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Jaycee Horn made plays, from beginning to end

Jaycee Horn

SEATTLE — Jaycee Horn is the kind of player who wants to end games with the ball in his hands.

Even if it's not quite the way it happened Sunday night.

The Panthers capped their emotional come-from-ahead win over the Seahawks when the second-year cornerback secured an onside kick, a play he wasn't even supposed to be on the field for.

It was that kind of night.

Normally, sure-handed wide receiver DJ Moore is in the spot Horn was in, but Moore was cramping, so at the last moment, special teams coach Chris Tabor sent Horn onto the field as a replacement.

"I picked at coach Tabor a lot, throughout the year, like, 'you know I'm supposed to be on the hands team,'" Horn said. "DJ went down and was cramping, and they let me know right before the kick that I had to go out there and try to make a play."

He did just that, securing the final kick, and allowing quarterback Sam Darnold to take a knee to close the game. But it was a win that had Horn's thumbprints all over.

"It's nice to get a win. I don't care whose hands it's in," Horn said with a laugh. "I just wanted to get out of here with a dub, and we did that."

But subbing for a cramping wide receiver isn't what the Panthers brought him here to do. What they brought him here to do was shut down elite wide receivers.

DK Metcalf, Jaycee Horn

Seahawks wideout DK Metcalf has been on a roll all year, the kind of receiver who can dominate a game at any moment.

But Sunday night, with Horn in his pocket on practically every play, he was limited to five catches for 71 yards. His lone touchdown (a 12-yarder in the second quarter) came when he moved to the slot, and the coverage dictated that Horn didn't travel with him (veteran T.J. Carrie was there instead). But otherwise, Metcalf wasn't the kind of deciding factor he normally is.

But early in the game, Horn made himself one.

After the Panthers opened with a long and grinding field goal drive, Horn picked off Geno Smith, and one play later, the Panthers jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

"Well, anytime you can take the ball or take the ball away early is crucial; you're talking about a momentum changer," interim coach Steve Wilks said. "But typically in a hostile environment here, being on the road, it was critical for us.

"But just Jaycee as a whole, man, he was excited all week about this matchup in this challenge. And I think we know exactly what happened today."

That was Wilks being polite about it.

"Crazy. Lock-down," defensive end Brian Burns said of the guy at the next locker. "He strapped up a lot. He was playing out of his mind today."

Knowing he would draw Metcalf made it more of a challenge, but Horn didn't show any outward signs of it.

"Yeah, but Jaycee don't play people," Burns said. "Jaycee, he don't see the name and the hype around it; he's playing football. He's doing what he's been trained to do his whole life. This man's confidence is, ... sometimes, he's too confident. But you need that playing his position."

Horn described it matter-of-factly, which is how he handles most situations.

"Nah, not really to be honest," he replied when asked if a matchup like this changed things for him. "I definitely respect the top receivers, and Metcalf is a top receiver. Tough opponent. My college coach always told me to play the number on the jersey, don't play the names. So I just prepared the same way I always do, and I'm glad I was able to help the team come out victorious."

That was an understatement, on a night when he was all over the place.

He nearly took his first pick to the end zone before slipping on the turf, and a second interception later in the game was waved off when his toe touched the sideline.

"I wore some new cleats. I usually wear a 12 1/2, but I had some 13s on tonight. I blame it on that," he joked. "Shoutout to Nike though. . . .

"We knew we were going to have to make plays, give our offense more opportunities. I got a pick; I kept saying, 'we're not done,' because it was early in the game. Glad we were able to stay locked in through four quarters and win. When you get it early, you know you have a chance to get two or three. But at the same time, just staying focused on your assignments and not going out there trying to chase plays or anything like that. That's where my head was at."

It was the kind of game the Panthers envisioned when they chose Horn eighth overall last year, with the kind of pedigree that makes him unafraid of the big moments. When your father's a flamboyant NFL wide receiver like Joe Horn, you grow up for the bright lights.

And with performances like Sunday's, he's going to get a lot more attention. But it's the way he handles it that makes Horn different.

"Not really, to me," he said when asked if it was a signature game for him. "I feel like I've got a long way to go to be distinct in this league. I've still got a lot more work to do."

View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 14 game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

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