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Tight end tandem sparkles


CHARLOTTE - When the game was on the line against Jacksonville, it should come as little surprise that the Panthers went to one of their tight ends.

It didn't surprise the Jaguars either, yet still they were powerless to stop Greg Olsen from catching a 16-yard touchdown that spelled the difference in Carolina's 16-10 victory.

"There aren't a lot of safeties or corners that can cover our tight ends consistently, or a lot of linebackers," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Monday. "We can split them out and create mismatches versus smaller corners or safeties, or we can bring them in and get them in situations where they're matched up on linebackers."

On Olsen's touchdown reception with 4:20 to play, he beat Jacksonville linebacker Daryl Smith on a short slant over the middle and ran away from him for the score. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Olsen went over the top of linebacker Russell Allen to make the catch in the back corner of the end zone.

"It was a matchup thing," quarterback Cam Newton said of the touchdown pass. "Greg was isolated with the linebacker, and I'll take that matchup every single day of the week. He did the rest of the work, getting the ball in his hands and running after the catch."

Olsen and Jeremy Shockey were the recipients on 10 of Newton's 18 completions against the Jaguars, but that's really nothing new for the offseason acquisitions.

Because they share the load, neither Olsen nor Shockey ranks particularly high in NFL statistics, but combined, they're a beast. Their 306 receiving yards would lead all NFL tight ends if accomplished by an individual, and their 21 catches would rank third regardless of position.

And their contributions go beyond the numbers.

"Greg is a little more cerebral than a lot of our other players, and Shockey has a veteran edge to him," Rivera said. "Shockey is a quiet leader. He's very subtle with the way he does things when it comes to challenging his teammates. He has a knack of saying just the right thing and just enough to get something out of a player."

So far, the Panthers certainly are pleased with what they're getting out of Shockey and Olsen.

LINEBACKERS RESPOND: Before the injury bug hit, the Panthers leaned heavily on three linebackers, but on Sunday they featured five.

It only seemed like all five were on the field at the same time.

With Jon Beason and Thomas Davis lost to season-ending injuries, James Anderson is the lone remaining starter still healthy, and he responded with a game-high nine tackles against the Jaguars. Dan Connor, an established contributor, added six tackles.

Sunday, Anderson and Connor got invaluable assistance from Jason Williams – who started alongside them – as well as Thomas Williams and Omar Gaither.

"Thomas Williams and Jason Williams give us a great combination of guys with specific and individual abilities," Rivera said. "Jason was very stout and physical at the point of attack. He played downhill and made some really good tackles on Maurice Jones-Drew, which is not easy thing."

Not only was it Jason Williams' first start this season; it was his first regular season action since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament late last season.

"No one's going to play a perfect game, and I made a few mistakes out there, but for it to be my first start, I was pleased with the performance," Williams said. "I'm going to use that to build toward next week."

While Jason Williams trailed only Anderson with seven tackles, Thomas Williams broke up Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert's final attempt to pull out the victory, knocking down a pass deep over the middle as time expired.

"Thomas Williams did exactly what we thought he was capable of in the sub packages for us," Rivera said, referring to Williams' role in passing situations. "His play at the end of the game is exactly what he had done in the past in his career. He works hard at it, and that's why he made the football team."


SECONDARY DOES THE SAME: It was much the same story in the defensive backfield, where safety Charles Godfrey was inactive with a concussion and cornerback Chris Gamble left with a concussion late in the first half.

The remaining starters - safety Sherrod Martin and Captain Munnerlyn – made several key plays, including an interception by Martin on a day when Jacksonville threw for just 139 yards.

Those thrust into action, like cornerback Darius Butler, also afforded themselves well.

"Darius plays with great vision and really has a good feel," Rivera said. "Also, R.J. Stanford came in and played a very solid role for us, coming in as the third corner all of a sudden.

"And I really can't say enough about what Captain Munnerlyn has done. He's getting overlooked in this because Chris Gamble has played like a No. 1 corner. Chris was having a heck of a game up until the injury, but then Captain stepped up his play."

Rivera said he expected both Gamble and Godfrey to participate when the Panthers return to the practice field Wednesday.

TAKE ME BACK TO CHICAGO: The Panthers will now turn the page to Sunday's contest at Chicago, a game that Rivera admits is going to be a special one for him.

Rivera played linebacker for the Bears from 1984-92 and had two different stints on their coaching staff, including his first coaching job.

"It's going to mean a great deal," Rivera said. "I'm not going to downplay it. Some people would say it's just another game; no, it's not. They're all big, but this has a little personal meaning for me."

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