Chuba Hubbard won’t be the talk of the fantasy football world on Monday. But the third-year running back did just enough Sunday to push his Carolina Panthers to their first win of the season in a 15-13 victory against the Houston Texans at Bank of America Stadium.
Hubbard, who made his second consecutive start at running back, struggled throughout the first half as the run game just simply couldn’t pick up ground. But with a one-point deficit staring the Panthers in the face with 6:17 left in the game, Hubbard became the engine that could, as he picked up 38 total yards as the clock slowly winded down during the final drive.
“I’m just blessed to be in an opportunity where the coaches trust me to put me out there and to be that guy to do that,” Hubbard said. “I give my all to this sport and this team and (am) just blessed to get the win.”
The first completion of the game-winning drive was a 12-yard pass from rookie quarterback Bryce Young to Hubbard. The second-down play ultimately moved the chains and built up some momentum for the drive.
With 2:42 left in the game, Young found Hubbard again, connecting with the running back for a 14-yard gain.
From there, Carolina leaned on Hubbard as he ran five times following the two-minute warning, placing the Panthers at the Houston 18-yard line with 22 seconds left in the game.
While kicker Eddy Piñeiro had to line up for a field-goal attempt three times due to two penalties by the Texans, Hubbard’s six consecutive touches were the catalyst for the final series, which ended with three points and no time left on the clock.
“Huge,” said Panthers head coach Frank Reich about Hubbard’s fourth-quarter performance. “We struggled running the ball the whole day a little bit. We had a few runs, here and there, but man, did we need those runs. And he ran it hard, he protected the ball, he got what we needed, (offensive coordinator Thomas Brown) did a good job of calling it and sticking with it — it was really clutch. Chuba came up big.”
The defense, which held Texans rookie quarterback CJ Stroud to just 140 passing yards, watched from the sideline as Hubbard plunged into Houston’s front seven to drain the clock. The north-to-south runner had his early issues with finding space, but his heads-up dive forward on a three-yard third-down conversion was essentially the setup sequence for the game-winning field goal.
“It was exciting,” linebacker Frankie Luvu said. “Chub does what Chub do — just running that rock in. We knew when they got that first down that it was all going to come down to Eddy, so good complementary football, guys went down and executed and we got the dub.”
The Panthers’ offensive line had its lumps throughout the matchup. The group gave up six sacks and 10 quarterbacks hits on Young during the matchup. But Hubbard’s performance down the stretch of that final drive gave the unit something to build on when it mattered the most.
“That’s exactly how we want to be as an offense and an offensive line — just that mentality and identity to have as a group,” left guard Calvin Throckmorton said. “We have to do that. We have to finish a game like that. It’s huge for us. So, we just know that that’s the standard that we’re striving for every day and every Sunday. We’re going to use that as our motivation and keep at it, and be ready for next Sunday.”
This offseason, Miles Sanders signed a four-year, $25.4 million deal to be the Panthers’ lead running back. After struggling through the first five games and missing Week 6 with a shoulder injury, Sanders was limited to just two carries for no gain against the Texans.
Hubbard, who had noticeably outpaced Sanders to start the season, was in the game in crunch time after drawing lead dog status for a second time in as many games. He rewarded the coaching staff and his teammates with his work on the final series.
Tight end Tommy Tremble — who, like Hubbard, was selected in the 2021 NFL Draft — said Hubbard seized the opportunity because of the work he puts in behind the scenes.
“He puts in the work every day — people don’t see it — he puts in the work, every single day, for the past two years,” Tremble said. “He’s never skipped a day, never a day off, and people don’t see that, they just want to say whatever they want to say. He works overtime every single day — not every other day — every single day. And it shows, and he deserves it.
“He’s someone we can trust because he’s put the work in. He’s been ready. He’s a dog — I love that guy.”
The NFL is a fickle business, and Hubbard knows he’s evaluated on a game-by-game basis.
In reality, he finished with just 28 rushing yards on 15 carries (1.9 yards per carry) and two catches for 26 yards against Houston.
The running back knows he and his team, at 1-6, still have a lot to prove. But this win could be the start of something positive after an abysmal start to the campaign.
“Not the best game,” Hubbard said. “Definitely a lot of ups and downs but just happy to get the win. All credit to our coaches, o-line, Bryce and everybody. I mean we just put it all together when we needed it.”