Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart always seems to heat up as the weather cools off.
Sunday was no exception.
Stewart rushed for 103 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on 16 carries in the 31-24 victory against Minnesota. Highlighting Stewart’s day was a 60-yard touchdown run on the Panthers’ third offensive play.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Stewart’s long run was the 10th rush of his career of 40 yards or longer – with seven of those coming in December or January. The only active running backs with as many 40-yard gains after the start of December are Jamaal Charles (nine) and Adrian Peterson (seven).
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There’s more to the trend.
The top five rushing games of Stewart’s career have all come in December, and nine of his top 11 rushing performances have been in December or January, according to Pro Football Reference.
“When it’s cold outside you don’t want to get hit, it seems like for some people,” Stewart said after the game. “The ball changes – the flight motion of the ball – when it’s cold. It’s a different ballgame during this time of year. As long as we keep grinding it out and getting better, we’ll be all right.”
The 5-10, 240-pound Stewart, who grew up in Lacey, Wash., doesn’t have a problem hitting or getting hit when the temperature drops.
“I don’t mind it at all,” he said. “I’m from Washington.”
Stewart’s big day coincided with the return of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, whose neck injury had sidelined him for all but two of the Panthers’ first 12 games. Stewart praised the play of Tyler Larsen in Kalil’s absence, but said getting Kalil back was big for the offense.
“Luckily we have two good centers really to complement each other when there’s injuries. It’s all about depth, especially during this time of year,” Stewart said. “Kalil comes in there and he’s done this before. He’s been there, he’s done that. He’s a vet.
“He’s one of the best centers to ever play, if you ask me. When you have him coming back for this game it’s a big confidence (boost) for everyone.”