Scott Fowler

Behind McCaffrey (3 TDs), Panthers erase a bad memory, whip Tennessee, move to 5-3.

Now that’s the way you rebound from a 38-point loss.

Behind yet another stellar game from running back Christian McCaffrey, the Carolina Panthers defeated Tennessee, 30-20, on Sunday, making it to the midpoint of their season with a 5-3 record .

It was the Panthers’ first home game in four weeks, and Carolina used it to erase the memory of the 51-13 beatdown that San Francisco laid on them in California a week before.

What went right? A lot of things, including McCaffrey’s three touchdowns and a 90-yard scoring drive in the second quarter in which quarterback Kyle Allen went 8-for-8.

The Panthers were also helped by a Tennessee team that kept bobbling passes, drawing penalties, missing field goals and turning the ball over. Tennessee made a decent second-half push, but never cut the lead to fewer than 10 points as Carolina’s 17-0 halftime margin was too much to overcome.

This wasn’t the 49ers, for sure. The Panthers will face another elite opponent on the road next Sunday, at Green Bay. But in the meantime, they did what they needed to against Tennessee (4-5) — which hadn’t allowed more than 23 points in a game all season until Sunday.

You had to love the “Riverboat Ron” stuff that head coach Ron Rivera did in this game — he made two big gambles, and they both worked out. He went for it on fourth-and-2 in the second quarter at Tennessee’s 7 with a 3-0 lead, and that resulted in a Carolina TD when Kyle Allen threw to a wide-open McCaffrey.

Then, even more surprisingly, Rivera had a 17-7 lead in the third quarter and Carolina was punting on fourth-and-4 from its own 36.

But Carolina faked the punt, Colin Jones took a direct snap and kept his legs driving, and the Panthers made the first down by a single yard. Carolina would end that drive with a TD, too, which short-circuited Tennessee’s momentum and pushed the Panthers to a 24-7 lead.

Said safety Tre Boston of Rivera: “He put his player’s coach hat on today. He said, ‘OK, what do you guys want? That’s what you’re going to get.’”

Derrick Henry and McCaffrey, who dueled for the collegiate Heisman Trophy in 2015 that Henry ultimately won, both had big-time games. No. 22 was frequently running down the field for both teams, as Henry scored twice and McCaffrey had his three touchdowns, including a 58-yarder in the fourth quarter that caused fans to chant “MVP! MVP!” after it ended. If anything, the Titans didn’t use Henry enough.

McCaffrey (24 carries, 146 yards) slid awkwardly into the end zone after a tackle on his final TD and got checked out in the injury tent for a possible concussion. “It was my first time in there,” McCaffrey said later, smiling. “It was interesting.” He was cleared to return to action, the Panthers announced, but he didn’t come back into the game due to what Rivera termed “an abundance of caution.” McCaffrey has now had TD runs this year of 84, 76, 58 and 40 yards.

Cornerback Donte Jackson also had a big game for the Panthers, with both an interception and a fumble recovery. Boston also had a fourth-quarter interception — his first of the season — that ensured the Titans weren’t going to make too much of a game of it.

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) celebrates with wide receiver Jarius Wright (13) following Samuel’s 12-yard touchdown catch against Tennessee Sunday. Brian Blanco AP

It’s early, but the Panthers look like they’ve finally found a decent kickoff and punt returner in former Wake Forest standout Greg Dortch, who had a kickoff return of 32 yards and more importantly fielded the ball cleanly on all his attempts.

Kicker Ryan Succop, a former standout at Hickory (N.C.) High, came back from injured reserve for the first game of the season against Tennessee. It went very badly, as Succop missed field goals from 43, 44 and 56 yards. The 44-yarder doinked off the goalpost with under a minute left and ended the game. Panthers kicker Joey Slye also had an uneven day, getting an extra point blocked and missing a 49-yard field goal. He did make a 35-yarder.

The Panthers’ defensive players talked a lot after the game about trying to win for defensive end Mario Addison, who missed the contest due to the recent death of his brother. “To keep Mario in your hearts, that’s what we did,” Jackson said. “We even had his jersey on the sideline.”

The Panthers made a concerted effort to get the ball downfield on offense, as Allen threw deep on numerous occasions to try and take advantage of Tennessee often playing single coverage on the outside. “We knew we were going to have to take deep shots,” Allen said.

Carolina had come into the game with only 16 pass plays of 20 or more yards in 2019, which was tied for 29th in the NFL. In this game, Allen hit passes of 32 yards to both Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore, as well as a 23-yarder to Greg Olsen and a 20-yarder to Samuel.

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