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New England Patriots

Munnerlyn: Panthers secondary getting no respect

Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell (21) celebrates after cornerback Drayton Florence, bottom, intercepted a pass by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. The Panthers won 10-9. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell (21) celebrates after cornerback Drayton Florence, bottom, intercepted a pass by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. The Panthers won 10-9. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said no matter how well Carolina’s secondary plays, it’s not going to get the credit it deserves.

He said that won’t change – even if the Panthers can shut down Tom Brady on Monday night and beat the New England Patriots.

“Nope,” Munnerlyn said, shaking his head. “They’ll still give all of the credit to our front seven. If we go out there and hold Brady to under 200 yards they’ll still give it to the front seven. Guaranteed.”

Munnerlyn said that’s something he and fellow defensive backs have come to expect given Carolina’s talented linemen and linebackers.

And he said they’re okay with it.

“We don’t mind, we’ll drive the bus from the back,” Munnerlyn said. “That’s what we’ve been saying from day one.”

They haven’t crashed the bus yet.

What Carolina’s secondary lacks in household names, it makes up for in intensity and competitiveness.

The Panthers rank fourth in the league against the pass and have allowed only seven touchdown passes this season.

The secondary has combined for nine interceptions, five forced fumbles and 4  1/ 2 sacks. Two of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns.

But this week they face Brady, who seems to have found some chemistry with his young receivers after throwing for 432 yards and four touchdowns in an impressive 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers before the bye.

Munnerlyn has teamed with undrafted rookie Melvin White from Louisiana-Lafayette to form the starting cornerback tandem. Drayton Florence, who has started more than 100 games during his NFL career, has been solid coming off the bench, twice sealing victories with interceptions.

The Panthers lost veteran safety Charles Godfrey in week two, but free agent pickup Mike Mitchell – who rarely started during his four seasons in Oakland – has provided leadership and big plays at free safety. Veteran castoff Quintin Mikell has filled in at the other safety spot, splitting time with another undrafted rookie, Robert Lester from Alabama.

While the secondary may not garner much attention, defensive end Greg Hardy said they’re certainly not viewed as the defense’s weak link.

“Not at all,” Hardy said. “Look at how many picks we have. Look at how many points we have off pick sixes and turnovers.”

Hardy said the best thing is you never know who’s going to step up and make a play.

“They’re all swarming,” Hardy said. “They are swarming everywhere. You throw it an inch over their heads and Mike (Mitchell) is there. You throw it an inch to left and Captain (Munnerlyn) is there. If you throw it dead on they’ve been known to step in front of it and pick it off.”

Three different Carolina players have been recognized as NFC Defensive Player of the Week – but none of those are from the secondary.

Munnerlyn said the team’s front seven is “terrific” and deserving of all of its accolades. He also said having a great pass rush is a defensive back’s best friend.

But he’s quick to add, “We know nobody gives us a second look” in the secondary.

“They say we have nobody that they know in our secondary,” Munnerlyn said. “They give a lot of credit to our front seven. But we don’t worry about it. We’re going to keep going out there and proving people wrong.”

To be sure, the Panthers secondary has Patriots Coach Bill Belichick’s attention.

“The secondary is good at taking the ball away, causing strip fumbles and interceptions, returning them for touchdowns,” Belichick said. “They’ve had some big plays back there.”

Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said competition in the secondary has led an elevated level of play.

Mitchell, who has three interceptions and forced two fumbles, said the front seven and secondary are playing off each other. Last Sunday, the Panthers’ second-ranked defense held Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers to 46 net yards passing in a 10-9 victory at Candlestick Park.

“We were able to make Kaepernick hold the ball and then our rush got to him,” Mitchell said. “I think we are playing great team defense. Our coverage helps our rush and rush helps our coverage.”

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