HOUSTON – After a career-high 37 touches in Carolina's 16-10 win over the Texans, running back Christian McCaffrey stood at his locker and was asked if he could feel those 37 touches.
"Yeah," McCaffrey said with a smile. "Feels good though."
McCaffrey was battered and bruised in what became a physical dogfight at NRG Stadium. But he turned all those touches (27 rushes for 93 yards and 10 catches for 86 yards) into 179 of Carolina's 297 total net yards. He also scored Carolina's lone touchdown on the day when he broke a couple tackles on a 3-yard run.
"He had a massive game, probably one of the biggest impact guys of this entire game," quarterback Kyle Allen said. "It's huge to know he's going to be where he needs to be all the time."
For much of the day, McCaffrey was the offense.
"It shows every Sunday," rookie left tackle Greg Little said. "He's our angel, that's what I call him. He's a workhorse. I'm glad he's on my side."
Last week at Arizona, McCaffrey ripped off a 76-yard touchdown run – the longest of his career. He didn't have that kind of room to run free on this particular Sunday in Houston.
The Texans and their disruptive front line headlined by star defensive end J.J. Watt didn't allow a run longer than 13 yards. There was a lot of carnage between the tackles.
"That was like a war inside," left guard Greg Van Roten said. "Those guys are big and hard to move. Every yard that we earned today was tough."
As McCaffrey said afterward, some games are going to be like that. In some games, 4- and 5-yard runs are big plays. This was one of those games.
"Find a hole, put your head down, get what you can," McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey kept hammering away to put the Panthers in manageable down and distance situations throughout the game. They hitched their wagon to No. 22.
"He was running his ass off," tight end Greg Olsen said. "It wasn't chunk plays, but it was efficient. He was breaking tackles, finishing runs, just staying after it. It was a workmanlike day.
"He carried us."
He's built to carry them if that is what's required.
"The guy maximizes every bit of free time he has as far as recovery to get his body right," Van Roten said of McCaffrey. "He takes a beating, but he always pops himself up. I love blocking for him."
And it wouldn't be a proper Panthers game without McCaffrey doing something spectacular. His 8-yard catch on 3rd-and-7, the one where he tipped the ball to himself twice with his left hand and slid for first-down yardage, was unreal.
"Tipped it up and tried to make a play," McCaffrey said. "Glad I slid that far. If that was grass, I don't know if that would have happened. Thankfully, it was turf.
"I knew it was a catch. The first thing I did was looked at the sticks and saw I was past the first down marker."
It was a remarkable play to add to McCaffrey's expanding highlight reel.
Carolina's dynamic workhorse leads the NFL in rushing with 411 yards and is in the midst of a truly special season.
On Sunday, he joined Jim Brown (1963) as the only players to record at least 175 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in three of their team's first four games of a season in NFL history. This after nearly posting a 1,000-1,000 season in 2018.
Just another day at the office.
"Spend some time in the ice tub," McCaffrey said, "and move on to next week."
View photos from Carolina's game at Houston in Week 4.