CHARLOTTE -- Carolina turned its league-worst turnover ratio through six games into a positive by the end of the season, a fairly remarkable accomplishment considering that it required logging a plus-20 ratio in the last 10 weeks of the season -- a plus-two-per-game average that, if sustained for an entire season, would be the best in at least the last 19 years.
The prolific pilfering began at Arizona on Nov. 1, when Carolina's defenders nabbed six takeaways -- just one less than they amassed in the previous two months combined. The charge in the secondary was led by rookie
Four rookies around the league had more interceptions than Martin, who would add another pick later in his five-game stint as a starter. But none of those rookies with more interceptions were in the NFC, allowing Martin sole possession of the conference's rookie lead even though he only started in November while second-year veteran
Martin's three itnerceptions were also the second-most by a rookie in team history, trailing only
(Also notable: Deon Grant had five interceptions in 2001, his first year on the field, but was not a rookie because he was drafted a year earlier and spent his rookie season recovering from injury.)
Interceptions began the turnover run, but forced fumbles took it to a higher plane, particularly in the last six games, when Harris forced two fumbles and intercepted three passes, while Godfrey returned from his ankle injury and forced three fumbles in the final five weeks.
For Harris, the late-season surge pushed his forced-fumble tally to 12 in his three years as a Panther, which not only leads the team but is the most for any NFL defensive back in that span.
Godfrey isn't at Harris's level, but his late-season push vaulted him among the league's top 10 defensive backs in forced fumbles the last three years. Godfrey had more forced fumbles in the season's final five weeks (three) than in the first year and a half of his career (two), an ascension that might not have happened if he had failed to use his month-long convalescence to watch away games on television and study coverages and opponent tendencies.
"(I was) watching how our defense reacts to certain situations. Watching when we were up, watching when we were down, watching our body language and stuff like that," Godfrey explained. "Also watching quarterbacks. That's the key as a safety, being able to watch what they're looking for. Also, watching receivers and their routes. (It's) a lot of little stuff to put into my game and make me a better player."
The numbers proved it.
|O.J. Atogwe||St. Louis||9|
|Ronald Bartell||St. Louis||7|
|Charles Woodson||Green Bay||6|
|C.C. Brown||Houston/N.Y. Giants||5|
|Roman Harper||New Orleans||5|
|Tanard Jackson||Tampa Bay||5|
|Dwight Lowery||N.Y. Jets||5|
|Brandon Meriweather||New England||5|