It wasn’t just the 39-yard touchdown catch-and-run that made Fozzy Whittaker winded in the third quarter of Saturday night’s 27-16 win against the Cardinals.
The Panthers’ backup running back was tired from running down the right sideline, cutting left and then up the other sideline for the score. But it was the celebration after with his fellow running backs that had him sucking more wind.
“I’m not going to lie,” Whittaker said. “After scoring the run and then celebrating with all the running backs, it definitely made me tired. It was something that was definitely worth it.”
Whittaker’s touchdown gave the Panthers the go-ahead score at 20-14, and it helped validate his spot on the roster.
With Jonathan Stewart rushing as well as he has in the past four years, and with DeAngelo Williams returning from a hand injury, the snaps were limited for Whittaker.
He touched the ball twice Saturday night as the situational back. His one rush went for four yards, and his screen pass went farther than designed.
Whittaker took the pass from Cam Newton and worked behind his blockers. He saw his Panthers’ teammates blocking Cardinals to the right, so he cut left and made would-be tacklers miss.
“I definitely did (feel people around me),” Whittaker said. “I just run. I don’t know where they are but sometimes I feel like they can’t catch me or I feel like somebody else will block them so all I do is run.”
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of the fastest players on the field, was the final man to beat. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin had blocked Peterson, but he freed himself and was ready to give chase when left tackle Byron Bell finished off the block that allowed Whittaker to score.
“My whole thinking is if the guy comes off Kelvin, run him over,” said Bell, who called it one of the best blocks of his career.
After the game, Whittaker credited his offensive line for opening up holes. But it wasn’t like Whittaker busted through the middle of the line on a running play. His cut and his elusiveness helped make the play.
“I say that because if they weren’t there and if they weren’t blocking, even after I made the cut, Byron Bell had a great block that sealed it,” Whittaker said. “Without their help I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get around the corner.”
Whittaker was signed by the Panthers in training camp after sixth-round draft pick Tyler Gaffney injured his knee on the first day of practice. Gaffney would later be scooped by New England after Carolina waived him but before it could place him on the injured reserve.
He didn’t see action in the first two games, and then he suffered a thigh injury that would sit him for six of the next seven games.
Whittaker battled injuries throughout his career at the University of Texas. He tore his ACL and MCL in his senior year and did not get drafted in 2012.
He bounced around practice squads in Arizona, San Diego and Cleveland before coming to Carolina. He scored his second touchdown of his Panthers’ career Saturday night, and the celebration continued from the sideline into the locker room.
Williams’ locker is adjacent to Whittaker’s, and as Whittaker fielded questions from the media, Williams turned on the camera light on his phone and aimed it at Whittaker.
“I understand you got this light shining on you,” Williams shouted as Whittaker, laughing, stood in the spotlight.