A pair of young, lesser-known players made key plays to help the Panthers earn their first win of the season Sunday over Washington: Safety Quinton Teal and receiver/kick returner Kenny Moore. CSR caught up with both Wednesday afternoon...
Teal made one of the biggest plays of the game Sunday, forcing a Washington fumble on a rare special teams play midway through the fourth quarter. Teal's move gave the Panthers the ball at the Washington 13, trailing 17-12. Jonathan Stewart scored two plays later on an 8-yard run to give Carolina its first fourth-quarter lead this season. Washington would not score again.
Here's what happened: The Panthers punted from near midfield. It was a short kick, and Washington return man Antwaan Randle El scooted up and called for a fair catch outside his own 20. Teal lined up as the Panthers' gunner and got locked up with Washington special teamer Byron Westbrook. The pair moved near Randle El as he signaled for the fair catch and Teal shoved Westbrook into Randle El. Both Redskins fell to the ground and the ball struck Westbrook's foot.
Panthers corner Dante Wesley recovered the loose ball at the Washington 13 and officials, after deliberating for a while, awarded the ball to the Panthers.
Teal's move was within NFL rules. Because he and Westbrook were engaged blocking each other, he was allowed to push Westbrook into Randle El. If Westbrook had stopped blocking him and stood idly, Teal would have been whistled for a penalty by knocking Westbrook into Randle El. Washington would have been awarded the ball, close to its own 40.
So this was a perilous play. Teal had to be precise with his shove and careful not to commit a penalty that would have moved Washington close to field goal range in a 5-point game. Here is how he did it:
As Teal sprinted down the field to cover the punt, he engaged with Westbrook and saw Randle El moving up to field it. But Westbrook had his back to Randle El. "I knew Westbrook didn't see him," Teal said Wednesday as he stood by his locker, a black-and-teal hoodie covering much of his head. "I thought this was the perfect time to do this.
"When I saw (Randle El) put his hand up, then I just pushed (Westbrook)."
Teal never saw the ball hit Westbrook. "I just seen when Dante (Wesley) recovered it," he said, "and I thought, ‘I hope it hit somebody on the Redskins.' "
Teal was upset when officials at first awarded the ball to Washington, saying the Panthers had touched it first. They probably did not see it hit Westbrook, he says. He was thrilled when officials later made the correct ruling.
"We needed that play at that time," he says. "It's a big play." The biggest play, in fact, of his three-year NFL career, he says.
Teal had prepared for that play long before Sunday. The Panthers practice it during training camp walk-throughs, he says. (They don't practice it live because that would be too dangerous to the return man's health).
"I learned it when I got here," he says. "You rarely see it happen, but you go over it."
The Panthers had not gone over it since training camp, but Teal remembered what to do Sunday when he was inserted into the Panthers' punt coverage unit -- only after an injury to rookie Captain Munnerlyn forced Munnerlyn out of the game.
When asked if he felt opportunistic, then, to make that play, Teal smiled and replied: "You've got to know your rules."
Teal will not stand by that play. After starting the first three games in place of injured safety Chris Harris and making a play that helped spark the Panthers' first win of the season, he says he is not even assured of being on the punt coverage unit again this Sunday at Tampa Bay.
Said Teal: "I'm just going to go out there with the same mind-set (as always)."
Moore, a Charlotte native, also made a big play Sunday. His 55-yard kickoff return early in the third quarter gave the Panthers excellent field position on their second possession of the second half. More importantly, it ignited a rally from a 17-2 deficit.
Here's what happened: Washington had just capitalized on a DeAngelo Hall interception with a Clinton Portis touchdown run, extending its lead to 15 with about 10 minutes to play in the third. Moore caught the ensuing kickoff at his own 5 in the right corner, found a seam near the right sideline, juked the Washington kicker and ran to the Washington 40 before Redskins special teamer Devin Thomas forced him out of bounds.
After he had caught the kick, Moore ran slightly to his left to draw the defense that way. "The biggest thing is to set (the return) up right," he said. His teammates made their blocks and opened a hole to the right. Moore cut back in that direction at the 14, exploded through the hole and faked out kicker Shaun Suisham.
He saw space in front of him. "I was thinking, ‘run as fast as I can and try to score,' " he says.
Moore thought he could score when he avoided a tackle from Thomas along the sideline. He did not realize he had stepped out until he heard a referee's whistle. The Panthers scored four plays later on a Jake Delhomme pass to tight end Jeff King, needing only to move 40 yards because of Moore's return.
The return seemed to lift the Panthers, Moore said. "There was a lot more energy on the sideline. Guys were more into it.
"We just needed it as a team," he added. "We were able to come out with momentum."
Like Teal, Moore was only in position to make a big play because of injury. Kickoff returner Mike Goodson missed the game, so Moore split the duties with Jonathan Stewart and returned two kickoffs against Washington - or one more kickoff return than he had previously in his NFL career. Also like Teal, Moore said Wednesday he doesn't know if he will get another opportunity in that position. Goodson could return to action this Sunday at Tampa Bay.
The return was the biggest play of Moore's two-year career, he says. Albeit, it's a career that has included only four games. Moore sat on the Detroit Lions' practice squad to begin last season and, after the Panthers acquired him in October 2008, he was inactive for the rest of the season.
When asked if it was special to make a big play at home, Moore replied: "It's special period to just make a big play for my team."