CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last week, the Panthers targeted RB Christian McCaffrey in the passing game 14 times, taking what the Atlanta Defense gave them.
This week? A totally different approach from new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Head Coach Ron Rivera, who used to be a coordinator under Turner in San Diego, said he got exactly what he was hoping for Sunday.
Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more , Christian McCaffrey racked up a career-high 184 yards rushing and Carolina gave the first loss of the season to the Cincinnati Bengals 31-21.
“We want to impose our will,” said Newton. “We are a team that can attack a defense in many different ways. As the game progresses I see the body language of defenders and they are wearing down.” Newton praised Turner for his play-calling during the game.
Newton completed 15 of 24 passes for 150 yards and ran for 36 yards as the Panthers (2-1) won their seventh straight home game going back to last season. Newton has now completed passes at a 67.4% clip during the first three games of the 2018 season, a clear jump for him.
McCaffrey, who tied a franchise record with 14 receptions last week against Atlanta, did his damage on the ground this time. He surpassed his previous career high of 66 yards rushing and became the first player in franchise history to post a 100-yard receiving game and a 100-yard rushing game in back-to-back weeks.
Newton has told people that McCaffrey is more than just a “scat back”. McCaffrey’s 28-carry outing on Sunday may begin to sway doubters that the 2nd year player cant run in between the tackles or handle a heavy rushing workload.
“He’s a total running back,” Newton said. “… This is not a fluke. He has been doing this his entire career, collegiately and professionally. The fact that we have a special talent, you can’t really gear in using packages for him.”
McCaffrey went on to say after the game that the labels “definitely” bother him, but has learned to deal with them.
“The more and more I go through this league I learn that it’s never been about proving anyone wrong or proving anybody right,” McCaffrey said. “It’s proving myself right, and that’s the biggest thing that I’ve had to mentally take over as I continue to grow.”
Turner found a groove in his play-calling through out the day, one example showed exactly what the Panthers have on offense, making them difficult to plan for or defend when they are clicking on all cylinders.
On one fantastic Turner play call, Newton sold a fake pass to McCaffrey and threw to the other side of the field to hit backup running back C.J. Anderson for a 24-yard touchdown on a screen play. The Panthers call it their Pony 21 set, which features McCaffrey and Anderson, a 1,000-yard rusher last season with Denver, in the backfield. The Panthers had ran the play earlier in the day but instead of going the opposite direction, Newton passed to McCaffrey his first option. On the play, Newton also has the options of throwing downfield, or keeping the ball himself and running.
“This is a different style of offense, the way they attack,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We have to adjust and morph and play in it and make sure we stay sound in it. You have to be good for the whole ballgame. There were times we were perfect and times we were not.”
Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, left with a groin injury in the third quarter. He did not return to the game.
“At first, I thought I’d just knocked the air out of myself and just needed to catch my breath,” Green said. “When I got up and running, I was pretty sore.” Green expects to play next week vs Atlanta.
Efe Obada, the first player to make a 53-man roster from the recently formed NFL International Pathways Program, turned in a huge game in his first NFL appearance, getting an interception, a key fourth-quarter sack and two quarterback pressures on Dalton. Obada and rookie CB Donte Jackson, who had two interceptions in the game, were given game balls by Ron Rivera in the locker room after the game.
Andy Dalton was 29 of 46 with two touchdowns, but was intercepted four times. Carolina’s defense, which allowed 432 yards and 31 points to the Falcons last week, held the Bengals (2-1) to 66 yards rushing who were missing starting RB Joe Mixon.
Tyler Boyd had six catches for 132 and a touchdown for the Bengals. Gio Bernard had 61 yards rushing on 12 carries and a touchdown, and five catches for 25 yards filling in for Mixon.
The Panthers have a bye next week, they will host the Giants in Charlotte on Oct. 7.