ATLANTA — Wide receiver Curtis Samuel has turned into Mr. Third Down the past few weeks, grabbing an NFL-high eight passes on third down during the Panthers' three-game win streak. But no conversion may have been as consequential as a 17-yard run by the former college running back during the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over the Falcons.
Safety Juston Burris had just intercepted quarterback Mike Ryan in the end zone, helping Carolina cling to a 20-13 lead. But moments later, the Panthers faced a third-and-2 from their own 28. So they called their first timeout to make sure they had the right play. But even then, head coach Matt Rhule revealed after the game that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made a check at the line.
"I just felt like, honestly, just give the ball to Curtis," Bridgewater said.
With the quarterback in a shotgun formation, Bridgewater first motioned Samuel from his spot out wide on the right into the backfield as a running back. After making calls at the line of scrimmage, Bridgewater then had Samuel move from lining up on his right to his left. At the snap, Samuel took the handoff up the middle, bursting through for a first down and plenty more.
"I just noticed they were in 'dime' personnel and was just like, 'Hey man, we're going to make this DB who came into the game make a tackle,'" Bridgewater said. "So we ran the ball right at him."
The check was to an inside zone handoff and worked just as Bridgewater envisioned. En route, Samuel bounced off tackle attempts by safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones before three other Falcons finally brought Samuel down after left tackle Russell Okung helped Samuel along for a few extra yards.
"He found a way to stay on his feet, and as an offensive line, we just want to be able to finish the play," Okung said.
That run allowed the Panthers to stay on the field at a critical moment. The offense eventually made the Falcons use all three of their timeouts before kicking a field goal to cap a 14-play, 76-yard drive that took 7:39 off the clock.
"There were a lot of great runs, a lot of great plays, and a lot of guys made tremendous efforts (on the drive)," Rhule said.
The run was Samuel's fourth third-down conversion of the game. He'd previously caught three passes for first downs on Carolina's 14-play scoring drive in the first quarter. Samuel finished with five receptions for 36 yards and four carries for 28 yards.
"He's an extremely talented player," Okung said. "I can't wait to see him do more."
View photos from the Carolina-Atlanta game in Week 5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.