CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ted Ginn Jr. left the Panthers after one successful season to chase the biggest payday of his NFL career.
Ginn returned to the Panthers in 2015 after a largely fruitless season with the Cardinals, and now he’s in position to chase a bigger prize.
Ginn played a big role in the Panthers’ 49-15 victory over the Cardinals — yes, his old team — Sunday night in the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium.
The ninth-year pro had a 22-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that helped stake the Panthers to a 17-0 lead, added a 32-yard punt return that helped set up that score, and had a 39-yard reception in the third quarter that set up another touchdown.
The fact that it came against his former team? Ginn said it was enjoyable.
“Yes, it was personal,” he said. “My team knew it was personal . . . All week I was an average guy, I was average Joe. I just kept that in the back of my mind.”
Ginn played for the Panthers during the 2013 season and finished the year with 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns. It was his best season since 2008, his second year with the Miami Dolphins.
That led to a free-agent offer from the Cardinals during the offseason, a three-year, $9.75-million contract. But Ginn had one of his worst seasons with Arizona in 2014 — 14 catches for 190 yards and zero TDs — leading to his release last February.
Ginn re-signed with the Panthers a few months later and the rest is history, especially after top receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL during training camp.
“Once Kelvin went down, Cam [Newton] told me, ‘Come on, Ted, let’s have the best you you’ve ever had,’ ” Ginn said. “We went out and we put work in. We changed a lot of things up because of the size of me [5-11]. We wanted to be great, and it showed.”
Ginn played a key part in the Panthers’ 15-1 regular season. He was second among receivers in catches (44) and yards (739) and led the team with a career-best 10 touchdowns.
But against the Cardinals, Ginn showed that he has a few more skills than catching a football.
His 22-yard TD run came on a reverse and was set up by Newton faking a keep on the read option, then tossing the ball to Ginn as he swept around the backfield.
Ginn raced halfway down the Arizona sideline, got hemmed in by Cardinals defenders, cut back across the field and raced untouched into the end zone.
“Sometimes you just have to bring your talent out,” Ginn said. “[Arizona cornerback Justin] Bethel came up, slowed me down, allowed me to see the defense. I gave him a little move, cut back.”
In addition to his TD run, Ginn had two receptions for 52 yards, including a 39-yarder. That set up Newton’s second scoring run in the third quarter, which staked Carolina to a 34-7 lead.
Ginn also helped out his team when things didn’t go right. He chased down Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson after he picked off Newton just shy of the end zone with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Instead of a touchdown return, Ginn caught Peterson at the Panthers’ 22-yard line, preventing a touchdown and allowing Carolina to head to the locker room with a 24-7 halftime lead.
“At the end of the day, they fought for me and I fought for them,” Ginn said. “I know I made a couple of plays that could be changes in the game, but without the other 52 guys, there’s no Ted Ginn.”