Scott Fowler

For Carolina Panthers, ‘Ted Ginn Experience’ about to hit Super Bowl 50

Ted Ginn Jr. said his performance against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game “was personal.”
Ted Ginn Jr. said his performance against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game “was personal.” dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Deep touchdown passes. Entertaining news conferences. Muffed punt returns. Great punt returns. Stylish hats. Horrendous drops. A reverse in which he crisscrossed the field for 90 dazzling yards for a 22-yard touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

It is all part of what I like to call “The Ted Ginn Experience” – the dizzying, frustrating, exhilarating thrill ride that every Carolina Panthers fan takes whenever the ball gets near No. 19.

Although Ginn is not one of Carolina’s 10 Pro Bowlers, in my mind he will be one of the five most important players the team will put on the field for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night against Denver.

Ginn could be a legendary Super Bowl MVP. Ginn could be a legendary Super Bowl goat. All things become possible when you hop aboard “The Ted Ginn Experience.”

When Ginn is on the field, the Panthers are a different team and a better team. Much like Cam Newton’s running, Ginn’s pure speed is not always used but is always a threat. Safeties don’t creep near the line of scrimmage with designs on stopping the run nearly as often when Ginn dances outside, ready to sprint 50 yards down the field again. Because of that, the defense has one fewer unblocked player trying to make a tackle on a Carolina running back.

Ginn has scored a career-high 11 touchdowns this season. Once the No. 9 overall pick of the 2007 draft – five years later, the Panthers grabbed Luke Kuechly at No. 9 overall – Ginn has been a moderate to major bust in Miami, San Francisco and Arizona.

It was personal

After playing a remarkable game against the Cardinals in Carolina’s 49-15 rout to make the Super Bowl, Ginn revealed how angry he was that Arizona had cut him after one unproductive season in 2014.

Ginn had a 32-yard punt return, the reverse for a TD, two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown-saving rundown of Patrick Peterson on an interception return against Arizona. Afterward, he said: “Yes, it was personal.”

“I felt like deep down inside that (the Cardinals) thought I couldn’t do it,” Ginn said. “They sent me back out to the wolves.”

But in Carolina, Ginn has shone in both 2013 and 2015. By necessity, he became the Panthers’ No. 1 wide receiver this season after Kelvin Benjamin’s season-ending injury in training camp.

Said Ginn: “Once Kelvin went down, Cam told me, ‘Come on, Ted, let’s have the best you that you’ve ever had.’ And we went out and we put work in. We changed a lot of things up because of the size of me (Ginn is small for an NFL wide receiver, generously listed at 5-11 and 185 pounds and half a foot shorter than Benjamin). And we just went out and we wanted to be great, and it showed.”

Thrilling, terrifying

What is so bedeviling about Ginn is how he can make a great play and a terrible play, often in the same 10-minute span. Against New Orleans in a 41-38 victory in December, Ginn managed to drop not one but two passes that could have gone for long TDs. But Ginn also scored twice in the same game, on catches of 45 and 13 yards.

Said wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl, who along with offensive coordinator Mike Shula has maximized Ginn’s output all season: “For me, Teddy’s got all the tools to be great. He can run. He can get in and out of a cut. He’s not just a straight-line guy. He’s got good hands, although at times he’s inconsistent. It’s just building that confidence and playing up to his ability where he can thrive and be successful. We know who he is and what he is, what he does well and what he doesn’t.”

The Panthers have particularly worked on diversifying Ginn’s route-running this season. “You look two years ago at what he did,” Proehl said, “and he went deep, and he ran a lot of comebacks. Now he’s running over the middle. He’s doing a lot of different things that keep defenses off-balance. ... And he’s as good as there is running after a catch. That’s when the punt returner in him comes out. It’s just a matter of getting the ball in his hands.”

Still plenty fast

At 30 and finishing the first year of a two-year deal with Carolina this time around, Ginn is not quite as fast as he once was. He told me the fastest he had ever been was when he starred at Ohio State, when his 40 time was around 4.3.

“The last time I ran a timed 40, I was about 27 or 28 and just playing around,” Ginn said. “It was in the low 4.4s.”

That’s still plenty fast, and Ginn also has the advantage of natural shiftiness. His 90-yard sprint for the 22-yard TD against Arizona was a breathtaking example and one that made his childhood friend LeBron James go on Twitter to rave about it.

“Yeah sometimes you just have to bring your talent out,” Ginn said. Newton was so happy about Ginn’s crossfield scramble that he nearly ran into the wide receiver at the tail end of the play to celebrate.

“Cam scared me at the end,” Ginn said.

A second Super Bowl

Ginn has played in a Super Bowl before, with an unhappy result. In the “Harbaugh Super Bowl” of the 2013 postseason, San Francisco desperately hoped that Ginn could return a free kick for a touchdown after an intentional Baltimore safety had the Ravens leading 34-31 with four seconds remaining. Ginn went 31 yards but was tackled at midfield as time expired.

Ginn was an afterthought as a receiver on that 49ers team. This time he comes in as an essential part of a Carolina team that averaged 31.25 points per game in the regular season – tops in the NFL – and has averaged 40 points per game in the postseason.

“I’ve always been a receiver, not just a punt returner,” Ginn said. “It’s just now, in other people’s eyes, maybe they know I’m a receiver, too.”

Certainly the Panthers know it, as do their fans.

They have paid their money. They are holding their breath. It’s almost time to board the ride. “The Ted Ginn Experience” is about to start spinning one more time.

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