CHARLOTTE – The week leading up to Monday night's game against the Dolphins was one of the longest of Jonathan Stewart's career, if not the longest.
He was coming off a game in which he lost two fumbles during Carolina's win against the Falcons, the first time that had ever happened in his NFL career, and that disappointment lingered.
"To know that I contributed two fumbles last week, it stung me," Stewart said. "You feel like you let your team down. It is a team sport, and turnovers are not going to give you the best chance to win games. I know that. I am a pro and I have been in that position before, but it still sucks. I had to deal with that for the whole week. I had to play better."
Monday Night Football served as redemption for Stewart, who recorded a season-high 110 rushing yards on 17 carries as the Panthers dismantled the Dolphins, 45-21.
"I know a lot of people said some things about him, and Jonathan just wanted to make sure everybody knew that he ain't done," said head coach Ron Rivera, who had reiterated to reporters he believed in the 30-year-old bruiser following the Atlanta game. "He's a big part of what we do and a big part of the reason we had success. He's going to continue to work hard and be productive for us.
"You could see it on his face – there was a little bit of resolve. He took it personally. He blamed himself. He took it very, very hard, and you saw the competiveness of who he is come out."
It's been a tough season for Stewart, even before the two fumbles versus the Falcons. He entered Week 10 averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. In Carolina's earlier primetime game – Thursday Night Football against the Eagles – Stewart ran eight times for minus-four yards, a stunning stat line for a back of his caliber.
Then, when he fumbled the ball away twice, that's when the volume of criticism increased. But Stewart's teammates remained confident he would turn it around.
"Everybody had Stew's back. We knew that was uncharacteristic of him," tight end Ed Dickson said. "He's the franchise leader in rushing for a reason. We knew he was going to bounce back. We rallied around him and found a way to win that game against Atlanta, and Stew came up big for us today."
The offensive line did its part to help Stewart's resurgence, giving him space to attack the line of scrimmage, something that's been lacking at times throughout the season.
"He might have been playing with a chip on his shoulder, but for us we just wanted to get him to the second level," left tackle Matt Kalil said. "He's going to make guys miss and make plays. He's a big dude. He's a hard guy to tackle. He had a great game. I'm glad we got him all those yards and opened up all those holes for him."
And in doing so, Stewart reminded everyone watching that he's still got something to contribute to a Panthers team that's starting to hit its collective stride.
"I just couldn't wait to get back on the field," he said, "and help my team out the best way that I know I can."
Images from Carolina's victory on Monday Night Football over Miami.