Panthers hope McCaffrey can be difference-maker at K.C.
Apparently, a long touchdown pass deserves a special celebration in Kansas City these days.
Oh, quarterback Patrick Mahomes will tell you he was just having a little fun when he gave speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill a piggyback ride from paydirt. But those two had not connected on many deep balls before doing so twice last week as the Chiefs (7-1) ignited their passing attack in a rout of the visiting New York Jets.
Kansas City will look for an encore Sunday in a home matchup against the Carolina Panthers (3-5).
“What’s so special about our locker room,” Mahomes said, “is that no one’s trying to ask for the ball, no one’s saying, ‘I need to get these catches or these run attempts.’ Everybody wants to win and they understand that they’re going to get a shot and when they do, they’re going to capitalize on that opportunity.”
Granted, Mahomes happened to pick on the lowly Jets last week when spotting Hill for touchdown strikes of 36 and 41 yards. Mahomes fired for five TD passes in Kansas City’s 35-9 victory. The former MVP is currently the only NFL quarterback to rank among the top three in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating.
The point Mahomes makes about selectivity when it comes to touches is supported by his ability to see the field and distribute passes to several targets. Hill is among three Chiefs who average more than 15 yards per catch.
Tight end Travis Kelce has 48 receptions to lead a team that also made news for adding Le’Veon Bell to a rushing attack that features promising rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
“Honestly, Le’Veon came in and he just brought in a different pep,” Edwards-Helaire said. “It’s always just extra competition in the room. Once you get that extra person in the room, it kind of up-tempos the competition.”
Sometimes it seems as if the Chiefs need that competition among themselves considering they average 410.5 total yards (fourth in the NFL) and have a league-best plus-101 point differential. Execution has been solid, too. Kansas City’s turnover margin (plus-9) ranks first in the NFL.
The Panthers have lost three straight but could expect a boost Sunday from the return of All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, who missed the past six games due to a high ankle sprain.
McCaffrey led the NFL in total yards last year when he averaged 149.5 from scrimmage and became the third NFL player to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
“He looks like Christian. He looks good, he looks sharp. We’ll see how his body responds,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said of McCaffrey’s health this week.
McCaffrey’s return would give the Panthers far more options in the red zone, where they rank 26th in touchdown opportunities converted (53.9 percent).
Free safety Jeremy Chinn leads Carolina with 67 tackles, but the Southern Illinois rookie is dealing with a sore knee.
Although the Panthers have received solid play from cornerbacks Rasul Douglas, Corn Elder and Donte Jackson, they rank 31st on third down, allowing conversions on 54.2 percent of those snaps.
Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz (back) was considered doubtful for Sunday, but wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring) was practicing as of midweek. Defensive end Frank Clark is dealing with a swollen knee.
–Field Level Media