When the Panthers shipped tailback Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco, concerns emerged about the quality of their running game post-McCaffrey. Interim coach Steve Wilks had no such concerns.
Wilks told PFT by phone after Sunday’s 21-3 win over the Buccaneers that he had full faith in D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard.
“Just seeing these guys in practice,” Wilks said. “I saw back in the preseason. Just the way they go about their business, you know, each and every day. I didn’t have any reservations whatsoever [about] those guys stepping up and getting it done today.”
Foreman got it done with 118 rushing yards on 15 carries, and 27 more on two receptions. Hubbard got it done with 63 rushing yards on nine carries, 10 more on two catches, and a touchdown. Before Sunday, they each had a total of six carries in six games.
That doesn’t mean Wilks was happy to lose McCaffrey.
“It’s always hard when you get rid of a great football player,” Wilks said. “As somebody that was here when we drafted him, you know, a great guy, not only on the field but off the field as well. Very tough decision, but we felt like the decision was, you know, all about the organization.
So what was the message to get the locker room to accept the decision to move on from McCaffrey?
“Just to understand that, you know, this is part of the business that we signed up for,” Wilks said. “Your opponent, whether it’s Tampa or Atlanta this week, they can care less about any kind of turmoil that you may be having inside. Our guys understood that. We wish Christian well. He’s still considered to be our brother. Nothing but the best for him. But we realized that we needed to step up as well, and I was very proud once again of the guys stepping up in that room.”
Step up they did. And they’ve stepped right into the race for first place in the NFC South. Despite being 2-5, they’re only one game out of first place, with the 3-4 Falcons up next.
With the Buccaneers facing the Ravens and the Saints hosting the Raiders, there’s a good chance that all four NFC South teams will be caught in a tie at 3-5. But the Panthers would have the inside track; if they beat the Falcons, Carolina will be 3-0 in the division.