CHARLOTTE — Celebrations are ever-evolving in football. Some are complex and obviously rehearsed. Others are more organic, resulting from the joy of making a crucial play.
But sometimes, there are subtle traditions that endure through a season. The Panthers have started one with right tackle Taylor Moton.
When Carolina scores an offensive touchdown, the unit gathers in the end zone. The scoring player hands the ball to Moton, who then spikes it.
It might not happen on the longer touchdowns, like wide receiver DJ Moore's 74-yard score last Sunday against the Saints. But if you go back and watch Carolina's 16 offensive TDs, the vast majority end with a big Moton spike.
After Moore's second score last weekend — a 7-yarder — Moton wound up and drove the ball high off the Superdome turf. Moore waited for the ball to come down before running with it back to the sideline.
Even if another player does his own celebration with the football, Moton usually gets to play his part.
For example, in Week 6 against the Bears, running back Mike Davis took in a 1-yard touchdown and then used the ball as a pillow, laying down as if to say "don't sleep on me" to the team that waived him last year. When Davis stood up, he handed the ball to Moton, who pounded the ball off the grass.
Asked about his new role as spiker, Moton chuckled before explaining:
"It started at (training) camp when I think it was Christian (McCaffrey) gave me the ball after he scored a touchdown, and they told me to spike it. It wasn't the best-looking spike. It was somewhat comical, I believe. Since then, they wanted me to be the guy that spikes it."
Offensive lineman Greg Little remembers Moton's first effort differently, and that's probably why Moton continues to be the one who gets the ball.
"I think it went like 14 feet in the air," Little said. "I was like, 'OK, I can't match that.'"
But Moton isn't satisfied with just any old spike. If he's going to do it, he wants to do it right — even summoning traditional football clichés to illustrate how he goes about them.
"It's gotten a little better over the weeks," Moton said. "I just know that I want to be the best spiker I can be, just control what I can control."
Control what he can control? Even on a spike?
"Oh yeah, control what you can control — no matter what it is," Moton said, laughing. "Football, spiking a ball — that's how I'm approaching it."
That mindset isn't an accident since it's why elite athletes even become professionals. But football players know how hard it is to score in the first place, so celebrating is essential.
"I'm pretty sure a lot of guys have been a part of games where they might not have scored a touchdown at all. So whenever you can touch the paint, it's a reward for an entire offense, an entire team — how hard you've worked each drive," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "It's refreshing to see the guys celebrate, have fun, smile, get to find out who can dance, who can't, who can spike the ball, who can't."
But the Panthers aren't really finding out who else can spike aside from Moton. He isn't selfish about it, saying, "If anyone else gets the ball before me, they're all more than welcome. I'll be over there celebrating with them."
But as Little said, "T-Mo got the first spike, so we just give it to T-Mo."
It's fitting that Moton represents the offensive line when the team celebrates. Though seven games, he's the only player besides Bridgewater to have been on the field for all 446 of Carolina's offensive snaps.
"We talk about playing for one another, and T-Mo spiking the ball is just our guys who score touchdowns recognizing that there are other guys who made this happen," Bridgewater said. "We like seeing T-Mo spike the ball. Those guys get a kick out of it.
"We talk about all 11 guys getting credit, so ultimately T-Mo spiking the ball is our way of showing all 11 guys receiving credit."
Head coach Matt Rhule admitted he's more old school, someone who would hand the ball to the official and run back to the sideline in most situations. But he approves of the T-Mo spike.
"I want us to have joy, but the most important thing I want us to do is be a team," Rhule said. "Having joy and celebrating together is really the key. So I think it's pretty cool to recognize the fact that the offensive line is a major part of any success that we have, and I think Teddy said it really well."
So as long as the Panthers keep scoring, they'll keep handing the ball to Moton to put an exclamation point on each touchdown.
"I enjoy it now. It's definitely fun," Moton said. "I'm just happy we got in the end zone at the end of the day."
Carolina is 21-35 all-time against Atlanta dating all the way back to 1995.