CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Panthers are learning just how valuable wide receiver Brandon LaFell is to their offense — and not just when he's catching the football.
In Carolina's two wins this season, the Panthers No. 2 receiver has seven catches for 160 yards and three touchdowns. In the Panthers' three losses LaFell has seven catches for 60 yards and no scores.
It was his 79-yard receiving touchdown that helped propel Carolina to a 35-10 rout of the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
While the fourth-year receiver is on pace for career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, it's his blocking ability that is beginning to turn heads in Carolina.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera called LaFell the best blocking wide receiver on the team.
"He's become an integral part of our run game," Rivera said. "You watch some of the blocks he throws — his cracks on the safety, how he cuts a linebacker off — he just gets it. It's not just about running routes and catching passes. It is about being a blocker, too."
"You don't have to be a killer, you just have to just get in the way for that instant to give DeAngelo (Williams) or Cam (Newton) a chance to get by and pick up 8 or 9 yards."
LaFell looks to do more of that when the Panthers (2-3) host the St. Louis Rams (3-3) on Sunday.
LaFell said he learned a hard lesson at LSU about just how important it is to know how to block. His lack of blocking skills prevented him from playing more as a freshman.
Now LaFell blocks with a vengeance.
He said it's a way to alleviate the stress when the ball isn't being thrown his way.
"I take a lot of pride in it," LaFell said. "I get so teed off that I'm not getting the ball that I want to hit somebody. Whatever play it is, I have to go block and take my frustration out on whoever is in front of me."
As for his big statistical numbers in Carolina's wins, LaFell believes that's more a reflection of Newton spreading the ball around to different players and the Panthers' ability to run the ball.
Carolina had 325 yards rushing in its wins over the Giants and Vikings.
"When everybody gets involved and we get in the flow that's when we win games and that's when our offense looks way better," LaFell said.
Rivera said the wins resulted from success in three key areas.
" (It was) the combination of running the ball, getting the ball to playmakers and converting in the red zone," the coach said.
LaFell's 107 yards receiving on Sunday marked a career-high.
It also helped erase a sour taste in his mouth from the week before when he dropped a wide-open pass from Newton on fourth-and-1 deep in Arizona territory.
LaFell tried to run with the ball before he caught it and disaster resulted. The Panthers not only failed to convert that first down, but never found the end zone in the 22-6 loss to the Cardinals.
The 26-year-old LaFell used that as motivation against Minnesota.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he's taken notice of what LaFell can do on tape and said he could present problems for the Rams' defense, which ranks 30th in the league against the run and 23rd overall.
"He's a productive player and an excellent blocker," Fisher said. "He will be a matchup concern of ours, as are some of the other guys he lines up with."
NOTES: Rivera said it is unlikely running back Jonathan Stewart will be activated to the 53-man roster this week. He's still on the PUP list with an ankle injury. ... Linebacker Thomas Davis was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording nine tackles and two sacks against the Vikings. ... Carolina officially placed guard Amini Silatolu on injured reserve with a torn ACL and signed free agent linebacker Jason Williams.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org