As if there weren’t enough diversions from the playing field entering Sunday’s game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton defended himself after his “Donkey Kong Suh” comments received nationwide attention.
Newton slapped the moniker on Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on Wedneday during the quarterback’s weekly press conference. Reports out of Detroit were mixed on whether Suh or his teammates cared, but Newton felt it necessary to begin his post-game press conference with a clarification after Sunday’s 24-7 win.
“The initial statement came with me jokingly making a reference to him,” Newton said. “It’s sad that in this day and age we still bring up racism. That was not my initial reason.”
Newton said he had a number of text messages from people accusing him of using a racial slur against Suh. Newton said the term was meant to be a compliment and a reference to Suh’s ability to wreak havoc.
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“Me going forward, I should have called him Wreck-It Ralph,” Newton said. “It was just out of my respect for him. It won’t happen again. Poor judgment of words, but all in all today was a great win for us.”
One Detroit columnist had accused Newton of using a racist nickname referring to a video-game gorilla against Suh, who is black.
At the pre-game captains’ meeting at midfield, Newton and Suh shook hands, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. The two were on the same team in February’s Pro Bowl.
“I never got an opportunity to talk to Suh,” Newton said. “Before the game I think we both were focused, and after the game I never got an opportunity to talk to him. But it was all in good spirit, and that’s it.”
Olsen stays focused : Greg Olsen caught six passes for 72 yards, leading the Panthers in receiving Sunday afternoon.
After the game, he said he would go to Levine Children’s Hospital and spend the night there with his son, T.J.
Olsen has been back and forth from the stadium to the hospital for nearly three weeks after his nearly-2-year-old son had his third and fourth procedures on his heart.
Olsen left Thursday’s practice just before the start to be with his family as his son had another, unexpected procedure.
“It’s been a tough couple of years but really a tough couple of weeks for the kid,” Olsen said. “He’s a had a rough, obviously well-documented, road but he’s doing alright. He’s still in the hospital. Hope that Thursday’s procedure is what he needed to get over the hump a little bit.”
Olsen’s first priority is to his family, but he hasn’t neglected his job. Through two games, Olsen is the team’s leading receiver with 14 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown.
The obligations to his family and his team have forced Olsen to compartmentalize recently.
“I do have a great supporting group and I have a lot of responsibility, and it’s important for me to be here and do what they ask me to do,” Olsen said. “I just try to do the best I can. Sometimes there’s no magic answer, so I just try to be here every day and do my job but also be there for my wife and T.J. and the rest of the kids. He’s a tough kid and he’s a fighter.”
Olsen and his foundation will hold a concert with country music star Lee Brice at Coyote Joe’s on Monday night to raise money and awareness of T.J.’s heart defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, for families affected by it.
Rare recovery: Kicker Graham Gano and punter Brad Nortman wondered earlier in the week if they’d ever get a chance to score a touchdown. Sunday, Gano got as close as he’s ever been.
Linebacker Ben Jacobs stripped Lions kick returner Jeremy Ross on a fourth-quarter kickoff at the 29. Gano collected the ball and fell on top of it to secure the third Panthers takeaway of the game.
“I pulled that ball in and held it so tight,” Gano said. “Somebody else was trying to yank it away from me on the bottom. I was like, ‘I got it! It’s mine, it’s mine!’ I think it was one of our guys. It was pretty funny.”
For a second straight week, Gano had cameras at his locker after the game. Last week in Tampa Bay, he shoved a band member from Bethune-Cookman University while trying to warm up at halftime. The band had arrived late to the stadium but was allowed to play while the kickers warmed up.
The shove got national attention, and Gano apologized to the band member and offered him free tickets to Carolina’s game at Atlanta.
This week, Appalachian State’s band was prepared for their halftime performance at the 2-minute warning.
“The band did a good job at halftime today,” Gano joked.
Williams inactive : The Panthers’ rushing attack sputtered without its all-time leading rusher.
DeAngelo Williams was inactive for the game after dealing with a thigh injury the latter part of last week. He was listed as questionable entering the game.
Jonathan Stewart started in Williams’ place and he had 15 carries for 37 yards and one touchdown. Fullback Mike Tolbert had four rushes for minus-5 yards.
Williams did not practice Thursday or Friday after experiencing tightness in his thigh after Wednesday’s practice. Stewart and Tolbert also combined for four catches for 55 yards. Fozzy Whittaker did not get a carry.
Quarterback Joe Webb, who took special teams reps as well as one receiver rep in practice this week, was also inactive, along with safety Tre Boston, linebacker Jason Williams (thigh), guard/tackle Garry Williams (hip) and guard Andrew Norwell.
• Cam Newton only had four rushes for 19 yards, but he showed he trusts his ankle and ribs enough to take off down the field and absorb hits. He’s still not willing to slide feet-first though, and he did the awkward fall forward again Sunday.
• Charlotte native and Wofford alum Brenton Bersin recorded his first career catch when he hauled in an 8-yard pass from Newton that got the Panthers a first down in the second quarter. Bersin received a big ovation after the catch.
• Linebacker A.J. Klein almost had his first interception of the season on a Stafford pass to former Tar Heel star Eric Ebron, but it went just through his hands and the tight end made the catch.
• Left tackle Byron Bell had his left toe taped up on the sideline during the second half, but he didn’t miss any snaps.
By the numbers
100.2 Passer rating for Cam Newton in his first start in 2014.
18 wins in the past 22 regular-season games for the Panthers.
38 Yards on three catches for former North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, who did not have a reception last week.
5 Tackles broken by Jonathan Stewart on a 22-yard pass reception.
9 Challenges lost by Rivera in his career through Week 2, with just three wins.
• “That situation is for Carolina to handle. I was just speaking on (Hardy) because I have actually been directly involved in domestic violence growing up as a young kid.” – Detroit running back Reggie Bush.
• “One thing we had to do was make (Matthew Stafford) confused back there, hitting him. That’s one thing that we did.” – Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short.
• “Things (drops) happen. Sometimes things go wrong, but you just have to stay into it. That’s what I did, just move on from the last play.” – Carolina receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
• “We like to look at all of the parameters, but one of the things we have now as our goal is to make 100 percent of our kicks.” – Detroit coach Jim Caldwell.