Cam Newton looked Kelvin Benjamin’s way 10 times during Thursday’s 28-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Only twice, did the Carolina Panthers rookie come away with the catch.
And that’s exactly what Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis intended.
Lewis, who is listed at 6 feet 1 inch, said he knew the Panthers were likely to target Benjamin heavily. Hearing whispers before the game about him being too small to defend Banjamin added to his motivation.
“I took it personally,” said Lewis, who held Benjamin to a season-worst two receptions and 18 yards. “I have pride in what I do. For someone to say I couldn’t match up with someone is going to offend me. Even though he’s big, the ball has got to come down to my level at some point. I just need to make the play when it does.”
Benjamin’s best shot came with 10:29 to play in the third quarter and the Saints leading 14-0.
Benjamin had managed to shake his coverage and break open over the middle of the field in the end zone. Newton’s pass was on the mark, but it went off Benjamin’s hands and then chest before falling harmlessly to the Bank of America Stadium turf.
“I think the sky is the limit for (Benjamin),” Lewis said. “Every game ain’t going to be a good game, but I feel like he’s going to give me a good matchup for a long time to come. You look at him, he’s a 6-foot-5 guy, who runs like he’s 5-10. He can go up and get the ball. He scares me.
“That’s a guy who, even though he’s a rookie, is one of the leaders of that team. When you’ve got a guy like (Benjamin), you just don’t want him to get into any kind of rhythm. Once he gets going and Cam Newton gets going, it’s hard to stop.”
Later in the conversation, Lewis smirked and admitted that there were a few instances when Benjamin – who has 38 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns this season – did manage to get open.
“A couple of times Cam Newton could have made the throw and he just didn’t get it to him,” Lewis said. “Like I said, he’s going to be a matchup that I’m going to need to prepare for for years to come.”
The Saints and Panthers meet again in New Orleans on Dec. 7.