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Josh Norman's Game-Saver Doesn't Surprise Carolina Teammates

Jeff Siner
Charlotte Observer
Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman's leaping interception on a pass by New Orleans Saints quarterback Luke McCown, intended for wide reciver Brandin Cooks in the end zone, preserved a 27-22 victory.

Charlotte Observer

As Luke McCown’s last-minute spiral floated toward Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman and New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks in the end zone Sunday, Norman’s teammates knew how it was going to end.

They’d seen it several times before, most recently during a practice Thursday when Norman victimized Cam Newton in a similar situation.

Norman didn’t disappoint, coming down with an interception that preserved the Panthers’ 27-22 victory and 3-0 start.

If you’re scoring at home – and rest assured Norman’s accounting team is – that’s two interceptions for Norman in three games, one he returned for a touchdown to break open a Week 1 victory at Jacksonville and his beauty that sealed Sunday’s win.

In between, Norman rode an imaginary horse in Jacksonville and blanketed Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins in Week 2.

So yeah, Norman’s teammates felt pretty confident when McCown threw his way with the game on the line.

“The things y’all see on Sunday? We see every day in practice. I’ve seen him make many plays like that,” fullback Mike Tolbert said. “So when I saw him sizing the ball up, I was like, ‘He’s about to go get it.’”

Norman was asked to recount the play for several waves of reporters at his locker after the game. Each time his description included a few more colorful details, like a folk tale.

Norman broke it down from a technical standpoint initially, talking about his leverage, positioning and disciplined approach.

Then he simplified things: “I saw ball, got ball.”

Later he spoke of God and flying and angels’ wings.

But mostly, Norman seemed a little incredulous that McCown would test him with the Saints facing a third-and-6 from the Panthers’ 23, trailing by five with 1:17 left.

Cooks, the Saints’ first-round pick last year, gave Norman a double-move. But Norman didn’t bite, and ran with Cooks down the right sideline. Norman leaped and caught the ball at the highest point he could, cradling it to his body as he landed hard in the end zone.

“I saw McCown release the ball from his shoulder. It was one of things like, ‘Ah, man, I can’t believe he did it. And he did,’ ” Norman said. “Eyes got big. I was like, ‘Man, I’m about to go get this at the highest point I can. Period.’ ”

Norman’s interception looked a lot like the one he had on Newton during a two-minute drill at Thursday’s practice. It was the first-team offense against the starting defense, and Newton lofted a fade pass toward the goal line that Norman picked off.

Newton was “ticked off” Thursday. Sunday, not so much.

“I’m like, ‘Well, I think it’s safe to say that I gave him his preparation for McCown trying to throw the fade to him,” Newton said. “It’s incredible to see practice carry over to the game.”

Everything Norman does will be judged in the context of his contract situation. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal and will make $1.54 million this year.

The Panthers negotiated with Norman before the season, offering him a multi-year deal worth an average of more than $7 million a year, according to a source.

Norman said in training camp he wants to be paid like one of the league’s top corners.

Besides Darrelle Revis, Byron Maxwell was the big free agent corner last offseason. Philadelphia gave Maxwell a $63 million contract, an average of $10.5 million a year, then watched the former Seahawks corner give up a perfect passer rating on balls thrown his way in losses to Atlanta and Dallas.

While Maxwell could be a market study in overspending at the position, Norman has elevated his play and increased his leverage each week. Norman began making his case last season when he morphed from a guy prone to freelancing and giving coaches heartburn to a No. 1, lockdown corner.

“You can take into consideration what I did last year, as well,” Norman said. “I’m not going down. I’m only going to continue to get better and go up higher.”

That’s a good problem for the Panthers.

General manager Dave Gettleman has shown he’ll take care of the players who perform on the field and lead in the locker room. Norman fits the first category and is improving in the latter.

The offbeat Norman is known as “J-No” by the other defensive backs, who encourage him to be himself.

That means they have to live with the occasional misstep. Norman was fined nearly $9,000 for taunting Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles on his touchdown in Week 1 and had to separated from secondary coach Steve Wilks on the sideline Sunday after the two got into it.

Norman called it a miscommunication over a fourth-down substitution. He said a teammate came in the game and told Norman he was out; Wilks wanted him on the field.

But all was forgiven after another victory.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera smiled and said it was a “friendly conversation” between Wilks and Norman.

There were a lot of friendly conversations in the Panthers’ locker room, especially in the defensive backs’ area.

Safety Roman Harper said Norman made the interception “look pretty” with a full extension while going horizontal to the ground.

“That’s just what he does, man,” Harper said.

Harper was reminded about what Norman said in Spartanburg about his belief he’s among a handful of the league’s top corners.

“I’m not going to tell J-No nothing,” Harper said. “If he believes that, then let him go.”

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nfl/carolina-panthers/article36780729.html#storylink=cpy