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Munnerlyn playing best football of career


CHARLOTTE – In many ways, not hearing about a cornerback is a good thing.

And in that sense, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn hadn't been heard from all that much five games into the 2013 season.

That all changed in the Panthers' sixth game, when Munnerlyn intercepted an errant throw from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown on the first offensive play of the game.

But while the Panthers No. 1 cornerback is garnering attention for his first interception of the season and that tone setting touchdown, it's the job he's doing keeping receivers lined up across from him quiet that deserves just as much recognition.

Munnerlyn hasn't allowed a passing touchdown all year. In fact, you have to go back to Week 14 of the 2012 season against the Atlanta Falcons to find the last time Munnerlyn got beat for a receiving score.

And Munnerlyn is quick to point out that a referee helped wide receiver Roddy White make that touchdown catch. White came across the formation on a drag route and Munnerlyn collided with the umpire, allowing White to get open in the end zone.

According to Pro Football Focus, that was the only touchdown Munnerlyn surrendered in 16 games last season, and so far, the former seventh-round pick who always believed he could be a No. 1 corner has carried that high level of play into 2013.

"I feel like I'm playing my best football," Munnerlyn said. "I'm just getting better."

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott agrees.  

"I do," McDermott said. "Captain kind of defines and personifies what we're all about in terms (of being) physical and tough guys that take a lot of pride in their work. He does just that."

He's also become known for those highlight-reel defensive touchdowns, like the one that kick-started Carolina's 30-15 win over St. Louis.

That pick-six gave Munnerlyn four career interception returns for touchdowns, tying the franchise record set by longtime safety Mike Minter.

"It's a huge accomplishment," said Munnerlyn, who has returned all but two of his six career interceptions for touchdowns. "It seems like every time I touch it I'm taking it to the house. It's just a blessing. Me being a punt returner, it kind of helps me out a lot."

In addition to evening things up with Minter, Munnerlyn evened a personal score with head coach Ron Rivera.

"I had an opportunity to have two interceptions on the year, and I didn't make the catch," Munnerlyn explained. "Now (coach) said I'm even because of the TD.

"But I don't like being even," he added. "I want to get ahead."

Munnerlyn put the Panthers ahead in Week 7, and he's intent on continuing to emerge as Carolina's top cover man.  

"I'm only 25. I've still got a lot to learn," Munnerlyn said. "But I feel like I can do it. I can put that weight on my shoulders."

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