CHARLOTTE – These stats don't necessarily jump off the page: 15 rushes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
But for rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, his rushing performance during Sunday's 20-17 win over the Falcons was a big step in the right direction.
The first-round pick recorded his first career rushing touchdown when quarterback Cam Newton pitched it to him for a walk-in 4-yard score in the second quarter, and his 17-yard slashing effort off the left side is the longest rush of his young career.
Afterward, the rookie and head coach Ron Rivera were both quick to praise the work of the offensive line for creating room to run.
"The offensive line did an unbelievable job for us," said McCaffrey, who accounted for 66 of Carolina's 201 total yards on the ground (86 came courtesy of quarterback Cam Newton). "It always starts with them. They were opening up a lot of holes. We go as they go."
Said Rivera: "A lot of it had to do with the blocking up front. I thought the offensive line was doing a really good job. They are coming up against a very fast, quick defense. We got our hands on them and we were able to push, and Christian was able to make some cuts."
The first half of McCaffrey's rookie season was all about his work in the passing game. He entered the week as the NFL's third leading receiver with 49 catches before adding five more catches versus Atlanta.
But his rushing production was much lower than many expected after he had so much success between the tackles in Stanford's pro-style scheme. McCaffrey came into Sunday's contest with just 117 rushing yards on 49 attempts.
He racked up more than half that total against the Falcons, at long last bursting into the second level on several occasions.
"He is a dynamic player, and you can kind of feel the vibe around him that he feels as if he's not doing enough," Newton said. "But when the ball is in his hands, that's a good thing for us as an offense."
That's true whether it comes via run or pass. But McCaffrey came to Carolina fully intent on producing as both a ball carrier and pass catcher.
"I'm always trying to work on my weaknesses, but at the same time capitalize on my strengths," McCaffrey said. "Being in space is something that can really benefit me. That's where I feel comfortable and where I feel like I can get in a rhythm."
Rhythm is the word McCaffrey has used repeatedly as he talked about struggles in the running game over the last few weeks.
Perhaps Sunday's performance is a sign that he's starting to find it.
View the top photos from Panthers vs. Falcons by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez and second shooters Andrew Dye and Jamey Price.