Panthers coach John Fox has helped bring a dominant running game to Carolina—and with it a 5-0 record.
Carolina beat Indianapolis 23-20 in overtime Sunday, handing the Colts their first loss of the season. The Panthers’ 9-1 record over the past 10 games is the best in the NFL.
“I haven’t been 5-0 since high school,” cornerback Terry Cousin said. “It’s a rarity in the NFL to be undefeated this late in the season.”
Running back Stephen Davis ran for 76 yards on 15 carries, but bruised his forearm in the second half and missed most of the final 21 minutes. He gained fewer than 100 yards for the first time since joining the Panthers in the offseason after being released by Washington.
However, DeShaun Foster, who missed all of last season with a knee injury after being chosen in the second round of the draft, picked up a career-high 85 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving. He ran for 26 yards on four rushes in the Panthers’ overtime drive, helping set up John Kasay’s game-winning field goal.
“Coming off last season, I just wanted to show I could still play football, and I got my opportunity this weekend,” Foster said.
Davis was pleased with his teammate’s performance.
“I am proud of him, he makes a lot of plays and when given the opportunity, he’s going to make a lot more,” Davis said. “A lot of people are in trouble now. We’re a two-headed monster.”
Only once in the team’s eight-year history has Carolina had a 1,000-yard rusher—Anthony Johnson in 1996. That’s also the only time the Panthers have ever outrushed their opponents in one season.
Davis, one 100-yard rushing performance shy of matching Johnson’s team record for the most in one season, is not expected to miss any playing time. Fox would not say how he plans to divide the carries between his backs but did promise his team, averaging 37.3 carries per game, would continue to run the ball at a high rate.
The key to the Panthers remaining unbeaten, however, may depend on if they can slow down McNair. Possibly Carolina’s biggest weakness this season has been defending the pass, allowing 290 yards per game to rank 23rd in the NFL.
McNair, who owns an NFL-leading 107.8 passer rating, threw for a career-high 421 yards in the Titans’ 38-17 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Tennessee, which has relied primarily on a running game in recent years, has amassed an NFL-best 1,701 passing yards this season. McNair has thrown for 781 yards over the past two weeks and is averaging an NFL-best 8.75 yards per completion.
“I still have to get used to that,” coach Jeff Fisher said of his team’s reliance on the passing game.
Even running back Eddie George, who had at least 315 carries in each of his first seven seasons, is enjoying McNair’s success.
“We’re winning. That’s the beautiful thing about it. We’re going to ride (No.) 9 all the way to it,” George said.
“By him doing his passing attack, that’ll open up things for the running game. That’ll happen in time. We just have to be patient and do our job.”
McNair completed passes to six different receivers on Sunday. Derrick Mason caught six passes for 177 yards, Justin McCareins had two for 68 yards and rookie Tyrone Calico caught four for 92 yards and had to be tackled by two and three defenders.
“Now we can stretch the football down the field and be successful at it. It’s good,” McNair said. “It reminded me back of when I was in (college at) Alcorn (State). It’s good to know that in this system that you have the capability of putting up those numbers.”