Devin Funchess’ first target Sunday was ... well, not what you’d hope for.
It was early in the first quarter of the Carolina Panthers’ eventual 31-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, and after a three-and-out to begin the game, quarterback Cam Newton was looking to string a drive together. So he looked for Funchess, all 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds of him, running a crossing route on second down.
In Funchess’ defense, Newton’s pass was a little high, but it was definitely a ball Funchess should have brought down.
Funchess finished Sunday’s game with four receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown, his first this season. Once the team traded Kelvin Benjamin midway through last season, it created space for Funchess to grow into that No. 1 receiver role. And he backed that up, finishing the year with 840 yards and eight touchdowns.
Now through three games, he’s continuing to grow in that role, as evidenced Sunday.
During Carolina’s first offensive possession of the second half, Newton looked to Funchess again. Often. Funchess registered three catches on that drive, of 16, 27, and 4 yards, the last of which was a short touchdown on a slant route.
As for what Funchess was thinking on that scoring play?
“I just knew I had to get into the end zone. My cousin, he just died. The funeral was yesterday, so I knew I had to get in there for him,” Funchess said. “So whatever I had to do, I just had to go get it.”
For that same reason, Funchess kept the ball after that play instead of customarily handing it off to a child in the stands. And while his mind might have also been on personal matters, Funchess said during the week he was solely focused on winning.
The formula for that continues to be spreading the ball around, but as is becoming clear in Norv Turner’s offense, also giving Funchess a steady diet of targets. His size, especially matched up against the larger, longer cornerbacks the Bengals had, is an asset he alone can tout in this receiving corps.
So did Funchess, who helped the Panthers offense accrue nearly 400 total yards, think this was the best the unit could look?
“I mean, we were clicking,” Funchess said, “but we’ve got more to come for the whole season.”