ATLANTA — Mike Davis used two words when describing his running style after Sunday's win. If you've watched any of the Panthers last three wins, you'll probably agree with him:
There are plenty of backs who are "angry" when they run. That's nothing new. What Davis does deserves the stronger phrase.
"I don't know how to really explain it," he said.
Maybe not, but those two words feel right.
Davis routinely carries defenders for extra yards, seemingly never going down after the first contact. He came into the day with 14 broken tackles, tied for third-most in the league, and added to that total by bouncing off Falcons. Plus, his situational awareness is so consistently good on every play.
"We definitely miss Christian McCaffrey," left tackle Russell Okung said. "But in his absence, Mike Davis has been exceptional."
Davis finished Sunday's contest with a career-high 149 yards from scrimmage — 89 rushing and 60 receiving. He also caught his second touchdown of the year to cap a well-executed two-minute drill late in the first half.
But that was set up by a play that displayed Davis at his best.
On first-and-10 from the Carolina 48, Bridgewater hit Davis on a screen pass, and the running back went to work. He got the ball on the right but seeing more green, cut back to the left. He switched the ball from his right to his left hand, matching the sideline. As he got further down the field, three defenders tried to tackle him, but he broke through each one to reach the sideline at Atlanta's 29-yard line.
Not only did the Panthers get a chunk gain, but they also saved one of their two remaining timeouts.
"I'm not just out there playing for myself, I'm also playing for teammates. So when I'm out there, I'm thinking about the guys and their stories and everything," Davis said. "I know that those guys out there, they're going to do their job. Those types of things on the screen, I'm just trying to do what I do."
Davis has been making plenty of plays like that over the last few weeks. But the Atlanta native admitted he was playing with a bit more of a chip on his shoulder Sunday. He had a group of six friends and family among the announced 6,656 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"I always love the extra motivation whenever I'm playing against Atlanta," Davis said.
Davis has been a critical cog in the Panthers' offense since McCaffrey went down against the Buccaneers. In the three wins since, Davis has totaled 351 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Before this stretch, Davis never had back-to-back games with 90-plus scrimmage yards. Now he's done it for three straight weeks.
"I think he's running it with tremendous physicality," head coach Matt Rhule said. "I think we found some runs that he feels really comfortable with, and I think there's just great second effort, great yards after contact. That's the mark of a good back."
"His aggression when he's really hitting the hole, understanding his reads and trusting his offensive line to do what we do best, I think it's really a testament to his efforts in practice and his desire to be a better player each and every day and every week."
Even as Davis has demonstrated his value, he's not looking too far ahead. Part of that comes from the fact that McCaffrey has been one of Davis' biggest supporters through these last three weeks.
"I can go and check my phone after the game, and C-Mac will be the first one to send me videos of my best runs. And I hear him in the background cheering for me," Davis said.
"It's those types of things that I appreciate C-Mac a lot for."
Davis' success has opened up possibilities for the Panthers' offense for whenever McCaffrey returns. But until that happens, Davis has proven he can handle the load.
And he'll be pissed off doing it.
View photos from the Carolina-Atlanta game in Week 5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.