Carolina Panthers

Instant analysis: McCaffrey dazzles, defense finds itself ... except in red zone

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) on Sunday became the first player in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards the week after having 100 receiving yards.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) on Sunday became the first player in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards the week after having 100 receiving yards. AP

Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ 31-21 victory or loss over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday:

Christian McCaffrey, the runner.

Much has been made over the last two weeks about running back McCaffrey’s heavy utilization as a receiver. He caught a team-high 20 passes on 24 targets, and recorded his second 100-yard receiving game against Atlanta last week while tying former receiver Steve Smith Sr.’s single-game receptions record with 14.

But on Sunday, the Panthers liked McCaffrey as a runner against the Bengals’ front seven. He racked up 99 yards on 11 carries with a career-high 45-yard long all before halftime and finished with 184 yards on 28 carries. He also served as a decoy for running back C.J. Anderson’s 24-yard touchdown that put the Panthers up 21-14 in the second quarter.

It’s possible the Bengals were also expecting to see McCaffrey more as a receiver this week.

But instead, McCaffrey ran hard to earn his first-ever 100-yard rushing game in the third quarter with an 11-yard carry.

Then, he left it in the dust with another 19-yard carry on the next snap.

McCaffrey is the first player in franchise history to rush for 100 or more yards a week after having 100 receiving yards.

Quarterback Cam Newton also did a little of everything, throwing two touchdown passes and running for two touchdowns.

Red Zone defense is in trouble

In seven trips to the red zone, Panthers opponents have scored seven touchdowns.

That’s a huge problem for a defense that butters its bread by being stout during crunch time.

Quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals cruised downfield to score on their first offensive series of the game, and only had to convert one third down.

Panthers found special players in Donte Jackson, Efe Obada.

Carolina’s pass-rush started to pop a little bit by the end of the first quarter. Dalton was pressured heavily on a stunt by defensive tackle Kawann Short, and rushed a throw to receiver John Ross.

Cornerback Donte Jackson read the play well and won the jump-ball against Ross for his second interception in as many games.

Jackson became the first Panthers player in history to record two interceptions in his first three career games.

Then, with 3:35 left in the game, Jackson picked off Dalton again.

Jackson and the similarly ultra-speedy Ross battled well all game.

Meanwhile, defensive end Efe Obada, who became the first International Pathways Program player to ever make an NFL 53-man roster, slid under a tipped pass by cornerback James Bradberry to come up with his first career interception.

Obada was born in Nigeria and trafficked to the United Kingdom when he was 8. He didn’t start playing football until he was in his 20s, and last year was on Carolina’s practice squad.

After Obada got the pick, his teammates erupted on the sideline and Obada clutched tightly to the ball, grinning hugely, as he jogged to meet them.

In the fourth quarter, Obada got loose on a rush and rocked Dalton for his first career sack.

The Panthers scored touchdowns off of Jackson’s first pick and Obada’s pick.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue
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