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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Defense endures, inflicts pain


HOUSTON - On the second play of Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, officials credited Panthers linebacker Jordan Senn with forcing a fumble that fellow linebacker James Anderson recovered.

Senn, however, said Anderson had just as much to do with forcing the fumble.

"It was both of us," Senn said. "It was a duel effort."

Just as it was for the Panthers defense all day.

Senn and Anderson took turns making big plays for all to see, while defenders called into duty when the injury bug struck hard yet again made less obvious but no-less significant plays in the Panthers' 28-13 victory.

"Our defense, despite getting more and more guys hurt, seems to be getting better and better," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "That's just huge for us as a team."

Senn, who began the season as a special teams player but has started the last four games at weakside linebacker, set the tone with the forced fumble and later came up with his first career interception to go with 14 tackles.


Anderson, the lone starter at linebacker to make it past Week 2, recovered that early fumble and came up with an interception late to seal the victory. With the Texans threatening to pull back within a score midway through the fourth quarter, Anderson stepped in the path of a T.J. Yates pass in the front of the end zone.

"When he started scrambling, I just tried to find a receiver and read the quarterback's eyes," Anderson said. "I located him, and when he got ready to throw the ball, I just broke on it."
The defense dominated on the same level as the offense in the first half, shutting out the Texans and setting up two touchdowns with takeaways on their way to a 21-0 lead.

The third quarter, however, was trying on all fronts. Five players in the defensive rotation went down to injury at some point, including cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) and safety Charles Godfrey (shoulder), who did not return.

With cornerback Darius Butler (head) inactive, rookie Brandon Hogan saw his first action at corner, and second-year corner R.J. Stanford played all over the defensive backfield.

"The guy who really showed flexibility for us was R.J. He did a heck of a job," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "He played corner, he played nickel and he played safety. It speaks to the value of a young man when he shows that kind of versatility.

"It's also a tribute to what our coaches have been able to do with our players. At that point what we really wanted to do was make sure they didn't hit a big play. We had to keep the ball in front of us, keep them from getting downfield. We felt like if we could slow them down, eventually we'd get a stop."

The injuries hit hardest with the defense already on its heels. The Texans scored 13 unanswered points in the second half to cut the Panthers' lead to 21-13 early in the fourth quarter, but it could have been worse if not for the defense twice forcing Houston to settle for field goals on deep drives.

"That shows growth for our defense and for us as a team," Anderson said. "In the past we may have folded, but guys fought, and we kept them to field goals and stayed in it."

And eventually, a Carolina offense that had gone dormant for a quarter came to aid of the defense.

"Our defense did an excellent job of just holding them as long as they could, but we know that everybody isn't perfect," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "We put our defense in some bad situations, but then offensively it finally clicked.

"Coach brought us together and stressed that we had to stop doing this to our defense. From the outside looking in, everybody is pointing at the defense, but those guys are playing their hearts out each and every time."

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