CHARLOTTE -- Running back Christian McCaffrey earned his first career 100-yard rushing game while quarterback Cam Newton accounted for four touchdowns to help propel the Panthers past the Bengals 31-21 Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
An interception of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton by defensive end Efe Obada - in his first career game - late in the third quarter set up a 5-yard charge up the middle by Newton for his second rushing touchdown of the contest, putting the Panthers up 28-14. On the ensuing drive, Dalton would find wide receiver Tyler Boyd in the endzone to pull Cincinnati within seven heading into the fourth quarter.
After a devastating sack on Dalton by Obada with under four minutes remaining, rookie cornerback Donte Jackson nabbed his third career interception - his second of the game - to give Carolina the ball. A 40-yard Graham Gano field goal would put away the visiting team and secure a Carolina victory heading into the bye week.
"I really appreciate the way the guys took last week and practiced and prepared themselves for this game," head coach Ron Rivera said. "There has been a lot of tough things going on here in the Carolinas, and I just really appreciate the way they focused.
"It was kind of a nice deal for our guys to go on break with a win."
Newton expressed his outlook as the team heads into its short break.
"When you've got a team playing confident like we're playing, it makes us hard to beat but as we go into this bye week, we know we can't let off the pedal," Newton said. "We have to mend up, get buys back, get guys healthy, keep guys healthy that are healthy and be ready to go when we get back."
He finished 15-of-24 for 150 passing yards with two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns.
After leading the team in receiving yards the first two games, and tying a single-game franchise record with 14 receptions against Atlanta, McCaffrey dominated a Bengals defense that had been stopping the run well through two games. He ended his career day with 184 rushing yards on 28 carries, and two receptions for 10 yards.
"As an offense, we just want to move the ball forward. However that is, in the pass game or in the run game, whatever's working we're going to stick to it," McCaffrey said.
Rivera felt that McCaffrey's ability to run between the tackles has been somewhat overlooked. "His ability to run the ball inside, he doesn't get enough credit for it. I thought some of the running plays inside were excellent," Rivera said.
Carolina's offense earned 11 rushing first downs and outrushed Cincinnati as a team 230-66. Backup running back Giovani Bernard netted 61 yards on 12 carries while Boyd chipped in the other five. Dalton finished the night 29-of-46 for 352 yards and two touchdowns, and four interceptions. Wide receiver A.J. Green - Dalton's favorite target - left the game in the third quarter and didn't return. He ended with five receptions for 58 yards while Boyd posted a game-high 132 receiving yards.
The Bengals struck first in an action-packed first half. Following back-to-back defensive holding penalties, Bernard would end an 11-play, 75-yard opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
On the Panthers' second drive, a pair of rushes from McCaffrey ignited the offense and the crowd. McCaffrey recorded a 13-yard run for a first down and then exploded for a 45-yarder - the longest of his career - to put Carolina in scoring position. Newton would go on to take it to the house on a 2-yard run to end the nine-play, 75-yard drive.
The Bengals' attempt to answer would be halted near the end of the first quarter after Jackson picked off Dalton on a pass to wide receiver John Ross. The interception was Dalton's first of the season.
The offense would capitalize by marching 67 yards and scoring on a 4-yard Newton pass to wide receiver Devin Funchess to put Carolina up 14-7 early in the second quarter. Midway through the second, Cincinnati would convert another 75-yard drive on a Dalton pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah to tie the game 14-14.
A 24-yard Newton screen pass to running back C.J. Anderson would give the Panthers a 21-14 halftime lead, capping off the fourth 75-yard scoring drive of the first half.
The Panthers will now look ahead to hosting the Giants on the other side of the bye week in a Sunday afternoon matchup at Bank of America Stadium on October 7.