EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Pressure has been Steve Wilks' calling card since taking over as defensive coordinator before the 2017 season.
And it was one of his many blitzes that created the takeaway that completely changed the tenor of Sunday's game against the Jets.
The Panthers were trailing 20-18 when the Jets started a drive from their own 46-yard line with 12:58 remaining.
After linebacker Luke Kuechly stoned running back Bilal Powell for a 1-yard loss, Wilks dialed up a safety blitz for Kurt Coleman on second down.
Coleman occupied the right tackle and fullback, allowing defensive end Wes Horton to rush inside and power through running back Elijah McGuire to get immediate pressure on quarterback Josh McCown.
"Before McCown could really even throw the ball I was on top of him," Horton said.
In an effort to minimize the damage, McCown tried to toss the ball away. Instead, he maximized the damage, fumbling as Horton wrestled him to the ground.
"Obviously, in hindsight I wish I would've tucked it and ate it," McCown said.
Kuechly was watching this unfold from the middle of the field, and he sprang to action as he saw the ball leave McCown's grasp.
"Wes made a great move. He was in there super fast," Kuechly said. "I saw the ball pop out and they just tell us to always run to the ball no matter where it is."
Run to the ball on defense and good things happen – that's the old adage, one coaches preach constantly.
Kuechly did his part and made his own luck.
"Luckily, it squirted right to me," he said.
The ball bounced away from a pile of players and Kuechly arrived on the scene at the perfect time to pick it up in stride and race to the end zone for a 34-yard score, giving the Panthers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"When we got to the sideline I told him, 'Big time players make big time plays in big time games,' and I consider this to be a big time game for us," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "That was a huge play. Wes did a great job of getting it out and Luke was able to scoop and score."
The fumble return was the first defensive touchdown for Carolina this season.
And it shocks no one that it came courtesy of Kuechly.
"It never surprises me that he knows exactly where to be," Davis said.
View the top photos from Carolina's win against the Jets by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.