CHARLOTTE – It may be cliché, but the next-man-up-philosophy truly applies in the Panthers locker room.
Yes, in the locker room – not just the coaches' offices. It was a theme repeated multiple times by running back Fozzy Whittaker following Carolina's 46-27 victory over the 49ers.
"I definitely was excited to be out there," Whittaker said. "I never want to see my own teammate go down, and I hope he heals up very fast. But, we always have the next-man-up-mentality, and whenever my number's called, I'm just trying to help produce and get the team a win."
Whittaker entered the game listed second on the Panthers' running back depth chart, but after starter Jonathan Stewart went down with six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Whittaker became the featured back. He ended his day with 100 rushing yards on 16 carries, plus an additional 31 receiving yards.
"Fozzy just picked up the rifle and kept shooting. You know you say that a lot in war, and we were battling out there today," quarterback Cam Newton said. "I am feeling extremely confident knowing that the torch is passed to Fozzy, and hopefully we can get Stewart back healthy this week."
Even as the minutes were ticking down and the running back had yet to reach the golden benchmark of rushing for the first time since high school, Whittaker was only focused on clinching victory for his team. With the Panthers trying to run out the clock, Whittaker gained 9 yards on three carries to reach an even 100 but didn't quite reach the sticks.
"The first down was on my mind, because I knew if we got the first down, we would end the game," Whittaker said. "That's all I was worried about. I came up a yard short, so I wish I had that carry back, but we were just worried about winning the game."
Even though Whittaker wasn't worried about his personal accolades, fellow running back and good friend Mike Tolbert was keeping an eye on his performance.
"I was actually supposed to go in on the last drive," Tolbert said. "And I was like, 'No. Let him go.' He only needed like eight or nine yards (for 100).
"To see what he did today, I felt like a proud pop."
That team spirit was created by the next-man-up-mentality Whittaker so firmly believes in. It inspired not only his fellow running backs, but the entire offensive corps.
"He was a great spark," said tight end Greg Olsen. "Losing a guy like Stew early was not ideal. Fozz is a special teams guy and a reserve role, spot player, but to come in and be our bellcow and carry the ball every time speaks volumes. His number was called and he answered it. We were fortunate to have him today."
View game action photos from Carolina's 46-27 win over San Francisco.