Carolina secondary deserves respect, too

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Free safety Mike Mitchell was talking about how nobody plays the "no respect" card more in the Carolina Panthers' locker room than he does. He was reminded that three times this season a member of the league's second-ranked defense has been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, and none was from the secondary.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn chimed in.

"Oh, Lord! They want to go there," he said.

Mitchell smiled.

"If we keep winning games and put on the performance we're putting on, you have to notice at some point," he said of the secondary. "My thing is to keep making plays."

Mitchell has made plenty. He has three interceptions, tied for 10th in the NFL. He also has 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles and is third on the team in tackles with 42.

Yet, when most analysts and fans mention Carolina's defense, it's always about how good the front seven -- or even front four -- is. It's almost as if the secondary has been forgotten.

"If we don't have your respect before the game, we're going to get it from you afterwards," Mitchell said as he looked ahead to Monday night's showdown against New England. "Teams have slept on us earlier in the year. You seen the turnovers we're getting. You've seen the yards we're allowing.

"That's not by accident. We've been doing this since … training camp. It's no way you can call it a fluke."

The numbers don't lie. Carolina ranks fourth in the NFL against the pass, allowing 201.3 yards a game. But that often gets overlooked by the run defense ranked No. 2 and the players up front making sacks.

"They're never going to give us credit for what we're doing," Munnerlyn said. "I feel like we're the best secondary in the NFL. We're No. 4 right now in pass defense, but they're never going to give us credit because we don't have those top name guys other guys have."

Mitchell hasn't been totally overlooked. He easily could have gotten the player of week award over linebacker Thomas Davis for his two interceptions and sack against Minnesota.

"That was a toss-up," Mitchell said. "But Thomas Davis, he's been doing it so long, he's such a good player, he deserved it."

Mitchell, as outspoken as he is, also is humble.

But there is no doubt what he perceives to be a lack of respect for him and the secondary drives him, and motivates the group.

"It's just how I feel," he said. "You hear all the time, all through preseason, guys talking about our front seven. I'll be the first to stand up and say they are as good as you think they are. But no one ever says anything about our back room."

That was driven home after Sunday's 10-9 victory at San Francisco when the front seven got so much credit for sacking quarterback Colin Kaepernick six times and holding him to 46 net passing yards.

"It's like, this is the same guy who threw for over 400 yards against Green Bay," Mitchell said. "There's a reason he threw for 46 yards in this game. People are saying 'if you took away his first read.' Well, who took away his first read in that game? We did a great job.

"But we'll keep letting them do that. In our room, we turn it around. It's not a negative. We turn it around and we use it, like, 'OK, it was Kaepernick's fault last week. Cool. What will be their reason this week?'"

Mitchell takes the same approach when asked whether he is worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.

"The numbers don't lie," he said. "I believe if you compare my numbers to anybody else's in the league, they're right there. I'll let the media and the fans debate that.

"But if you ask my opinion, look at the numbers, and the numbers don't lie."