Christian, not Cam, makes the Panthers extra special.
Yes, the Carolina Panthers go as goes Cam Newton. For sure, the enigmatic quarterback has to be on his game, both physically and mentally, for his team to make a deep playoff run. But rookie Christian McCaffery is helping Newton be the quarterback he wants to be.
Many, many years ago, the New York Giants had a back named Frank Gifford from Southern Cal. Perhaps you remember the late Gifford as the announcer on Monday night football with Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith. But as a running back and receiver on the old Giants of the ’50s and ‘60s, he was the original all-purpose star, from running the ball, to catching the ball to, occasionally, throwing the ball as an ex-quarterback for USC.
McCaffery is a lot like Gifford, who was nicknamed the Golden Boy; how No. 22 will line up anywhere, catch the ball in the flank or over the middle, run the ball up the gut or the speed option to either side. He is also a dangerous punt returner who can take it to the house anytime he doesn’t call for a fair catch.
His numbers were sneaky spectacular in the Monday night romp over Miami – two touchdowns, one running on a nifty cutback across the goal line and another tap-dancing on the sideline of the end zone. And at just under six feet and just over 200 pounds, he is amazingly bold and durable. And, of course, he’s smart, the perennial Heisman Trophy candidate from Stanford.
Why McCaffery makes the Panthers special is because he adds to the ground-and-pound attack and is the perfect complement to Jonathan Stewart. You take what those guys can do and then Newton picks his spots to pull it down and run, well, when Cam is on target passing, this could be a powerful offense to go along with just about the best defense in the NFL.
At 7-3, the Cats still face tough games at New Orleans, at home against Minnesota and at the Falcons in the regular-season finale that could decide their playoff fate. But the team is clearly getting better, recovering from a slump that followed signature wins at New England and Detroit earlier in the season.
When tight end Greg Olsen returns and the new young receivers catch the ball in open space, the more McCafferywill slip through the line or coverage that is keying on all the other big-play elements the Panthers have. Call him the 5th dimension.