In one play against the Houston Texans Sunday, the most criticized Carolina Panthers player and the most criticized Panthers coach came together.
The play was set up by Panthers middle linebacker A.J. Klein, who intercepted Houston’s Ryan Mallet and returned the ball to the Texans’ 36.
On Carolina’s first play from scrimmage, maligned offensive coordinator Mike Shula assessed the Houston defense and called a post for maligned receiver Philly Brown.
Brown beat cornerback Johnathan Joseph, a former South Carolina Gamecock who is pretty good. Joseph played in two Pro Bowls, the last of them in 2013.
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Carolina quarterback Cam Newton faked a handoff and threw a perfect pass. Brown didn’t drop it, and the touchdown and ensuing extra point pushed Carolina’s lead to 14.
The only offensive coordinator in Carolina Panthers history who was popular was new. Once fans became familiar with the offensive coordinator’s work, he was demoted from new to you should be replaced. The best of the coordinators, Dan Henning, also was the most criticized. After his departure, Bill Parcells leaned on Henning to work for him in Miami, and Henning went to work for the Dolphins.
Shula is more conservative than I like, and to follow a big play by attempting another isn’t original. But the timing was impeccable. Shula got the one-on-one coverage he anticipated.
Brown sprinted at Joseph, offered a little fake outside at about the 22 and cut inside toward the goal line. Newton’s pass was where it was supposed to be, and Brown did what he was supposed to. He went after the ball before Joseph could, and he caught it.
A second-year player out of Ohio State, Brown struggled to hang on to passes in the preseason. Many fans wanted the Panthers to sign a veteran receiver such as Reggie Wayne or Randy Moss. The idea was to find a celebrity who was simultaneously eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the AARP.
The Panthers lack a No. 1 wide receiver. Does a team have to have one? New England won Super Bowl XLIX seven months ago, and these are the wide receivers Tom Brady threw to: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and former Panther Brandon LaFell.
Who in that group is the No. 1 receiver, the Julio Jones or Julio Jones Lite?
Edelman, Amendola and LaFell, who collectively have played 20 seasons, have only one 1,000-yard season between them. Carolina rookie Kelvin Benjamin had a 1,000-yard season in his only season. (Benjamin won’t play until 2016 because of a torn ACL.)
The wide receivers Newton throws to are Brown, Ted Ginn Jr., Jerricho Cotchery, Devin Funchess and Kevin Norwood.
Go to the NFL’s receiving statistics. They’re predicated on the number of passes caught. Ginn, the leading Carolina wide receiver, is in a 16-way tie for 88th place. If not for a blatant drop against Houston, he would have moved into an 18-way tie for 71st place.
“Something bad might happen,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera says about his receivers. “But just watching them rebound and come back just speaks to their resilience and the resilience of this football team. I’m not sure what the character of the 2015 team is going to be. But just seeing guys stick with it and come back and make plays – that’s big.”
When Brown was dropping passes, he went by his given name, Corey. Rivera began to refer to Brown as Philly, the name given to him at Ohio State. Philly was targeted four times Sunday and caught three passes for 57 yards.
Maybe when a Panther plays poorly he could be called a Corey. Who threw that interception? Corey Newton. Who collected penalties on Houston’s final drive? Defensive end Corey Ealy. Who wrote that unreadable column? Corey Sorensen.
So that was Philly Brown running the post Sunday and scoring the touchdown. He briefly stood with Ginn beneath the goal post and looked as if he was going to run to his right. He reversed direction, ran to the JUMP ZONE sign and joyously leaped into the bleachers.
When did you know you were going to celebrate with a leap?
“Two years ago,” Brown says with a smile.
He’d been waiting a long time. Haven’t we all?