CHARLOTTE — A shocked and angry Captain Munnerlyn stood in the Carolina Panthers' locker room after Sunday's loss to the San Francisco 49ers feeling like he and his teammates let one slip away with a spot in the NFC Championship Game on the line.
Munnerlyn hopes his career in Charlotte did not come to an end with the 23-10 loss to San Francisco. The former University of South Carolina defensive back signed a one-year deal with the Panthers this past offseason and believes he proved himself worthy of a long-term contract with his play in 2013.
Munnerlyn started every game for the Panthers this season and finished with two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns. He also had career highs in tackles (73) and sacks (three). He tied a career-high with 12 passes defensed.
I proved I can be an every-down corner. I started every game at cornerback, and when it was time for me to slide over to nickel I went in and did a great job, Munnerlyn said. I feel like I deserve to be here. At the end of the day, if everything goes well I want to be here.
Munnerlyn will test free agency first, but he wants to be back with the Panthers in 2014.
They drafted me. I went to school an hour away, that's the best part about it, he said. I bought a home here. I want to stay here. At the end of the day, I love Carolina.
Munnerlyn was the most consistent cornerback for a Panthers defense that finished the year second in the NFL in total defense and sixth in the league against the pass. He believes he silenced his critics with his play this season.
Everybody says 'We need another corner. Captain can't be a number one corner and this and that.' But I feel like I proved I belong on the field every single down, Munnerlyn said.
Munnerlyn left South Carolina after his junior season. The Panthers drafted him in the seventh round, and he said he has used his draft position as motivation throughout his career.
I've still got that chip on my shoulder. I'm always going to play with that chip on my shoulder no matter what, he said. Being a late round pick it kind of helps me out a lot. Just to motivate myself every time we play against somebody, 'Oh they passed on me. They let me fall to the seventh round.' That's how I take it.
If Carolina does bring Munnerlyn back, he has no doubt the Panthers defense can continue to be one of the best in the NFL.
With this defense, the way this defense is going, how our defensive coordinator and how our coaches work together, this can be the best in the league, he said. If I'm back we're just going to be better and better.