All week, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had implored his unit to swarm to the ball.
So when cornerback Josh Norman saw linebacker Thomas Davis put the season’s biggest hit on Seattle running back Robert Turbin, he knew he had to congratulate him.
“You could hear it. The crowd said ‘ooo,’ ” Norman said of the hit that had the entire defense celebrating. “I had to come all the way from the other side of the field and give him a tap on the head. I was excited. That’s our (captain), and it created a buzz in every one of us.”
Normanalso made plays that helped energize a defense that had been humbled by weeks of embarrassing losses.
Although the Panthers lost 13-9 to the Seahawks on a touchdown in the final minute, McDermott said Norman, who took over for Melvin White at cornerback, had the best game of any corner for the Panthers this season.
Norman allowed three catches for 14 yards on six targets, had five tackles, two passes defensed and an interception.
There were times when it wasn’t clear Norman would ever get another chance.
After giving up a game-winning touchdown in Week 2 of the 2013 season against Buffalo, he played in five more games with no starts. By Sunday, he had worked himself all the way back.
“Him growing into his role and what’s expected at the position and having a clear understanding, sometimes that takes a year,” McDermott said. “Sometimes (it takes) two, and in this case it’s been 21/2 years. Like a teacher, when the light comes on and stays on, that’s why you coach.”
It was hard watching his teammates play while he sat on the bench, Norman said. He was “really, really frustrated and depressed” last season, when he was inactive for nine games and didn’t record a single defensive statistic after the Buffalo game.
The light is on for him now, but he believes it could have happened earlier.
“It probably would have worked last year but I don’t know. I didn’t get to play, so I can’t really say,” Norman said. “I know that I sat down, I watched a lot for a very long time and I guess coming around to my third year I got into the role of getting back out there and actually playing, knowing what I’m supposed to do and where I’m supposed to be.
“Probably last week or two weeks ago, I don’t know, it just came on. God gave me that light that I needed. You see the evidence from that.”
New Orleans coach Sean Payton said on a conference call Tuesday that Norman’s confidence is clear. Cornerback Antoine Cason and safety Thomas DeCoud also see the confidence and feed off it.
“He’s one of those guys that, at corner, you have to play with a chip on your shoulder and I’d say Josh has a boulder,” DeCoud said. “But I love playing with that guy. I love his swagger, his intensity and the way he shows up. He dares guys to try to catch the ball on him.”
Along with his pass breakup on a deep Russell Wilson pass to Paul Richardson in the third quarter, Norman had an interception at the end of the first half that killed a Seattle drive.
What led up to the interception was a back-and-forth between Norman and Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. Norman jammed Lynch out of bounds on an early play, and Lynch promised to get him back.
On their next meeting, Lynch slung Norman off of him on a short second-down pass in the red zone, causing him to slip and fall. Norman promised he had something for him on the next play.
Wilson threw a bullet to Lynch, whose nickname is Beast Mode, on third-and-goal from the 9. It went through Lynch’s hands and Norman intercepted, returning the ball 26 yards.
“Wilson threw a dart and I came back on his back and ended up getting an interception,” Norman said. “If I would have taken it to the end zone I would have went Beast Mode on him. But hey, I got caught. It’s always fun going out there and playing with guys like that.”
Or with guys who make hits like the one Davis made.
“It’s that release. It’s that energy,” Norman said. “I think it just touches other people and they feel like doing the same thing and just not being so uptight.
“I don’t think this game was meant to be played uptight. When you know what you’re doing and you’re flying around, it creates a barrier of trust for guys to come in and have fun with you.”