CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The upper body of Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was marked with nicks and scrapes as he slowly dressed following Sunday’s opener. He looked as if he had been through a full five rounds of an MMA bout and came out on the short end.
Looks can be deceiving.
McCaffrey dealt more punishment than he took during the 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The mark he left -- that he’s a serious threat to become the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season -- mattered the most.
“It was awesome,” coach Ron Rivera said of McCaffrey’s performance. “He gave us an opportunity.”
The eighth pick of the 2017 draft was practically unstoppable, rushing for 128 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries and catching 10 of 11 targets for 81 yards.
Multiply that out over 16 games and McCaffrey would have 304 carries for 2,048 yards and 160 catches for 1,296 yards.
Of course, that's not realistic. McCaffrey set an NFL single-season record for a running back last season with 107 catches, so to think he’s going to add 53 to that total and challenge Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2,105 yards, 1984) would be silly.
But McCaffrey might have established himself as the team’s new “Superman,” even though quarterback Cam Newton pretends to wear an “S” on his chest.
And he clearly has a chance to join former San Francisco 49ers great Roger Craig and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as the only backs to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
“There’s not a lot of guys that can handle that workload,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “He’s special and unique.”
McCaffrey accounted for 60.9% of Carolina’s offense, but there's a down side to relying so much on the do-it-all running back. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Panthers have a 3-6 record when McCaffrey gets more than 20 touches and 0-10 when he catches at least seven passes.
The goal coming into the season was to get McCaffrey more touches but fewer snaps than his 91.2% in 2018. On Sunday, he had 5.35 more rushes and 3.35 more catches than he averaged a year ago.
So mission accomplished on touches.
As for playing time, offensive coordinator Norv Turner indicated on Thursday that the plan to get McCaffrey more rest didn’t include the opener. McCaffrey played all 64 snaps, so the rest will have to come later. The Jets' Le'Veon Bell was the only other running back who played every snap in Week 1.
But McCaffrey wasn’t complaining.
“I felt good all game,” he said. “Obviously, teams start wearing down. But that’s kind of when you thrive, when the other team starts to get tired.”
McCaffrey thrived all game. At times he was beastly, sending Rams safety Eric Weddle to the locker room with a laceration to the head after the running back's knee collided with the safety’s helmet as he leaped over the 5-foot-11 player near the sideline.
And to those who wondered heading into last season if the 5-11, 205-pound back could effectively run between the tackles at his size, check out these numbers.
McCaffrey rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on eight carries off right guard and 25 yards and a touchdown on seven carries off left guard.
One of the inside touchdown runs was an 8-yarder on a direct snap in the Wildcat formation.
“They opened up a heck of a hole and it was my job to hit it,” McCaffrey said.
He became the workhorse, particularly in the running game, with Newton rushing for a career-low minus-2 yards on three carries.
“Obviously, Christian was really good,” Olsen said. “Outside of Christian, we have a lot of work to do.”