All it took was Christian McCaffrey’s injury to reveal how flimsy the Panthers are.
Their beat died down when their heart and soul went down to injury.
This is embarassing. Panthers pick up the blitz and Sam Darnold gets sacked by the blitzer anyway. pic.twitter.com/hkAMPi5BH0
— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) October 25, 2021
Worse, Darnold got benched for P.J. Walker in their 25-3 defeat against the New York Giants.
The Panthers were supposed to bounce back from their losing streak because the Giants are missing several key players.
Instead, that game further proved that McCaffrey, not Darnold, keeps them competitive.
A Tale Of Two Teams
It’s like the Panthers were in a three-act play.
Playing with McCaffrey was the first act, and everything went smoothly for Carolina.
They limited opponents to ten points per game while scoring an average of 23 markers during their three-game win streak.
While McCaffrey scored only one touchdown throughout that stretch, he kept the offense moving.
He was a menace all over the field, averaging 67 rushing and 54.3 receiving yards per contest.
During their season opener, McCaffrey blasted out of the gates with 98 rushing and 89 receiving yards against the New York Jets.
However, he suffered a hamstring injury in their Week 3 game versus the Houston Texans.
Luckily, the Panthers still won that game despite getting only 40 total yards from him.
Unfortunately, they’ve only scored 19.25 points per game in their four losses.
Their defense has also regressed, giving away 29 points per game during the same stretch.
Without McCaffrey, their total yards per game has gone down drastically.
In their first three games, the Panthers averaged 105.6 rushing and 296 receiving yards per game.
Those numbers shrink to 99 and 199 yards, respectively, over their losing streak.
His absence made their offense look stuck, which gave their opponents more scoring opportunities.
The Final Act For The Panthers
The Panthers got some consolation knowing that McCaffrey’s injury did not cause him to miss the entire season.
Even if he’s still on injured reserve, his return to practice is a positive development for Carolina, though there’s no definite timetable for his return yet.
But once he takes on the field, that’s when the Panthers can start the final act of their season.
In those first two games of the season when Sam Darnold played well, he targeted Christian McCaffrey on 21% of his passes. CMC caught 93% of them & averaged 10.14 yards after catch/reception.
What has happened since says a lot about Darnold and CMC.
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) October 24, 2021
Amidst their losses, they are still on the hunt for a wild card spot in the NFC, and getting him back will boost their chances.
However, they’re hoping that he returns for good and displays his versatility again because going back from a hamstring injury can be tricky.
At 3-4, they are still in the mix for either the sixth or seventh playoff spot.
The odds of that happening, though, depend on McCaffrey’s return.
The Panthers hosted RB Ameer Abdullah on a visit. Some potential depth as the team awaits the return of Christian McCaffrey.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 20, 2021
Over the next six weeks, the Panthers can make a push to secure a winning season.
They will be going up against New England, Washington, Miami, and Atlanta twice.
These are games that they could win with McCaffrey around.
Carolina might even shock the Cardinals, the Bills, and the Buccaneers once their primary weapon on offense suits up.
I guess we really are The Carolina Christian McCaffrey’s!!!
— CatmanJr87 (@CatmanJr87) October 24, 2021
Otherwise, they might as well say goodbye to their playoff aspirations.
McCaffrey is the only one that can bring them to the postseason.
But if he is already damaged goods, will the team start to think of moving away from him?
It’s hard to build an offense around a player that cannot get healthy anymore.