There might not have been a more relieved person in Bank of American Stadium than Brenton Bersin after the Carolina Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-16 in an NFL wildcard playoff game Saturday.
Bersin, the Panthers’ rookie returner, muffed a punt in the first quarter, leading to the Cardinals’ first touchdown. It was the kind of mistake the Panthers couldn’t afford against what was an otherwise overmatched Cardinals team.
But there was Bersin, running up on a short punt by Arizona’s Drew Butler. Rather than fair catch the ball, Bersin allowed it to bounce in front of him. The ball hit him in the leg and was recovered by the Cardinals’ Justin Bethel.
“That wasn’t smart; it won’t happen again,” said Bersin after the game. “I’ve got to be smarter than that.”
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Bersin, who played high school ball at Charlotte Latin, said after Butler had started the game with two short punts of 20 and 28 yards, that he wanted to move up to field the third.
“I knew he wasn’t hitting the ball very well,” said Bersin. “I tried to run up and save some yardage on it. Again, that wasn’t smart.”
Bersin said he had trouble shaking off the mistake as the game wore on.
“It was hard,” said Bersin. “But football is a team game. Everybody was coming up to me, telling me to forget about it. I appreciated it. But you’ve got to have a short-term memory in this game. I can’t let it affect me.”
Johnson plays with heavy heart: Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson had one of his best games, despite playing with a lot on his mind. Johnson said his grandmother, Ella Johnson, is terminally ill.
Johnson missed Friday’s walkthrough after traveling to Hawkinsville, Ga., to visit his grandmother, who had the lower portion of her left leg amputated in November after developing gangrene.
Johnson said he plans to return to Georgia on Sunday.
“My grandma, she’s not going to make it,” Johnson said. “I went down there and saw her the last two days. I’ve been thinking about her, and that’s all I’ve been thinking about.”
Johnson, who had two sacks on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, said his grandmother encouraged him to play.
“She wouldn’t have wanted me to sit by her. She wanted me to play ball,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad I’m here. These guys here mean a lot to me.”
The Newton fumble : Cam Newton’s fumble in the fourth quarter – one that appeared at first to be an incomplete pass – was similar to a fumble by Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown’s against the Panthers on Dec. 14.
McCown had a memorable quote after the game about the call: “I didn’t feel like I did not throw it.”
Ginn makes return to Charlotte : It was a bitter and sweet return to Charlotte for Cardinals receiver/returner Ted Ginn, who played for the Panthers last season. He had a 48-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, but also fumbled in the third quarter to set up a Panthers touchdown. He also bobbled – but hung on to – a fair catch in the fourth quarter.
Hochuli mic mishaps : Referee Ed Hochuli’s microphone stayed open a few entertaining times. He was heard laughing during the pregame coin toss, then said “I got the word from ‘jungle boy’ that was a good call,” after a penalty.
Hochuli was referring to replay official Tom Sifferman, according to a tweet from NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino.
A little later, Hochuli said it was the end of the first quarter when it was the end of the third quarter. He let slip another ‘jungle boy’ late in the fourth quarter, too.
• The new sod laid down over the middle portion of the field held up just fine. The 16-yard swath was put down after Tuesday’s Belk Bowl, the first of two games in five days on the field.
• In a show of unity, neither of the Panthers offensive nor defensive teams were introduced prior to the game.
By the numbers
78 Total yards by Arizona, fewest
in NFL postseason history.
44.3 Quarterback rating for
Arizona’s Ryan Lindley.
10 Tackles by Panthers linebacker
• “I think everybody saw (a penalty) except the guys in the striped shirts.” – Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, referring to a non-call on a long pass play to receiver Michael Floyd, who was appeared to be held by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.
• “It’s a pass we rep a lot in practice.” – Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly on his interception in the fourth quarter.
• “It was a whole lot of excitement and rightfully so.” – Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on the atmosphere in the stadium.