Martin picks fine time for 2 picks

CHARLOTTE - Sherrod Martin brought two footballs home from Arizona, one for each of his interceptions of future Hall of Fame candidate Kurt Warner.

It was a splendid starting debut for Martin, the Carolina Panthers' rookie free safety who was filling in for injured Charles Godfrey. Martin's interceptions helped spark the Panthers to a 34-21 victory against Warner and the Cardinals.

"I couldn't ask for (it to have been) any other way," Martin said. "I've got something to build off of."

With Godfrey hobbled by an ankle injury, Martin is expected to be back in the starting lineup Sunday against New Orleans, when he will face another of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

This time, it is Drew Brees, who has led the Saints to a 7-0 record, tied with Indianapolis for best in the NFL. Brees is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (16), is sixth in passing yardage (2,006), and third in passer rating (107.6).

Martin watched Brees and the Saints beat Atlanta on Monday Night Football and has been deep into film study of New Orleans' attack this week.

But Martin does not look or sound intimidated about the prospect of facing Brees.

"It's the NFL and a quarterback is a quarterback," he said. "I'm coming in and just trying to help the team out.

"It's all about what you do when you step on the field. Everything you've done in the past goes out the window. If you step on the field and you've done great things, you've got to do them all over again."

That's especially true for Martin, who is making a bid to remain the starter after Godfrey returns from injury. The cast Godfrey wore on his right foot last week was gone Wednesday, but he was still walking gingerly.

Martin's two interceptions against the Cardinals doubled the number Godfrey has in 22 career starts. Martin also matched the combined total of interceptions this season by all of Carolina's other defensive backs. He became the first Panthers player with two picks in a game in more than two years, since Deke Cooper had a pair at Arizona on Oct. 14, 2007.

"He showed up," veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs said of Martin. "That's what you want out of the young guys, to step in and fill in when needed and have great performances.

"That's what this NFL is about. A lot of great players were made that way."

Martin displayed a knack for interceptions during his college career at Troy, compiling nine in his four-year career. He tied an NCAA record with three interceptions in a quarter against Alcorn State last year as a senior.

"To be able to make plays, you've got to be around the ball," Martin said. "If it's on the ground or in the air, you just make sure you get there. When you get there, it's got a way of making things happen. Things happen in a crazy way."

Though Martin played safety in college, the Panthers drafted him intending to move him to cornerback. However, a variety of factors contributed to his return to safety:

Rookie cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, a seventh-round pick out of USC, played much better than expected and won a spot in the team's nickel package as a cornerback. Plus injuries at safety forced the team to try Martin there.

Martin also suffered a bruised knee in the preseason that slowed his development. He returned to health in recent weeks.

"It slowed me down as far as running," he said. "It was causing me sharp pain, but I've put all that behind me.

"I know nobody will play the game at 100 percent, but I feel like I'm the best I can be."

For one game, at least, that was plenty good enough.