The Panthers’ onside kick “hands” team has a strange alignment and one you don’t see very often in the NFL.
New England, for instance, had to recover an onside kick Saturday in a similar situation as Carolina – up by a single touchdown very late in the game. The Patriots set it up so tight end Rob Gronkowski was the guy who was going to catch the ball, with everyone else blocking for him. When Denver recovered an onside kick late Sunday to clinch a win over Pittsburgh, a running back got it.
For Carolina, the Panthers put tight end Greg Olsen in the middle to field the “bunt” – the type of kick where the kicker tries to “bunt” it 10 yards and kick it to himself. But Carolina used two defensive players as the guys stacked behind the nine men at the line – Thomas Davis and Josh Norman – as Seattle tried to get the ball back, down 31-24.
That shows you the trust Carolina has in its defense. It also showed that the Panthers didn’t want wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. or Philly Brown handling the ball in that situation.
Quarterback Cam Newton put in a playful plea after the game to be on the “hands” team for future onside kicks.
“I was always wondering why I’m not on the ‘hands’ team,” Newton said. “I catch the ball on every single shotgun snap. ... These hands are tailgate-approved, much appreciated and no gloves either. Nothing artificial. Just straight organic hands. You don’t see that much in this day and age.”
▪ If you tried to get onto Ticketmaster Sunday at 7 p.m. to buy single-game tickets for the NFC Championship Game and did not succeed, don’t feel too terrible. It happened to a whole lot of people.
▪ The helpfulness of a playoff bye was apparent this weekend. All four road teams won in the NFL playoffs’ first round. All four of those teams went on the road again for the divisional round, and all four of those same teams lost against higher-seeded teams who had last weekend off.
▪ Ginn played Sunday, but it was hard to tell. Ginn was targeted once and didn’t have a single catch all day. He also fumbled a punt, but recovered it. Just his presence on 50-yard deep routes, though, helped open things up for Greg Olsen (77 yards, one TD).
▪ Olsen said the 19-yard TD he scored in the second quarter was on a play very similar to the one he scored the game-winner on vs. Seattle in October. There were two differences. One, he lined up on the left instead of the right. Two?
“This time, they covered me,” said Olsen, who beat double coverage on the play.
▪ Carolina has normally done well with Marshawn Lynch and Sunday was no exception. Lynch was in “Least Mode” – he ran the ball only six times for 20 yards and was out for much Seattle’s second-half comeback when the Seahawks wanted more receivers on the field.