CHARLOTTE – Kelvin Benjamin is a big problem for defenses, "big" being the operative word. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound receiver has reminded everyone of that during the first two weeks of the 2016 season.
Benjamin was arguably the brightest star of Carolina's 46-27 victory over the 49ers, recording seven catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
He was physically dominant against a San Francisco secondary that had no answer.
"He's a game-changer," tight end Greg Olsen said. "He adds a different dimension."
Benjamin put his imprint on the game in the third quarter.
With Carolina facing third-and-7, he pulled off a miraculous 25-yard catch. Cornerback Jimmie Ward was in good position to defend the pass, and he initially knocked it out of Benjamin's control. But Benjamin stayed with, reaching out with his left hand to corral the ball against Ward's helmet.
"It bobbled out, and I just kept my focus on it and grabbed it with my left hand," Benjamin said rather matter-of-factly.
Two plays later, Newton fired a strike to Benjamin in the right corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.
Newton went back to Benjamin in the red zone on the next possession. Benjamin ran a quick slant from the slot and made the catch in front of Ward at the 3-yard line. Safety Jaquiski Tartt tried to knock him off his feet, but Benjamin bounced right off him and landed in the end zone for the 9-yard score.
"He's such a strong, physical player," wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl said. "And it's hard for defensive backs to bump him around. He shows that. They're trying to tee off on him, and they're just bouncing off him. It's fun to see because he plays to his size. That's a huge advantage for us."
Added Olsen: "Guys are trying to come up and hit him, and it always seems like they're on the receiving end of it."
And when the Panthers, leading by seven midway through the fourth quarter, needed a big play on third-and-10, it was Benjamin who came through with another contested catch.
The 49ers were prepared for a throw to Benjamin, but it didn't matter. Newton's pass went over the outstretched arm of linebacker Navarro Bowman and into the hands of Benjamin, who effectively shielded cornerback Chris Davis and safety Eric Reid.
It was a gain of 25 that helped finish the 49ers, proving once again that sometimes the best play is the one where you target Benjamin and let him make a play for you. As his quarterback said, "You can't coach that."
"He makes my life extremely easy," Newton added. "Extremely special."