When Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey hooked up for a Carolina Panthers touchdown Sunday against Green Bay, it wasn’t the play itself that garnered attention so much as what transpired right before it.
And by now, you’ve probably seen the viral video of that play. It starts with McCaffrey lined up next to Newton in the shotgun on second-and-goal. That formation must have looked familiar to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who called out to his defense to watch “that wheel route, it’s that wheel route!”
“(Clay) was calling us out,” McCaffrey said with a grin on Wednesday. “We heard it, it was kind of funny. ... Me and Cam kind of smirked at each other, kind of knew what was going to happen after that.”
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In the video, you can then hear Newton’s response to Matthews, with as wide a grin as McCaffrey had Wednesday: “You’ve been watching film, huh? That’s cool. Watch this!”
Of course, it wasn’t a wheel route. McCaffrey broke out of the backfield and briefly turned upfield, but then cut back inside and waltzed into the end zone almost untouched for a 7-yard score. The Panthers won 31-24.
Newton also addressed the play Wednesday, giving praise to Matthews despite his miscall.
“I’m just mad that they didn’t see me and C-Mac’s reaction when he said that, because it was funny,” Newton said. “You could hear it clear as day: ‘Watch the wheel route! Watch the wheel route!’
“And then there was a pause and the referee was right there and C-Mac looking back at me like (sarcastically), yeah, it’s a wheel route. But I mean it was funny.
“I was more surprised because I know exactly what play he was thinking, and when you kind of compare the signals, that’s extremely impressive by Clay Matthews, a perennial Pro Bowler who has a lot of respect from this league as well as myself. When I was thinking back I was like ‘Man, he thought it was a wheel?’ and then when you look at certain signals that are certain routes it’s, ‘Oh, he thought it was that one.’”
The thing about the play, from the replay at least, is that the wheel route also appears to be open. McCaffrey explained that the defender who could have guarded the wheel route got screened by Greg Olsen. So, could the Panthers have scored on the wheel route, too? There McCaffrey couldn’t help but break out in a second grin.
“Wheel might have been open, too.”