Panthers' Christian McCaffrey sets RB catches record with 106

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers might be having a down season, but Christian McCaffrey is having a record-breaking one.

The eighth pick of the 2017 draft broke the NFL's single-season receiving record for a running back Sunday during Carolina's 24-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Matt Forte had 102 catches in 2014 for the Chicago Bears. McCaffrey topped that in Sunday's third quarter with his ninth catch of the game, then added three more to bring his season tally to 106.

McCaffrey also has family bragging rights. He has more catches in a season than his wide receiver father ever had. Ed McCaffrey's career best was 101 in 2000 with the Broncos.

But even that didn't give Christian McCaffrey much pleasure.

"He's got a comeback. He's got three Super Bowls,'' said McCaffrey, forcing a smile. "So he's got me there.''

The former Stanford star finished Sunday with 21 rushes for 101 yards and 12 catches for 77 yards, but the Panthers lost their seventh straight game and were eliminated from playoff contention.

"He's one of the best I've ever been around, both from a talent standpoint and character, and the way he carries himself each and every week, the way he takes care of his body, preparation,'' Carolina center Ryan Kalil said. "I wish I played with a dozen McCaffreys, because we wouldn't lose a game.''

McCaffrey has been one of the few bright spots in a season that has seen Carolina go from 6-2 to 6-9 and has left some uncertainty about the future of coach Ron Rivera. No team has lost its final eight games after a 6-2 start since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But McCaffrey hasn't been the issue in losing.

"The young man is a tremendous football player, and we've got to make sure we shore up a lot of things,'' Rivera said. "There's most certainly some things we can do on the offensive side to help him out and to help our quarterbacks as well.''

McCaffrey was more concerned about another loss than he was about the record.

"I mean, at the end of the day, I just want to win,'' he said. "All that other stuff is great, but there's nothing like winning. Losing sucks.''

McCaffrey also became the third back in NFL history to surpass 100 catches and 1,000 yards rushing in a single season. LaDainian Tomlinson and Forte were the other two.

Tomlinson recently credited Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner for McCaffrey's explosion.

"Christian's dexterity that he possesses is really incredible,'' Tomlinson, who played much of his career at San Diego under Turner as a coordinator and head coach, told "It's the perfect match with someone like Norv, who knows how to use that skill set.

"He's a unique athlete in itself, but the way he excels is basically getting the ball into his hands in space, of letting him create certain runs, not necessarily forcing him to go downhill and try to use him inside the whole game.''

McCaffrey's record-breaking catch also tied the franchise single-season receptions record Steve Smith set in 2005. He later broke Smith's mark.

McCaffrey topped 1,000 yards rushing in the first half with 52 yards on 15 carries. He had 22 touches in the first half, catching all seven of his receiving targets.

His effort came with starting quarterback Cam Newton inactive with a sore right shoulder. Backup Taylor Heinicke got the start, but left for a short time with an elbow injury before returning late in the second quarter.

Heinicke became emotional after the game talking about the beating he took and how he kept coming back because so many people believed in him. He wouldn't answer whether he'll be available for the season finale at New Orleans, saying that is something Rivera will have to answer.

McCaffrey was impressed with Heinicke's toughness, calling him a warrior just as he did Newton a week earlier.

"The guy has a lot of heart,'' McCaffrey said. "You saw the hits he took out there and he keeps getting up and keeps leading us. That means a lot.''

McCaffrey also was a warrior, with a season-high 33 touches.

"We thought he could carry a good load,'' said Rivera, who said before the season the goal was to get McCaffrey 25-30 touches a game. "We are asking a lot out of him.''

McCaffrey was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, but he has a good chance to make the annual game as the second alternate. The top three backs were Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys), Todd Gurley (Rams) and Saquon Barkley (Giants).

This has been a breakout season for McCaffrey in terms of being an all-purpose back. He led the Panthers with 80 catches in 2017 but was limited to 435 yards rushing as he shared the backfield with Jonathan Stewart.

McCaffrey entered Sunday's game having taken 97.65 percent of Carolina's offensive snaps, by far the most by a back in the NFL this season. Before getting a rest late in the fourth quarter he hadn't missed a snap since the 52-21 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 8, when this losing streak started.

"It's why you prepare, man,'' McCaffrey said. "It's why you prepare in the offseason. That's the way I look at it.''

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