CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jonathan Stewart saw huge running lanes, ran with some familiar punch – and held onto the football, too.
It was a reminder that the Carolina Panthers’ 10-year veteran still has some burst left in his legs, not to mention the ability to shake off an uncharacteristically bad performance.
A week after losing two fumbles, Stewart cracked the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time this season to lead Carolina’s huge rushing performance in a 45-21 win against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night.
Stewart ran for 110 yards on 17 carries – including one in which he hurdled cornerback Cordrea Tankersley near the sideline – in his first 100-yard game since finishing with 132 yards in a win against Washington in December.
”I think first of all he came back and you could see it on his face,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ”There was a little bit of resolve. He took it personally. He blamed itself. … You saw the competitiveness of who he is come out.”
Stewart has always provided Carolina with tough-yardage runs, though he didn’t need much of that Monday with the huge holes being opened by Carolina’s offensive line. The Panthers flirted with a franchise single-game rushing record before finishing with 294 yards while setting the mark for total offense with 543 yards.
It comes at a perfect time for Stewart to maintain his long-standing position as mainstay of the Panthers’ backfield, even though he shrugged off the suggestion that his play was motivated by sending any sort of message.
”Last week, obviously, was pretty uncharacteristic,” Stewart said. ”Just glad I have another opportunity to come out here and help my team win.”
Stewart hadn’t run for more than 68 yards in a game this season. And with first-round rookie Christian McCaffrey also getting carries, Stewart had gotten just 11 carries in each of the past two games – and hadn’t done much with them by averaging just 2.5 yards per attempt.
Then there were the two fumbles in last week’s home win against Atlanta, marking the first two-turnover game of his career. It was the smudge on a season-best rushing performance (201 yards on 38 carries) that included McCaffrey earning a season-high 15 carries.
But Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said earlier in the week that he still believed in Stewart, who set the franchise’s career rushing mark earlier this season. The players seemed to feel the same.
”Him trying to get extra yards, you risk that sometimes,” said receiver Devin Funchess, who had a pair of touchdown grabs. ”But he’s going to make more big plays than slipups for us. For me, I don’t hold that against him and nobody else in the locker room should, because the amount of effort and grind he puts in throughout the week and on Sundays is a beautiful thing.”
Getting Stewart back into gear has the potential to drive an offense that also got a big rushing game from quarterback Cam Newton (95 yards) while losing a threat in the passing game with rookie receiver Curtis Samuel going down with an ankle injury.
Stewart isn’t changing his approach, either.
”Just a little bit more attention to details in certain things, whatever it is,” Stewart said. ”But at the end of the day, I’m not trying to switch anything too crazy or anything like that. Just come to work, have the mindset of doing your job.”
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