Former Chiefs safety Kurt Coleman had a huge game in Sunday’s NFC Championship, recording two interceptions in the Carolina Panthers’ 49-15 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Coleman, 27, signed with the Panthers as a free agent last offseason after turning in a solid 2014 season with the Chiefs in a reserve role.
Coleman, who is listed at 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds, racked up 37 tackles, six pass deflections and a team-high three interceptions, despite playing only 396 of 1,086 possible defensive snaps in 2014. What’s more, his Pro Football Focus grade of plus-4.6 ranked 26th among 87 qualifying safeties.
It was, to be sure, a bit of a redemptive year for Coleman, who averaged 85 tackles, 4 1/2 deflections and three interceptions as a starter in Philadelphia in 2011 and 2012 for Chiefs coach Andy Reid. However, he also battled injuries in 2012, and his play suffered. His Pro Football Focus grade of negative-15.5 ranked 85th among 88 safeties who logged at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The next year, Coleman saw his number of defensive snaps drop from 905 to 74 under new coach Chip Kelly. He logged 14 tackles in 15 games (zero starts) before signing with the Vikings as a free agent in April. But he never really caught on there, and was released during the last round of preseason roster cuts before he was snapped up by the Chiefs in early September.
This year for the Panthers, however, Coleman has emerged as one of the league’s best safeties. During the regular season, he racked up 90 tackles and tied for the third-most interceptions in the league with seven.
Palmer has game to forget
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer couldn’t have picked a worse time to have a a mistake-filled performance.
Palmer had six of the Cardinals’ seven turnovers Sunday. He threw four interceptions and was stripped for two fumbles.
Palmer was inconsistent in taking his first career playoff win in last week’s overtime thriller against Green Bay in the divisional round. Sunday night, he struggled throughout, constantly shuffling against the oncoming rush and never looking comfortable.
He finished 23 for 40 for 235 yards with one touchdown, throwing a late pick-six to Luke Kuechly followed by another interception as the game turned into a rout.
Ginn gets last laugh
Discarded by Arizona just one year into a three-year contract, Carolina receiver Ted Ginn Jr. did just about everything against his former team.
Ginn caught two passes for 52 yards, set up his own 22-yard touchdown run with a 32-yard punt return and chased down Patrick Peterson after an interception to save a touchdown.
Ginn admitted he left Carolina after the 2013 season to “chase a check” but was seldom used in Arizona last season. He caught just 14 passes for 190 yards and no touchdowns and was released.
The Panthers welcomed him back with a two-year contract — and the move paid off. Ginn caught 44 passes for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season.
But he may have saved his best game for Sunday.
With Carolina leading 3-0, Ginn fielded a punt and weaved through traffic for a 32-yard return to set the Panthers up in Arizona territory. Five plays later he took a pitch from Cam Newton, raced around left end on a reverse, changed fields and scored.
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, a big fan of Ginn’s college team of Ohio State, tweeted after the play “Do work (at)TedGinnJr—19!! I see you out there.”
Ginn later caught a 39-yard pass over Peterson.
And when it looked as if the Cardinals might have a chance of making a comeback, Ginn chased down Peterson after an interception, saving a touchdown.
▪ Carolina’s 49 points were the most this season for the Panthers, who led the NFL with 500 points. The last time a team scored as many as 49 in a conference title game was 1990, when Buffalo beat the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC.
▪ The stadium was cleared of snow from the late-week storm thanks in part to an assist from Charlotte Motor Speedway, which sent men and equipment on Friday and Saturday.
Star news services contributed to this report.