CHARLOTTE – On Saturday against the Falcons, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin reminded everyone what he's capable of.
A 26-yard touchdown catch where he used all of his 6-foot-5-inch frame to reach up and over Atlanta cornerback Jalen Collins. An overpowering stiff arm to toss Collins aside as he picked up 18 yards on a fourth-and-2.
"I played with a lot of emotion today," said Benjamin, who finished with four catches for 63 yards in Carolina's 33-16 defeat. "That's what I'm trying to carry into next year."
Quarterback Cam Newton and head coach Ron Rivera had a feeling they were going to see improved play from Benjamin during the week of practice leading up to the home finale.
"It started earlier this week," Newton said. "He's just been practicing with a chip on his shoulder. I had an unbelievable talk with him. For the most part, (he's been) been kind of overthinking things. We know who we are, we know what we're good at, and that's what we've got to do."
Said Rivera: "Kelvin probably had his best week this week. I thought he practiced very well. It looked like he was healthy. I don't think there are any lingering effects from his shoulder (injury). He went out and was physical, and that is the kind of receiver he is. He can be a dominant guy in this league."
It's been an up and down season for Benjamin, who missed all of 2015 with a knee injury. But he'll be stronger from it.
"For me, it's really just coming in and trying to step up to be a leader," Benjamin said. "I'm trying to grow. I want to lead guys. I've got growing to do."
Said Newton: "For Kelvin, as he grows older, people look up to him. People look to see how we will react. One of those people is me."
This challenging season has forced Benjamin to battle through shoulder pain and push through frustration when the ball hasn't come his way. It's led Benjamin to take a hard look in the mirror and come to grips with what it takes to be a top player in this league.
"Sometimes you may be mad about things and you don't want to get guys going. But we need that," Benjamin said. "Try to leave it all out there. And once the game is over, it's over."
The former first-round pick from Florida State said recent criticism about his level of play has been fair.
"I definitely haven't played with that energy that I played with today," Benjamin said.
It wasn't a flawless performance by any means. There was miscommunication on an option route in the second half that Benjamin took responsibility for.
But this much is clear – when Benjamin plays with the energy and enthusiasm he showed Saturday, it puts him in position to have success.
"I would love to see it every week," Rivera said.