CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Mike Mitchell is bringing a little attitude — and a whole lot of big plays — to the Carolina Panthers' defense.
The free agent pickup from the Oakland Raiders had eight tackles, two forced fumbles and goaded two Rams players — offensive lineman Harvey Dahl and wide receiver Brian Quick — into committing unnecessary roughness penalties on Sunday as the Panthers defeated St. Louis 30-15.
Mitchell entered the game with three interceptions and added a few more big plays to his growing Pro Bowl resume on Sunday.
"We wanted to do a better job of being more mature, being the more composed team," Mitchell said. "We had the game in hand and we could tell by the way they were playing that they wanted to get somebody cheap, try to get us a penalty, something like that. We weren't going to give it to them. We just needed to stay disciplined."
Mitchell said he's thrilled with playing under defensive coordinator Sean McDermott after spending the last four years in Oakland.
The Panthers came into the game ranked third in the league in defense and have now forced 14 turnovers in six games. On Sunday, they scored their first touchdown when Captain Munnerlyn returned an interception 45 yards for a score on the first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for the game.
"We do a great job here, and this is something I'm really proud of — we played team defense," Mitchell said. "You're going to see different guys making plays each week because we play as such a team."
Munnerlyn said Mitchell is one of the most confident players he's ever been around.
"Once you get that confidence, it's hard to break a guy down," Munnerlyn said. "That's what he brings to the defense, that confidence. And he doesn't mind hitting, and I like that about Mike. He'll step up and hit you."
Five reasons why the Panthers beat the Rams:
STAY COOL, MAN: The Rams were flagged for five personal fouls and had one player ejected — defensive end Chris Long — while the Panthers only had two personal fouls in a heated game. Essentially, that is to say the Panthers kept their cool while the Rams didn't.
"I think both teams are hungry to win," Panthers tackle Jordan Gross said. "They were 3-3 and we were 2-3 and this game was big for both teams. It's a physical game and we're out there hitting each other. Sometimes it gets a little beyond snap to whistle but I was proud of us. We didn't get as many fouls as they did. I think we kept our heads a little better."
DON'T AWAKE A SLEEPING GIANT: Panthers receiver Steve Smith said Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins tried to get under his skin by talking about his wife, Angie, during the game. If that's true, Jenkins needs to learn you never get in a war of words with Smith — it only fires him up more and escalates his level of play.
Smith made Jenkins pay by beating him on a 19-yard touchdown catch — the 800th reception of his career — in the second half.
Smith put a little extra into his touchdown dance, saying "When you embarrass people, you rub it in their face."
EFFICIENT CAM: Cam Newton has suddenly turned into Mr. Efficient. Newton turned in his second straight quality start, completing 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. In the past two games, Newton is 35 of 43 for 464 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford threw for 255 yards but left the game in the fourth quarter with knee injury.
TURNOVER BATTLE: The Rams came into the game a plus-6 in the turnover ratio and had forced seven turnovers in their last two games. However, it was the Panthers who forced three turnovers and didn't turn the ball over at all.
EARLY MOMENTUM: The Panthers defense hasn't allowed a point this season in the first quarter. Ironically, the offense has surrendered two as Mike Tolbert was tackled in the end zone for a safety on Sunday.
Carolina (3-3) has taken a lead into halftime in all six games this season. But they finally seem to be learning how to close out games having won in back-to-back weeks for the first time this season.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org