Panthers stand by DJ Moore despite two costly fumbles

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LANDOVER, Md. – If it's true what they say, that it's not about what happens but rather how you respond to it, then rookie wide receiver DJ Moore is doing just fine.

Carolina's first-round pick had a disastrous start to Sunday's game against Washington, losing two fumbles in the first 20 minutes. But after the 23-17 loss, he picked himself up off the chair in front of his locker and faced the horde of media waiting for him. A nudge from a public relations staffer wasn't required. He knew he made mistakes and was ready to own them.

"Just have to be aware," Moore said, "and hold onto the ball tighter."

Moore's first fumble came on a punt return after Carolina's defense had forced a three-and-out on Washington's opening series. Moore fielded the punt at his own 21-yard line and tried to fight off several swarming Redskins. In doing so, the ball was vulnerable, and Washingon's Jeremy Sprinkle forced it out and made the recovery.

The Redskins took a 7-0 lead on the next play.

"Just too much effort on the punt (return)," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He should have protected the ball and gone down."

Moore's greatest attribute is his ability to make defenders miss, so you can understand why he'd try to stay upright and create a big play in the return game. That's why he's back there, to be explosive. But he also has to know when it's best to go down and let the offense go to work.

"It's a real fine line," Moore said. "You have to (contemplate) all that at once."

The second fumble occurred early in the second quarter at the conclusion of a 17-yard catch and run. Cornerback Josh Norman punched the ball squarely out of Moore's grasp and linebacker Mason Foster recovered at the Washington 33-yard line. That took the Panthers out of scoring position and led to a Redskins field goal for a 17-0 deficit.

"They love those combinations where they dive down to the running back and throw that quick slant with number 12," Norman said. "I guess he was drinking off the YAC. So, I saw him and I came off and he never saw me. He never saw me."

"Punched the ball out. Something Josh Norman learned from Charles 'Peanut' Tillman," Rivera said of the former Carolina cornerback. "Got to give credit for a play well made."

And teammates gave credit to Moore for refusing to sulk. He finished with four catches for 59 yards, including a big one on the game's decisive final drive, and had one carry for 18 yards.

He kept his cool and carried on. He handled it like a veteran.

"I just went on to the next play as soon as it happened," Moore said.

Fellow wideout Torrey Smith, the true veteran of the group, was impressed.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of him, the way he continued to fight after that," Smith said. "It shows a lot about him. It's important for his development long-term to experience those things and to overcome it."

Smith and several others tried to lift Moore's spirits after the game. General manager Marty Hurney put his arm around Moore and offered some encouraging words.

Some coaches might have sat Moore after two early fumbles. Rivera explained why he didn't.

"This is all about building confidence," Rivera said. "DJ is going to be a big part of what we do for a long time. We believe in him and we're going to keep putting him out there. It's the only way guys can learn and develop into guys we believe they can be. Stick with them."

Wide receiver Devin Funchess was clearly agitated by all the questions Moore kept facing about his two fumbles. In his mind, plenty of mistakes were made in all areas. And in his mind, no one needs to worry about Moore's ability to bounce back.

"Y'all are making a big deal out of nothing," Funchess said. "He's good, and when we go play Philly at (his) home (next week), he's going to turn up. That's just what it is."

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