CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers will head into their bye week on an up note after beating the Cincinnati Bengals 31-21 on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
The win moved the Panthers to 2-1 and erased the sting of a road loss at Atlanta one week ago.
“It was great,” linebacker Shaq Thompson said. “We knew last week wasn’t us on both sides of the ball, but we bounced back today and got a win at home.”
The defense was a big part of that bounce back, holding Cincinnati to 66 yards on the ground. The Panthers saw the end of 21 games without a running back going for 100 yards in Atlanta the previous game. So putting the clamps on the Bengals, and former Tar Heel standout Gio Bernard, was a matter of pride.
The Carolina defense also had four interceptions and sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton twice.
“When the defense has big plays like that, it gets us pumped up on offense,” said running back Christian McCaffrey, who was another major key to the victory.
McCaffrey set a career high with 184 yards rushing, the most by a Panther since DeAngelo Williams had 210 against the Saints at the end of the 2012 season.
“That’s it?” joked quarterback Cam Newton when informed of McCaffrey’s rushing total.
“I’ve got to get more, I guess,” McCaffrey said. “I guess that’s what that means.”
McCaffrey set up Carolina’s first touchdown with a 45-yard run that put the ball at the Cincinnati 6. Newton rushed into the end zone three plays later to tie the score 7-7.
Newton played a part in all four Panthers touchdowns, rushing for two and passing for a pair.
McCaffery also had a 15-yard run to set up another Panthers’ touchdown and a 10-yard run to help Carolina get into field goal range.
The ground explosion for the second-year running back came a week after McCaffrey tied a team record with 14 catches in a game.
“As an offense, we just want to move the ball forward, whether it’s a pass or a run,” he said. “Whatever’s working.”
With the Bengals making sure McCaffrey couldn’t hurt them with his receiving, the Panthers were willing to let him run it.
“We could tell they definitely emphasized some of the routes,” he said. “Shoot, we want to do whatever’s working. Last week, we had success with some of the check-downs. This week, guys were getting open downfield, and that opened things up for all of us.”
Coming out of Stanford as Carolina’s first-round draft pick in 2017, McCaffrey was thought of as an undersized back who couldn’t handle the pounding an NFL workhorse takes, making his performance Sunday even sweeter.
“It definitely bothers me,” he said, “but the more I go through this league, the more I learn it’s never been about proving anybody wrong or right. It’s just about proving myself right.”