Jaycee Horn gets first pick, and extra work

Jaycee Horn interception

CHARLOTTE — For another rookie, playing against his father's former team, with his father in the stands would be a big deal.

For another rookie, getting his first NFL interception would have been cause for celebration.

But Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn is proving to be not just another rookie, which is why moments before his first pick in a regular-season game, he was doing push-ups in the middle of the field.

Angry with himself over having his hands on a Jameis Winston pass earlier and not pulling it in, Horn dropped to the ground and ripped out 10 push-ups.

"Yeah, that's mandatory, anytime you drop one," Horn deadpanned after helping the Panthers seal a 26-7 win over the Saints. "That's just a rule for every team almost.

"You drop a pick; you've got to get those push-ups put of the way."

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He made up for it in the fourth quarter, making good on a promise he made to defensive coordinator Phil Snow a week ago in the parking lot after the Jets game. After allowing a touchdown late in that one, he told Snow he owed him one.

"That's just who he is, right," Snow said last week. "Onto the next play. That's how you've got to be as a corner. I enjoy watching him out there. He's going to be; he could be good in this league."

He appears to already be good, and possibly more.

The Panthers knew they had a possible game-changer when they took Horn eighth overall, but the difference in the defense has been immediate.

A year ago, the Panthers were 31st in the league in third-down conversion percentage allowed (98-of-199, 49.2 percent). In two games this year, they've cut that number in half (6-of-24, 25.0 percent).

Now, that's not all Horn. He's quick to point out, his job as a cover player is a lot easier when the pass-rush is as good as theirs has been.

But the Panthers held the Saints to 128 yards — the lowest in the Sean Payton era — for a number of reasons.

They sacked Jameis Winston four times, and hit him 11 times. In two games, the Panthers have 10 sacks and 21 quarterback hits.

"It's super-nice, and you come up with easy picks, like the one I got," Horn said of that kind of pass rush. "Just because the D-line is pressuring real good, and we're covering, we help them. Just complementing each other all around.

"We still have to go back to the drawing board. We didn't play perfect by any means. But just go back and fix up the kinks and keep striving to get one percent better every day, and whatever happens, happens."

That kind of attitude has become the norm for Horn, who has impressed his veteran teammates with his decidedly non-rookie approach.

"As far as NFL-ready talent, as a corner, he's going to go against some great receivers this year," outside linebacker Haason Reddick said. "But to see him so far, I'm really impressed. I remember when we first drafted him, I was watching some of his tape and some of his highlights, I already liked what he brings to the table. But to just see him out there balling, to see him get his first pick out there today in only his second game is special.

"I'm truly happy for him. With him, I think the sky's the limit. He has the talent to be one of the best. He comes in with that mentality. He works hard, he listens, and always taking down information. You love to see that out of rookies. He's serious about what he does."

That's why having his father — former Saints receiver Joe Horn — in the stands didn't change the way he looked at this game.

"Not for me," the younger Horn said. "It's another game. I try to look at every opponent the same. They're in the division, so especially in that way. But nah, it was another game."

So if you were looking for celebrations, you came to the wrong place.

"We're just taking it one game at a time," he said of the Panthers' 2-0 start. "We've got 15 more games, two down, so we've just got to keep working to get better every day and keep playing ball."

And if that means doing more push-ups, that's just the price they'll have to pay.

View photos from the field during Carolina's Week 2 game against the Saints at Bank of America Stadium.

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