Week 16: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down
A quick summary of what went right, what went wrong and what went off the rails during Carolina's 38-6 loss at Indianapolis.
THUMBS UP: Christian McCaffrey was once again on a different level, rolling up 173 total yards in defeat. McCaffrey had 54 yards rushing on 13 carries while catching a franchise-record 15 passes for 119 yards. He now has 109 receptions on the season -- breaking his own record of 107 by a running back -- and is the first running back in NFL history with two seasons of 100 or more catches. He's 67 yards shy of turning in the third 1,000-yard rushing / 1,000-yard receiving season in league history.
THUMBS DOWN: Carolina put itself into a deep hole fast, with both scores set up by special teams ineptitude. The first was a 1-yard keeper by Jacoby Brissett that came eight plays after a 40-yard punt return by Nyheim Hines. Indianapolis went up 14-0 the next time it received the ball when Hines returned a punt 84 yards. He went the distance again with just more than seven minutes remaining when he returned another punt 71 yards for a TD. Hines was the first Colts player since T.Y. Hilton to score on a punt return since 2012, a span of 115 games (the fourth-longest streak in the NFL). Hines finished with 195 punt-return yards -- the most in the NFL since 2004 and only 12 yards shy of the league record.
THUMBS DOWN: The Panthers league-worst run defense remained the league's worst run defense. Indianapolis rushed for 218 yards on 32 carries, three of which resulted in touchdowns. It was the third time this season that a team has rushed for at least that many yards against Carolina and the eighth time in 15 games the Panthers have given up at least 149 yards on the ground. And the Colts' 6.8 average was significantly higher than the league-high 5.2 YPC average Carolina allowed heading into Sunday's game.
THUMBS UP: Joey Slye made both of his field goal attempts, the first a 27-yarder and later one from 50 yards that made it 24-6. Slye has made a team-record eight field goals this season from at least 50 yards, a feat last accomplished in the NFL by Atlanta's Matt Bryant in 2017. Slye is 8 of 11 from 50-or-more yards.
THUMBS DOWN: And shame on Vernon Butler. The Panthers defensive lineman was ejected for punching Colts tight end Jack Doyle in the facemask. Butler compounded the incident by giving the Lucas Oil Field crowd the middle finger as he was escorted to the locker room. Butler, who the Panthers selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, missed practice all last week because of an illness. He'll be a free agent after this season -- creating the likely correct assumption that he's played his last game in a Carolina uniform.
HE SAID IT: "This is about as rock-bottom as it gets."
-- Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen