WASHINGTON — When the Carolina Panthers drafted D.J. Moore in the first round a few months ago, they knew they were getting a player with the ability to make plays. Scouting reports on Moore said that he was dangerous with the ball in his hands and able to get yards after the catch (known as YAC) by weaving through the defense.
On Sunday, Moore’s strength backfired on him and may have cost his team the game in Washington.
“They like those RPO (run-pass option plays),” said Redskins corner Josh Norman. “They dive it down to the running back or throw that quick slant, and 12 (Moore’s uniform number), he just kept running with the ball. I guess he was drinking off the YAC.”
Norman, a former Panther who left the team after a contentious contract negotiation and reveled in the chance to knock off his old squad, saw the chance to make a veteran play on the eager rookie.
“I saw him and came up,” Norman said, then shook his head. “He never saw me. He never saw me.”
Norman punched the ball loose.
“Those are the plays I go back to,” he said. “The ones I want to make. I saw it and just captured my moment. The ball came out. I tried to find it, but one of the (Washington) guys recovered it.”
The Skins went on to get a field goal to give themselves a 17-point lead.
“You can’t put yourself in a hole like that,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We had three turnovers in the first half that resulted in 10 points. Two of those, we were moving the ball into the scoring zone.”
Moore was responsible for one of the other first-half turnovers as well, coughing up the ball while — of course — weaving through defenders to try to pick up extra yards on a punt return.
“It’s an experience thing,” Rivera said, “because I’m sure in college, he broke a lot of those plays, which we did see on tape (before the draft). It’s knowing that, when you’re surrounded, when there’s a lot of population around you, you’ve got to protect the football, and I promise you, he’ll learn that.”
While the learning experience came at a high cost for the team, the Panthers players were supportive of Moore.
“Y’all are making a big deal out of nothing,” said fellow receiver Devin Funchess. “He’s good, and when we go play Philly, he’s going to turn up. That’s just what it is.”
Some of the veterans quickly took Moore aside to make sure he didn’t get down on himself, knowing the Panthers would need him to contribute later this season, if not in the game.
“I’ve made so many mistakes, I can give him a whole playbook of mistakes,” said veteran receiver Torrey Smith. “The mistake doesn’t override all the good things you do. I told him it’s not about what happens to you, it’s how you overcome it.
“He did a great job. I’m so proud of him, the way he handled himself, the way he came back and made big plays for us at the end. It’s something you move on from. We lost. We all made mistakes this game, not just D.J.”
Moore went on to catch four balls for 59 yards in the game and add another 18 on a rush. He produced three first downs on his five touches.
“It doesn’t define who you are, unless you let it,” said tight end Greg Olsen, who returned from a broken foot suffered on opening day, in the loss. “I think you saw how he responded the next couple times.”
The fact that Moore was on the field, getting the chance to make those plays showed the young player the confidence that coaches had in him. And the fact that the ball kept coming his way showed that his quarterback did, too.
“That’s very important,” Rivera said of the team’s willingness to give Moore additional chances. “Whether we target him as the primary receiver or not, being on the field is probably the most important thing. Cam (Newton) is the one who targets, and he targeted D.J. five times and had four completions. That’s big. In certain situations, you need to know to protect the football. (Sunday), he was victimized by a guy that knows how to do it.”
And after that happened, he shook it off.
“That’s what you’re judged on,” said Olsen. “The only guys that don’t make mistakes are the guys that don’t play. I think young guys realize that pretty quickly in the league. You’d rather be the guys that play and sometimes fight through some stuff.”