CHARLOTTE — It was a day of firsts for Christian McCaffrey.
The Panthers running back ran for 146 yards in the 30-20 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. That was nothing new. It was his fifth 100-yard day of the season and third in the last four games.
He also scored twice on runs and caught a pass for another touchdown. That was nothing new either. McCaffrey has 13 of the Panthers’ 22 touchdowns this season.
On his final score, however, McCaffrey broke away for a 58-yard touchdown run. As he celebrated with his teammates in the end zone, the crowd at Bank of America Stadium serenaded him with chants of “MVP. MVP.”
“That was pretty cool,” McCaffrey said. “We’ve still got a lot of ball left, but I think we have some of the best fans in the world. That was very special.”
The run that produced the chant was also a special one.
“We’d gotten some chunk runs throughout the whole day,” he said. “Four-, five-, six-yard runs that were hitting. And then, it all starts with up front (the offensive line). For me, it was just seeing air and turning on the jets.”
McCaffrey took a hit late in the game and got evaluated for the a concussion. He was cleared, although the Panthers chose to hold him out of the final two drives.
That gave McCaffrey the chance to achieve another first — his first trip to the injury tent on the sideline.
“I’d never been in the tent,” he said. “That was my first time. It was interesting. I feel like everybody’s looking at you, even though they can’t see you.”
With Cam Newton out, McCaffrey has become the go-to guy on the offense and one of the stars in the NFL.
Since Newton got shut down with a foot injury, McCaffrey has averaged 119 yards a game and 5.5 per carry.
Quarterback Kyle Allen called McCaffrey the “heart and soul” of the team, along with Newton. The reticent McCaffrey shied away from that title, however.
“I think we’ve got a lot of hearts and souls on this team,” he said.
Still, McCaffrey has quickly become the face of the franchise. The Carolina Hurricanes made use of an off day to come to the Panthers game, and several of the players were on the sideline in McCaffrey jerseys, with his number temporary-tattooed on their faces.
“My teammates were teasing me about that,” McCaffrey said. “They said it was a bunch of mes on the sideline — a bunch of white guys with blonde hair.”
The win moved the Panthers to 5-3 on the season, winners of five of their last six. Next up is a trip to Green Bay for a showdown with one of the NFC’s best teams and, for McCaffrey, perhaps the chance to accomplish some more firsts.