NFL: Panthers’ Parker relieved at end of wild week
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Before John Kasay lined up for a 42-yard field goal attempt that would determine if Carolina got a first-round bye in the playoffs, J’Vonne Parker nervously ran on the field to line up as the right end.
Parker had been a Panther for five days. But a rash of injuries had left him the only big body to fill a hole on a play that would decide if the Panthers would be the No. 2 seed or the No. 5 seed in the NFC.
He didn’t even know the name of the coach who ordered him out there. Oh, and Parker had never played that position as a pro.
“Never in an NFL game and something of that magnitude? Wow,” Parker said Thursday.
All the while, Parker said he was thinking, “Please don’t bring the pressure over here.”
Parker did his job. Kasay made the field goal, the Panthers beat New Orleans 33-31 and Parker was suddenly a member of the NFC South champions.
“One day here and I’m already a champ,” Parker joked. “You’ve got to love it.”
It was the end of a wild week for the 6-foot-4, 325-pound defensive tackle, who had been on rival Atlanta’s practice squad. But with starters Maake Kemoeatu (ankle) and Damione Lewis (shoulder) banged up, Carolina needed an extra body in case they couldn’t play against the Saints.
“I was staying with my brother, and I was wrapping Christmas gifts,” Parker said. “They called me Monday and I said, ‘Really?’ So I got on the highway on Tuesday at 6 a.m. I drove from Atlanta to here.”
Parker, who had played in 11 games in four seasons with Cleveland, Baltimore and Dallas, had to quickly learn his new coaches, teammates and playbook.
“I went to Rutgers. That’s pretty much an Ivy League school,” Parker said with a laugh. “So I picked it up pretty fast.”
With Kemoeatu and Lewis not practicing during the week, Parker started to figure he’d play some against New Orleans. He subbed in for fill-in starters Darwin Walker and Nick Hayden but didn’t record a tackle.
Carolina was having injury issues on the offensive line. Right guard Geoff Hangartner and right tackle Jeff Otah, who also play on the field-goal protection team, both left the game.
“The assistant special teams coach, excuse me, I don’t know everyone’s names yet, he told me, ‘Be ready to be up,’ ” Parker said of Matt House. “Otah, he was down. But I said, ‘He’s a tough guy. He’ll come back up.’ So five minutes later he said. ‘You’re up.’ And I said, ‘Oh, man.’ I was praying right there.”
Parker said he had practiced at the right end position for field goals when he was in Cleveland. But that was in 2006.
“I didn’t know if we had a cadence,” Parker said. “I said, ‘What’s the cadence.’ They said there’s no cadence, get your feet and hands. It was wild.”
Parker, who was born in Roanoke Rapids before moving to New Jersey as a kid, added another story in a career he acknowledged he didn’t think would last this long. Parker, who received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, wants to one day start his own security business.
But for now, Parker is a late arrival to the Panthers’ playoff train.
Still learning his new teammates’ names, Parker could face his former teammates next week. Atlanta is one of three teams the Panthers could play on Jan. 10 in the NFC divisional round.
But the Falcons must first win at Arizona. Kasay’s kick ó and Parker’s blocking ó meant Carolina, not Atlanta, got that coveted first-round bye and a guaranteed home game.
“I hope it’s the Falcons. I really do,” Parker said. “For one, they’re familiar with us and we’re familiar with them. It would make for a great game, you’ve got to admit.”
Notes:It took about five minutes Thursday for the Panthers to sell out the 7,000 tickets available to the general public for the Jan. 10 playoff game. The rest of the tickets go to the Panthers’ permanent seat license holders. … The Panthers’ light workout Thursday lasted less than an hour. The team will practice this morning, then be off until Tuesday.