Christian McCaffrey already back to his best after 308-day absence

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Christian McCaffrey
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Christian McCaffrey /

14. 30. 19. 87. Final

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey looked back to his best despite a 308-day absence against the New York Jets in Week 1.

There was a tremendous sense of anticipation to see Christian McCaffrey out on the field against the New York Jets in Week 1. The star running back appeared just three times in 2020 due to various injury problems, which obviously played a significant role in the Carolina Panthers finishing 5-11 for the second straight year and failing to get things done in crucial moments.

The signs emanating from McCaffrey during training camp were incredibly promising. Even though the Panthers rightfully kept their face of the franchise out of the firing line during the preseason.

In total, the All-Pro was returning from a 308-day competitive absence. He was last seen against the Kansas City Chiefs on November 8, 2020.

It didn’t take long for McCaffrey to make his presence felt.

He featured heavily on the first drive and was a constant force to be reckoned with throughout the contest. An overall performance that left more than enough reasons to be encouraged.

Not only was McCaffrey a presence in the run game, but his reliability catching the football became a fantastic security blanket for quarterback Sam Darnold. Something that Carolina’s previous signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater didn’t benefit from all that much last time around.

McCaffrey finished the game with 30 combined touches for 187 yards. Not only this, but head coach Matt Rhule also praised the former Stanford stud for his blocking efforts that enabled Darnold to connect with Robby Anderson on a 57-yard score following a missed assignment from Dennis Daley.

Speaking on the specific play to reporters after the contest, McCaffrey highlighted the need to do such things to help the team and it’s clear he loved getting in the thick of things.

"“I get a lot of satisfaction from that. Those are the fun plays. Those are the plays that are fun for the guys. There are so many guys who never get recognized. We work as one unit, all 11 guys, that’s the most important thing. Football is the biggest team sport that gets a lot of individual attention, but you can’t have one without the other.”"

Christian McCaffrey is so important to the Carolina Panthers.

It’s hard to put into words just what McCaffrey means to this team.

Everything just feels a little more relaxed when he’s on the field.

Make no mistake, the Panthers should have won this game far more comfortably. They completely outclassed the Jets in the first half and only taking a 16-0 advantage into the break almost came back to haunt them.

McCaffrey remains the focal point and it didn’t take long for the player to reaffirm his status as the league’s best dual-threat running back. While other areas of the organization might be a work in progress, Rhule and his staff know they have a truly elite player to lean on that can hopefully stay free of any further injury problems as the campaign progresses.

Keeping him fresh without jeopardizing the team’s chances remains the biggest conundrum. Especially during a 17-game campaign which is a trip into the unknown for everybody.

The next challenge for McCaffrey is the stout defensive front of the New Orleans Saints, who’ve kept the player in check relatively well during divisional matchups in recent years. But they’ll have to focus heavily on the running back, leaving more space for other playmakers to potentially do damage.

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If this was a sign of things to come from McCaffrey, then the Panthers might be able to make some strides this season after all.