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McCaffrey, Obada lead Panthers to 31-21 victory

Jason Huber
September 23, 2018 - 7:34 pm
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Coming off of two very different performances through the first two weeks of the season, the Carolina Panthers (2-1) offense came to life on Sunday with a 31-21 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1).

Led by a career rushing game for Christian McCaffrey, 4 TD performance from Cam Newton and a career defensive game for Efe Obada, the Panthers were able to make up for a struggling secondary with 230 total rushing yards and four interceptions. 

Game balls went to Obada and rookie cornerback Donte Jackson for his two interception performance. 

"It wasn't hard. It really wasn't," Rivera said. "Obada got one and Jackson got one just because the young man came off the injury and getting a couple picks like that and tackled the way he did. Of course, Efe making a couple of exciting plays too and that's really cool for him." 

Signed by the Panthers in 2017 through the NFL's International Player Pathway Program, Obada, a backup defensive end worked his way onto the Panthers 53-man roster this year. He had been inactive the Panthers first two games but was the story of the day with two QB hits (one originally a forced fumble that was overturned), a sack and an interception in his first career game. 

"I was hungry man. I didn't want to go into a bye week and not have an opportunity. I wanted to show this team and help them win. I feel like I did that," Obada said. 

"Opportunity. Opportunity knocked on his door and he opened it smiling," Newton said. "He's very intellectual, super smart, practices extremely hard and for him to kind of be a developmental player, not having the big university, just the guy that came aboard and really looking at it and looking at guys and trying to see how to practice and how to go about being a professional athlete, to see him have a day like today, the sky is the limit for him." 

It was a slow start for the Panthers. Placing starting safety Da'Norris Searcy on the Injured Reserve this past week due to multiple concussions, the Panthers already thin secondary began to struggle right out of the gate against the Bengals.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton drove Cincinnati down the field with ease, going 6/7 for 63 yards and running back Giovani Bernard capped off the 11-play drive with a rushing touchdown to make it a 7-0 Bengals lead early. 

Cincinnati's lead didn't last long. After being forced to punt on their first drive, Carolina found their way down the field in 9-plays behind 45 and 13-yard rushing gains by McCaffrey. Newton was able to punch in the touchdown with a one-yard rush to tie things up 7-7.

"We didn't deter off our game plan," Newton said. "We went three-and-out which isn't good early but that didn't force us to panic. We stayed on our plays that we already had pre-determined and seeing what the defense gave us through that allowed us to keep finding different openings as well in the defense." 

Last time these two teams met in 2014, the game finished in a tie 37-37, and this time around, a touchdown from Newton to Devin Funchess and then Dalton to CJ Uzomah made it 14-14 midway through the second quarter.

"They started off on fire. Last time we played them, every we had something, they came back with something and every time they had something, we came back with something," Newton recalled. "So for us to get a win today is big. It's a sneaky win for us, very big for our confidence going forward." 

The Panthers were finally able to pull away for good after four years of being "tied" thanks to a seven-play drive that finished with CJ Anderson catching a screen pass for a 24-yard touchdown. 

Cincinnati's defense thought the pass/rush would be going to McCaffrey and shifted towards him, but the trick play became a key moment for the Panthers victory. 

"It's just the idea of having two running backs in at the same time with a tight end and two receivers," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Again, it gives us options whether we hand the ball to CJ Anderson or we give it to McCaffrey or Newton throws it to one of those two guys, throws it to the tight end of wide receivers."

Leading 21-14 to start the second half, McCaffrey hit the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. In total, McCaffrey finished the game with 184 yards on 28 rushing attempts. This comes just a week after setting the Panthers receptions record with 14. 

Before Sunday, McCaffrey had never rushed for more than 66 yards. He became the first Panther to ever rush and catch for 100-yards in his career.

The 184 yards is the fourth best in Panthers history. 

"It felt great. I think it obviously starts up front. Those guys did an absolutely unbelievable job all day getting after their guys and they continue to do it all game long," McCaffrey said. "When we can get in a rhythm running the ball it opens everything up. Definitely a lot of fun today."

Holding a 28-14 lead after another Newton rushing touchdown, Cincinnati continued to expose the Panthers secondary with big plays and Dalton connected with Tyler Boyd for a 27-yard touchdown to make it a 28-21 Panthers lead. 

Despite giving up a handful of big plays, the secondary still saw solid games from safety James Bradberry and Donte Jackson.

Jackson now has three interceptions in his last two games. 

"Just knowing that I'm building that confidence for my teammates and getting out there helps back up the "swagger," Jackson said.  "They're expecting me to go out there and back it up so that's what I've got to do. I'm blessed." 

Pulling the score within seven, the closest Cincinnati came to scoring again was with 9:55 remaining, but Julius Peppers came up big with a quarterback hit to force a 53-yard field goal that Cincinnati missed.

"I thought the defense did a great job today. I thought it was a great job by everyone," Peppers said. "You have these games where they take on a little personality, we had a little back-and-forth right there, but I thought we shut down in the second half and did what we needed to do." 

A 40-yard field goal by Graham Gano cushioned the Panthers lead with two minutes remaining and Luke Kuechly capped off the game with an interception.

"It was a great team win. Winning at home is very important, very pivotal for us and our success," Newton said. "For us to get a win heading into the bye and get a lot of guys mended up, it's pivotal for us to come back and pick up right where we left off." 

The Panthers will have a week off before hosting the New York Giants in Week 5 on October 7. 

Other Notables:

-Bengals star wide receiver A.J. Green left the game in the third with a groin injury, being held to just 58 yards on five receptions for the day. 

-Carolina's offensive line allowed only one sack while allowing the Panthers to rack up their 230 rushing yards.

"We have to continue to work," center Ryan Kalil said. "We thrive on being called a makeshift o-line and we'll just continue to do our job. All we can do is just do our job and I'll tell you what, John Matsko does an incredible job with the guys that we brought in." 

-The Panthers secondary allowed 352 yards in the air including 132 to Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd. 

-Luke Kuechly had to leave the game late in the game with cramps

-Carolina only allowed 66 total rushing yards with one touchdown coming on the first Bengals drive of the game. 

-The Bengals wore "One Carolina" stickers on their helmet in honor of Hurricane Florence. 

-The victory is the Panthers seventh straight home game dating back to last season. 

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