Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison’s plans for the 4 1/2-hour flight to Charlotte included a first-run movie and a couple of cold ones – sodas, that is.
The way Addison and the rest of his defensive teammates played in a 13-10 victory against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday afternoon, they deserved something a little stronger for the trip home.
Addison gathered two of the Panthers’ four sacks and the suddenly resurgent defense had the crowd of 86,109 at L.A. Memorial Coliseum turning against overmatched Rams quarterback Case Keenum.
Addison smiled when discussing how much sweeter the long flight home would be as a result.
“I can kick my feet up now and watch a little TV, watch one of these newly released movies that’s on the airline,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do, man. Have me like two sodas, kick my feet up and watch TV. It’s going to feel better, flying all the way back home with a win.”
The Panthers were given up for dead when they limped into the bye week on a four-game losing streak. They’ve climbed back to 3-5 with two home games coming up and have done so mostly on the back of their defense.
A week after sacking Carson Palmer eight times in a 30-20 win against Arizona, the defense executed Sean McDermott’s game plan to perfection.
The Panthers threw a blanket over explosive running back Todd Gurley (12 carries for 48 yards) and turned the Rams (3-5) into a one-dimensional offense. With coach Jeff Fisher insisting on delaying the start of the Jared Goff era at least another week – despite the chants for the No. 1 pick from the disapproving home crowd – Keenum vs. the Panthers’ defense was a one-sided fight.
Defensive tackle Kawann Short and Addison forced punts on the Rams’ first two series by knocking down Keenum’s third-down passes at the line, prompting a round of boos in the 93-year-old stadium.
The boos only got louder as the pressures turned into sacks and the Panthers grabbed a 7-0 halftime lead.
Short heard the boos, but decided it was best not to pile on by talking trash to Keenum, who completed 27 of 46 passes for 296 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Keenum finished with a 76.0 passer rating.
“As I’ve always been taught, you never wake up a sleeping bear,” Short said. “You keep talking about a person and the next thing you know they catch on fire. We heard it, but we still have to play our game.”
Fisher defended his decision to stick with Keenum through the first half of the season, nevermind the public opinion. Fisher, sounding like he was addressing a jury, said: “I would submit that Case was not the reason we lost this game.”
Fisher said the Panthers’ commitment to throttle Gurley – which has been every team’s approach against the Rams this season – effectively forced their hand.
“They’re taking the run away with the fronts and the stunting, so we pick it up and throw it,” Fisher said. “It’s not a Todd (Gurley) thing. It’s not a personal thing from Todd.”
Nor was Panthers defensive end Wes Horton personally attacking Gurley when he suggested to the Observer last week that he thought the Panthers would hold him to fewer than 50 yards rushing.
Horton, who has started the past two games ahead of Kony Ealy, was stating the confidence he had in the front seven. If they played sound, gap-disciplined run defense, Gurley wouldn’t have anywhere to run.
Horton, who declined comment after the game, was spot-on.
“Wes was just a man who spoke his words. Whatever he said, we’re going to back him regardless (as a) defensive line,” Short said. “He comes every day busting his (butt) and we’re right there behind him. That guy will come in and wear his hard hat. He’s going to do what he needs to do to help this team win.”
The Panthers’ decision to start alternating their ends more the past two weeks has paid off. It’s meant fresher legs and more reps for Horton and Addison, the speed rusher with the big personality.
“You know, man, speed kills. Anyone that can’t match the speed is going to be defeated,” Addison said. “And that’s what I did – came out playing fast like I normally do.”
As a result, that cross-country trip was going to seem a lot quicker, too.