
Shepard also pointed out that the Saints defensive backfield looks a little different with Lattimore on the field (he missed three games this season), there might be a chance to capitalize on some riskier aspects of the rookie’s game.
“They’re more of a risk-taking (defensive) backfield. (Lattimore) is going to press you. He’s going to play man-to-man. You don’t see a lot of corners, especially young rookie corners, playing press-man on third downs. So that says a lot about their trust in him, and it says a lot about his game.
“You’re going to give up big plays when you do that. I don’t care if you’re Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson, I mean when you play that type of defense, when you’re confident in your ability like that, at times it’s a double-edged sword. It’s going to get you at times. And we look forward to taking advantage of that.”
Funchess stepped into the role of Carolina’s No. 1 receiver following the trade of Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo and has had a career year with 63 catches for 840 yards and eight touchdowns. A nagging shoulder injury has been a factor, however. In his past three games, he has averaged just three catches and 26 yards per game, with one touchdown.
Carolina may test Lattimore early, using Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey to bring defenders to the middle of the field – leaving Funchess and Lattimore in a vertical one-on-one matchup.
A resurgence in Funchess’ production – especially against the league’s leading Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate – could help the Panthers keep their postseason run alive.