CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The soon-to-be for sale Carolina Panthers have two more reasons to be optimistic about making a late postseason run before owner Jerry Richardson sells the team.
Not only did rookie running back Christian McCaffrey have one of his most productive days as a pro, but the Panthers (10-4) finally got three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen firmly back in the offensive mix on Sunday.
Olsen, who has missed most of the season with a broken foot, looked like his old self with nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in a 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers . McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage and a TD.
Panthers quarterback called it “The Caucasian Invasion.”
“Those guys came in and had a great game,” said Newton, who threw for four touchdowns. “We are going to need that more moving forward.”
Olsen had only four catches for 38 yards coming into the game.
“Once you get going, it’s funny how the game really starts getting into a rhythm and you feel like every ball is going to come your way,” Olsen said.
McCaffrey started the game for the Panthers and touched the ball nine times on the opening drive, which he capped with a 7-yard TD catch.
“The more football that he sees, the more that he understands,” Newton said. “There is a lot of just being on the same page. That’s similar to Greg. Being back for a couple of weeks now, he’s starting to get back to his regular self. Finding the open zones and the open holes.”
McCaffrey, who has 73 catches and five receiving touchdowns this season, is the only rookie running back in NFL history with at least 70 receptions and five touchdown catches.
DAVIS PUNISHMENT: The Panthers should be concerned about whether they’ll have linebacker Thomas Davis back for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay. Davis delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit to Davante Adams, knocking the Packers wide receiver out of the game with a concussion — his second of the season.
Davis was fined $48,620 earlier this year — his second offense — for his tackle on Tampa Bay wide receiver Adam Humphries.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called it an “unnecessary hit.”
“He’s a repeat offender, so I am sure that the league will deal with him according to that,” Rodgers said.
Davis was not available to speak after the game.
NO SLOWING PEPPERS: Carolina defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mario Addison combined to drop Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, and the half-sack gave Peppers 10 sacks for the 10th season of his 16-year career.
His teammates see a model of consistency from the 37-year-old, who this year rejoined the franchise that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2002.
“Everyone on that defensive line, we feed off that,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “Just to see him come in week in, week out, putting the work in and not looking his age at all, it just makes us not even worry about the little bumps and bruises we got.”
Peppers had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks in 2008 with Carolina, where seven of his double-digit sack seasons have come.
FRIENDSHIP FOR YEARS: After Peppers sacked Rodgers he shook the QB’s hand and then patted him on the back in a show of respect.
“There’s a close friendship there,” said Rodgers, who was teammates with Rodgers in Green Bay. “We talked at length before the game and talked after the game. He’s one of those guys you really enjoy playing with. He’s a phenomenal teammate.”
THIEVES AVENUE 2.0: It took 13 games for second-year Panthers cornerbacks Daryl Worley and James Bradberry to get their hands on a football in 2017. Now, they both have interceptions in back-to-back weeks.
One week after each picked off Minnesota’s Case Keenum, the duo intercepted Rodgers. Worley’s second-quarter interception and Bradberry’s third-quarter pick helped the Panthers get four takeaways. The interception matches Bradberry’s total of two from last year, while Worley now has three career picks.
Safety Colin Jones also intercepted Rodgers, and his pick set up a touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Damiere Byrd.
PACKERS PLAYOFF HOPES: On a day when Minnesota clinched the NFC North division, Green Bay watched its playoff prospects take a direct hit with a loss at Carolina.
Even if Atlanta loses Monday night at Tampa Bay, Green Bay will trail the Falcons by a game for the final playoff spot in the NFC with two to play. Plus, Atlanta holds the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of a 34-23 win at home against the Packers in September.
Seattle is also 8-6.
The Panthers can clinch a postseason berth with a win next week against the Buccaneers.
AP stringers Eli Pacheco and Justin Parker have contributed to this report.