CHARLOTTE – Devin Funchess and Brenton Bersin each had just one catch in Sunday's win over the Saints, but both wide receivers made a positive impression on head coach Ron Rivera with their performances.
Funchess showed tremendous toughness and concentration on a critical pass over the middle early in the fourth quarter. The rookie reached out to make a 14-yard catch and he took a huge shot up high from linebacker Stephone Anthony but held on. Anthony was penalized for unnecessary roughness and as a result, Carolina advanced from their own 34-yard line to the New Orleans 37.
"It converted an important third down for us and kept the momentum going," Rivera said. "He took a big shot, and it was very important for Devin to make that kind of play in that kind of traffic and take that kind of hit. That's just another step in his development."
Five plays later, quarterback Cam Newton rushed for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
"I told (Devin) that's the play of the game," tight end Greg Olsen said. "Those plays in crunch time and in the fourth quarter you just have to hang on and take those shots. That's what we're paid to do. For a young kid to come in, that was critical."
Bersin, meanwhile, posted one catch for 13 yards. But his ability to come in off the practice squad and play all three wide receiver positions helped Carolina cope with the absence of Jerricho Cotchery, who isn't expected to return from a high ankle sprain until after the bye week.
"I thought Bersin came in and filled that role very nicely for us," Rivera said. "I was very pleased with his contribution. He doesn't quite have the experience that Cotch does, but he has the ability to make plays.
"It's huge that he can play all three (spots). It's huge that he's been in the system for four seasons. That gives him a leg up on (Kevin) Norwood right now."
Added Bersin: "Obviously I was disappointed to get cut, but all the coaches just told me to be ready. They said if Cotch ever gets hurt, God forbid, you've got to be ready to play slot, and that's what happened."
DEFENSIVE BACKS ROTATE: Second-year safety Tre Boston's workload increased in Week 3 against New Orleans. He rotated into the game in place of Roman Harper and finished with three tackles on 16 total snaps.
"We really feel that we have to work opportunities for Tre," Rivera explained. "Tre has a different skill set than both (Harper and Kurt Coleman). Roman wasn't benched. It was just part of a rotation. We were hoping to see it last week, but we got into the game and stayed with what was going on.
Harper isn't the only veteran defensive back getting some rest on game day. The coaching staff is also trying not to overextend cornerback Charles Tillman, who at times was subbed out for Bene Benwikere in the base defense.
"We have a couple veteran guys in the defensive backfield that we have to be smart with and find ways to give them a break earlier in the year," Rivera said. "We have to find ways to use Charles less. We rotated him out with Bene in the base defense.
"Hopefully, we can have those guys as fresh as possible."
NEWTON'S GROWTH ON DISPLAY: Quarterback Cam Newton is so prone to highlight-reel plays, sometimes it's easy to overlook the simple yet effective passes that help you win games.
Rivera referred to Newton's 10-yard connection with tight end Ed Dickson early in the fourth quarter – which ultimately led to Newton's touchdown run – to illustrate where the quarterback has made progress.
"He hit Ed Dickson for what looked like a simple 2- or 3-yard dump-off, and it turned into about a 10-yard gain for a first down going into the red zone," Rivera said. "That is really the maturity of a quarterback. A lot of times, a guy will take the ball and he'll sit there and hold it and hold it and next thing you know he is running for his life or he's getting hit. That happened earlier in his career because he always wanted to make the big splash play.
"Now, he goes through his progressions and makes a quick decision. That's one of the signs you look for in a maturing player."
NORMAN TAKES TOP SPOT: Speaking of highlight-reel plays, cornerback Josh Norman's victory-sealing interception was the No. 1 play on ESPN SportsCenter's nightly countdown of the day's top 10 plays.
"That's pretty awesome," Norman said.
Quite a few people wanted to tell Norman what they thought of his play. During a quick interview by his locker Monday, Norman glanced at his phone to find 430 text messages to go through.
"I just had to shut my phone off at one point in time," he said. "I still haven't looked through all of my text messages yet. It's crazy. My phone is still blowing up."
View the top photos of Panthers vs. Saints by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.