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Chuba Hubbard and run game arrive just in time

Chuba Hubbard

CHARLOTTE — With two minutes left in their last-second win against the Texans Sunday, the Panthers had 34 rushing yards. So it wasn't like the Detroit game last year or anything.

But at least it was a start and perhaps something they can build on for the future.

The Panthers were able to seal the victory by running the ball, something they haven't said all year (the winning or the running).

Quarterback Bryce Young got them into position by passing smartly. But after the two-minute warning and holding onto a one-point lead with the Panthers in field goal range, the Texans had all three timeouts. They were going to use them to try to get the ball back.

That's when running back Chuba Hubbard got behind a physical offensive line, which is nearing health and stability again, and ran for 4 yards, then 4 yards, then a chain-moving 3 yards, at a time they needed it the most, allowing them to bleed the clock before Eddy Piñeiro's game-winning field goal to end the game and the losing streak.

"It was exciting," linebacker Frankie Luvu said. " Chuba do what Chuba do. Just running that rock."

"We knew when they got that first down, it was all coming up to Eddy. So, good complimentary football."

It's been a long time since they were able to say that. Last season, when four-fifths of this offensive line was here under a completely different system, they ran because it was the only thing they could do. And when they ran for a franchise-record 320 yards last December against the Lions, that run game was more than just a statistical device; it was a blunt instrument they used to bash opponents about the head and shoulders.

So it's probably not a coincidence that this happened in right guard Austin Corbett's first game back after his torn ACL in last year's finale. And through the emotion of his own comeback, he seemed genuinely excited that they were able to convince a new coaching staff to trust them in such situations.

"Well, (offensive coordinator) Thomas Brown still had his faith in us," Corbett said. "He knew what we were going to do for him to call those three straight runs and just to deliver up front. That's an offensive lineman's dream, is put the team on our back and go get the job done.

"You know, you're running it, they know you're running it, and there's nothing better to go to give the ball to Bryce one final drive and say, hey, go win this thing for us and then to see him do it."

Hubbard is clearly the preference among the backs on hand in this situation, one he ran well in last year. He had 15 of the 24 carries Sunday, and 28 of the 44 yards (again, it wasn't a great day overall).

But on that drive, it looked like December 2022 Hubbard in the cold (he had 12 carries for 125 yards that day), not this new version in the warm glow of a warm October afternoon.

"Not the best game. Definitely a lot of ups and downs, but just happy to get the win," Hubbard said. "All credit to our coaches, o-line, Bryce, and everybody. I mean we just put it all together when we needed it.

"I'm just blessed to be in an opportunity where the coaches trust me to put me out there and to be that guy to do that. I give my all to this sport and this team and am just blessed to get the win."

Even for left guard Calvin Throckmorton, the newcomer of this bunch on the offensive line, it was evident they were onto something.

"I mean, it's like it's our identity," Throckmorton said. "It's a mentality that we want to have as an offensive line, and I loved how Bryce just came in the huddle, and he was like, you know, we're going to run this dang ball, and we're going to get this first down, and we're going to secure this win.

"So it's, it's even better when everybody on the offense is going with that identity and the expectation of running the ball effectively. And we know we fell short a little bit overall today in that regard, but being able to finish the game like that is exactly who we want to be as an offense."

Make no mistake, they're going to need to run for more than 44 yards to win most games, and being able to incorporate Miles Sanders and Raheem Blackshear (5 yards between them on five carries) will be helpful as they move forward.

But for one night and for one win, being able to run like it was 2022 was exhilarating, even for the people who weren't here then.

"They were huge," head coach Frank Reich said of the late Hubbard runs. "I mean, we struggled running the ball the whole day a little bit. We had a few runs here and there. But man, did we need those runs. And he ran it hard, he protected the ball, he got what we needed. Thomas did a good job of calling it and sticking with it.

"It was really clutch. Chuba came up big."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Houston Texans in Week 8.

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