Panthers’ Matt Rhule to Canadian RB Chuba Hubbard after Christian McCaffrey injury: ‘This is your moment’

Photo courtesy: Chanelle Smith-Walker/Carolina Panthers

Canadian Chuba Hubbard wasn’t fazed by the primetime NFL lights in his first extended action as the main running back for the Panthers on Thursday Night Football.

Early in the second quarter of Carolina’s Week 3 game against the Houston Texans, star playmaker Christian McCaffrey strained his hamstring and did not return to the field for the rest of the evening. That meant Hubbard became the focal point of the Panthers offence.

“I told Chuba at halftime: ‘This is why we drafted you, man. This is your moment,” head coach Matt Rhule said.

The 22-year-old Sherwood Park, Alberta native looked like he belonged on an NFL field. He carried the football 11 times for 52 yards with a 4.7 yards per carry average and a long rush of 14 yards. Hubbard also caught three passes for 27 yards, nine yards per reception. Overall, the Bev Facey Community High School graduate had 14 touches for 79 yards.

“Just stay calm and do your thing. Just do my job, we harp that every week: you do your job, everyone does their job and everything will take care of itself,” Hubbard said.

“I always believe when your name is called, you gotta step up. Obviously Christian went down, unfortunately, the workhorse of this offence — I knew I just needed to step up.”

Hubbard played an important role in Carolina’s 24-9 win as the Panthers improved to 3-0 on the season. 2018 third overall pick, quarterback Sam Darnold completed 23-of-34 passes for 304 yards without turning the ball over and added a rushing touchdown. He was impressed by the performance put forth by the man who played the majority of snaps with him in the offensive backfield after McCaffrey left the game.

“Losing Christian is tough, he’s a great player, I really thought Chuba when he got in there after that did a really great job,” Darnold said.

“Christian is a great player, we all know that, but something happens and the next guy has to step in,” starting left tackle Cameron Evering said. “Chuba came in and ran the ball hard and did a good job. We’re a football team, we’re not called the Carolina Christian McCaffreys.”

The 25-year-old had been his highly productive self in the first two full games of the 2021 schedule. He entered Thursday night with 45 carries for 170 yards and 14 receptions for 154 yards. The 2019 All-Pro is one of just three players in NFL history to record 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.

“It was a tough situation, you never want to see your teammate go down, especially Christian. Just praying for him, football comes with injuries and it’s tough, but just praying that he’ll come back fast and obviously he will — he’s Christian, he’ll be OK,” Hubbard said.

While McCaffrey was on the sideline, Hubbard showed why the Panthers invested a fourth round choice to secure him in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was the first RB from Canada to be drafted since Tim Biakabutuka in 1996 when Carolina chose him in the first round. And Hubbard’s season-opener this year marked the first time a Canadian ball carrier played in an NFL game since 2015.

“To be a running back you gotta be able to do everything: pass protect, catch the ball and run the ball. That’s been a point of emphasis for me over the last year and I felt that I’ve definitely progressed,” Hubbard said.

“I just run the ball and hit my keys, follow my holes and when stuff happens, it happens. The o-line did a great job. I felt that we did a better job in the second half and started getting things going.”

The Panthers held a 7-6 lead at halftime and extended the advantage with a long drive on their first possession of the third quarter. Darnold led a nine-play, 91-yard march which ended with a Tommy Tremble seven-yard touchdown run to put Carolina ahead 14-6.

“That’s my boy Tommy, so I was happy that he got in the end zone. We were moving the ball really well, starting to get a rhythm. I felt the o-line, tight ends, receivers, Sam all did a really good job, just all clicking doing our job,” Hubbard said.

During Carolina’s 12-play, 75-yard series in the fourth quarter, Hubbard rushed three times for 30 yards, including a 14-yard run where he was knocked out of bounds at the one-yard line, just short of his first pro TD. Darnold proceeded to get into the end zone on a quarterback sneak to finish it with a touchdown.

“I thought Chuba was outstanding. I thought he got in there and made some key runs. Chuba stepped up and made plays,” Rhule said.

After the victory, Rhule did not immediately know the severity of McCaffrey’s pulled hamstring. An MRI will be done to assess the damage and the Panthers will do what’s best for the superstar from there. Whether Hubbard starts at running back against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 or not, the Canadian proved he can produce when called upon.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.