Panther rookie Kelvin Benjamin has done just about everything right so far in his very young career for the Carolina Panthers, but his obvious personal-foul penalty in the Kansas City game is worth discussing.
Benjamin flicked the ball at Chiefs cornerback Chris Owens after a reception far out of bounds in the second quarter Sunday night with about 10 seconds to go. Then he shoved and head-butted Owens, taking the Panthers out of field-goal range in the final seconds of the first half. Carolina won anyway, 28-16. (Here's my column on the game).
Benjamin said after the game he was "just being young. It was a mistake that I made. That’s something I’ve got to learn from."
He's right about that. The last thing Benjamin needs is to develop an anger-management issue like the one Steve Smith had, especially early in his career. Sunday night should be a lesson for No.13 -- and an exhibition is the right time to learn it.
Said quarterback Cam Newton, who has been Benjamin's BFF basically from the day the No.1 draft pick showed up in Charlotte, of Benjamin's mistake: "He understands. He knows. When you have an opportunity to kick a field goal right before the half.... don't put yourself deeper in a hole. As he will soon find out in this league, points are at a premium.... Don't have self-inflicted penalties that will get you out of it."
I thought coach Ron Rivera should pull Benjamin off the field immediately following the play. Instead, he allowed Benjamin to stay on for the final snap before halftime. But Rivera did realize that this brief but bone-headed action by the rookie has to be nipped in the bud (he did a better job with cornerback Josh Norman, who didn't get flagged but got pulled out of the game after temporarily losing his head). Benjamin is going to be too big a part of the team to do such things.
"I told Kelvin that this is going to happen," Rivera said. "A guy is going to try to get inside your head and get you to play outside of your game and that’s what we talked about. I told him that when they start doing that it’s because they know you can do some good things. You’ll learn how to handle it and learn how to be graceful about it and keep going forward."
But Rivera also defended Benjamin's actions to an extent. "Hopefully he’ll get out of it," the coach said. "But this is also one of those things where you have to stand up for yourself. There’s a point where you have to draw a line and a guy has to understand that if you do this and continue to do this then I’m going to draw a line in the sand. I told him that if you want to go get back at somebody, just go make a play."
The Benjamin incident reminded just about everyone of the three key personal-foul penalties the Panthers got in the San Francisco playoff loss in January. It can't happen again. I understand defending yourself, but don't do it in a way that hurts your team. Next time, Rivera should be quicker on the trigger with Benjamin if the wide receiver does so.