San Jose, Calif. -- The Carolina Panthers wide receivers played a vital role in the team having the best record in the NFL and are on the verge of winning a championship. A feat that will be accomplished only if they are the TEAM that plays the best when they face the Broncos in Santa Clara on Sunday.
But when it was the Panthers turn to field questions from the media on Monday at SAP Center for Super Bowl Opening Night, most of the eyes and ears in the arena were geared toward Cam Newton and the standout members of its defense, few on the receivers.
“That’s how it goes in the NFL if you’re not one of the big guys, one of the headline guys” said Tight End Ed Dickson, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens.
The headline guy – Newton – will likely receive the league’s MVP Trophy after having an outstanding season, in which he threw 35 touchdowns and added 10 more via rushing attempts. However, he couldn’t have achieved those statistics without the lesser-known guys who were on the receiving end of throws.
“We have a lot of unselfish guys who have continued to make plays all season,” said Dickson. “The way the wide receiving core has stepped up, we went into this as a family.
They were calling for eight wins this season once [Kelvin] Benjamin went out.”
Benjamin was the star player from Carolina’s wide receiver group last year in his rookie season. But he spent this entire season cheering on from the sidelines after tearing an ACL last August. And for the most part, the other pass catchers not named Greg Olsen were written off.
“I think they are the most overlooked group on the team,” said Benjamin. “Without them, none of this would be possible. Cam was able to balance it out where no one could key onto one receiver. I think by having that balance, they are hard to stop.”
Four times during Carolina’s 15-1 regular season, teams thought they had the Panthers caged while leading in the fourth quarter. Only to end the game with a loss after Carolina wide receivers rewarded Newton’s confidence in them.
Ted Ginn, who led this team with 10 receiving touchdowns, thinks the Panthers have one of the best wide receiving cores in the game.
“Every time it was time for us to make a play, we made one,” said Ginn. “No matter if it was me, Philly, Funchess… whoever you want to name… You know, whoever had to come in and step up at that time, they did it. It’s a collective bunch of guys that love to play football.”
Devin Funchess was selected in the 2015 draft by Carolina with hopes he and Benjamin would form a physical tandem on the outside. Instead, due to his teammate’s injury, he entered the season with the added pressure of pundits saying he had to fill Benjamin’s shoes. But to him, it doesn’t matter if his position group is receiving accolades or not.
“It doesn’t really phase me because where I grew up, nobody gave you respect, you had to go out and take it,” said Funchess. “I go out there and try to earn respect each week. That’s how I approach this game.”
If the Panthers end up with a Super Bowl 50 victory, that respect will be earned by a pass-catching group who was matched up against the top passing defense in the NFL this season. The Broncos gave up less than 200 yards per game through the air in 2015.