By Hunter Bailey. September 23, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC – Four touchdowns by Cam Newton and 184 yards rushing by Christian McCaffery later, the Carolina Panthers survived a home meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-21, in front of 72,161 at Bank of America Stadium.
Story edited by David Rogers. All photographic images by Braxton Critcher for Blowing Rock News
It was a happy homecoming for the Panthers after the wrath of Hurricane Florence swept through the Carolinas during the previous week. Carolina showcased an explosive offense with Newton completing 15-of-24 passes for 150 yards and two TDs while rushing for an additional 36 yards and another two touchdowns.
Led by McCaffrey’s 184 yards on 28 carries, the Panthers rushed for a season-high 230 total yards on the ground. Now in his sophomore NFL season, McCaffrey continues to show that he is an every-down running back. Despite what some football pundits consider as his diminutive size, many of the former Stanford gridiron star’s carries have come between the tackles for impressive gains.
Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton brought a hurricane-strength aerial attack to Charlotte, completing 29-of-46 passes for a whopping 352 yards and two touchdowns, but the most eye-catching game statistic: four interceptions thrown by the veteran QB. More often than not, turnovers are a football team’s undoing.
Panthers rookie defensive back Donte Jackson recorded the day’s first INT with just two minutes left in the first quarter. He grabbed his second with only three minutes in the contest to seal the victory. Star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly joined in the turnover fun with his first interception of the young season on the final play of the game. It was a timely return for Kuechly, who left midway through the final quarter to receive an IV on the sideline after suffering from dehydration.
Of regional interest, former UNC-Chapel Hill running back Giovanni Bernard stepped up as the Bengal’s replacement starter for veteran RB Joe Mixon, who was inactive due to what was described as minor knee surgery. Bernard got on the scoreboard with a one-yard TD plunge to finish the Bengals’ first offensive possession, finishing the game with 12 totes of the football for 61 yards rushing. He added five pass receptions on nine targets for 25 yards through the air.
The Panthers’ defense was able to corral the Bengals’ offensive threat at key moments. Coming off of a 3-touchdown performance a week ago against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals’ star wide receiver A J Green was held to only five catches for 58 reception yards, with Carolina cornerback James Bradberry shadowing Green until the third quarter when the former Georgia Bulldog (Green) left the game with a reported groin injury.
After Green’s exit, the Bengals’ offense lacked spark, although wide receiver Tyler Boyd hauled in six receptions for 132 yards on the day.
When the game was over and reporters had settled into their press conference seats, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was generous in his compliments about his offensive team, especially in answer to a question of whether Carolina’s offensive performance was what he envisioned in hiring offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
‘I really appreciate the things we saw today,” said Rivera. “I thought they did some really good things. Coach (Turner) really gave Cam Newton some options, some opportunities. Cam made some great decisions. Christian McCaffrey ran hard, played well. I like the way Coach mixed up the different personnel groupings. I thought that was outstanding and (he) really used them to our advantage and it showed. Bringing C J Anderson in and running what we call ‘21 Pony’ with all the shifts, motions and movements led to some plays. To answer your question, yes, that is what we envisioned.”
The Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) head to Atlanta to take on the (1-2) Falcons. With this win the Panthers move to (2-1) as they head into their bye week.