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The Carolina Panthers are pulling out all stops against the Kansas City Chiefs with star running back Christian McCaffrey back after missing six weeks with a high ankle sprain.
One reason Panthers coach Matt Rhule was excited to have McCaffrey back after the Pro Bowl back missed six games with a high ankle sprain was to improve the team’s red zone struggles.
He got quick results.
McCaffrey capped Carolina’s opening possession on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs with a 9-yard reception from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on fourth-and-3. He waltzed untouched into the end zone to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
McCaffrey lined up in the backfield with receivers Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore left of the line. Both receivers went right and McCaffrey was left basically unguarded as he drifted through the line into the left flats.
McCaffrey had six offensive touches and the touchdown on the opening drive. It’s just the fifth time in his career he’s had six-plus touches on an opening drive of a game, and the first time since 2018.
The Panthers entered the game having scored only 18 touchdowns in 39 trips inside the 20-yard line.
Of note, offensive coordinator Joe Brady moved to the field for the first time this season to call plays. That was a success, as well, as McCaffrey’s touchdown capped a 15-play drive that took 8:53 off the clock and kept Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the sideline.
That was the second-longest opening touchdown drive in the NFL this season. Only Pittsburgh in Week 7 against Tennessee topped that with a drive that lasted 9:18.
On their second possession, the Panthers turned a fake punt into a 28-yard pass from punt Joseph Charlton to wide reeiver Brandon Zylstra and finished off the drive with a pop pass to wide receiver/running back Curtis Samuel for a 14-yard touchdown and 14-3 lead.
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