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Chuba Hubbard finds end zone twice, adding balance to offense

Chuba Hubbard

TAMPA, Fla. — The Panthers didn't get the win they needed, but they definitely learned they have the kind of run game that could help down the stretch.

With the offense stripped down a bit from earlier in the season, the Panthers put the ball in the hands of running back Chuba Hubbard, and it worked.

Hubbard had a career-high 25 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns, his first career multi-touchdown game.

"We've got a great running back," left tackle Ikem Ekwonu said. "Chuba was balling today, you know, so it really gives you some juice as an offense to run the ball like that."

The Bucs had only allowed one other 100-yard rusher this season, and that was in Week 3, so it was that much more impressive.

"I thought we got our running game going there a little bit more, and we stuck with it," interim coach Chris Tabor said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get the win, so we're right back to work."

The Panthers went away from it late, and Tabor was brief when asked about that. In the fourth quarter, with a chance to drive for at least a tie in the final four minutes, Hubbard opened the drive with 5- and 4-yard runs. But on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, the Panthers passed and Bryce Young threw a pair of incompletions, ending their chances for the night.

Asked about that sequence, Tabor said he trusted offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who is calling plays again after the dismissal of head coach Frank Reich.

"I let the coaches coach, and I've got a lot of faith in them," Tabor said. "I think they do a great job. So, that's what we did."

There were flashes during the game reminiscent of last season, when another interim coach took the air out of the ball, and Hubbard and D'Onta Foreman flourished. Hubbard was in a supporting role last year, but he's clearly the lead back now, as Miles Sanders had eight carries for 23 yards.

"I mean, we just kind of talked about all week we're going to run the ball, we're going to pound it," Hubbard said. "If we don't, we get a 2-yard gain; we're gonna run it again and again and again and just wear these guys down.

"I thought we did a great job running the ball. Obviously, we just have to finish at the end."

Asked about not getting short-yardage chances late, Hubbard deferred to his coaches rather than rocking the boat.

"I mean, whatever coach calls, I just play ball. You know what I'm saying?" he said. "I trust what our coaches call. I trust our scheme. I trust our players and everyone around us, whatever it's called. I trust that they make the right decision, and we've just got to execute."

Last year, that run game became a touchstone. The Panthers lost the first one under Steve Wilks in Los Angeles but then won six of the final 11 down the stretch with that approach to offense. What they did on the ground clearly helped, even if the result was not what they were looking for.

"I mean, I hope so, we like running the ball," Ekwonu said. "But we've got to earn the right to run."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 13.

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