CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey isn't giving up on this season despite being expected to miss four to six weeks with a right high ankle sprain, and he doesn't want his teammates to give up because of an 0-2 start.
"The last thing I want this team to focus on is the negative," McCaffrey said less than 24 hours after suffering his first significant NFL injury during a 31-17 loss at Tampa Bay. "Football, especially in the NFL, can have a lot of factors that can affect your mental, emotional and physical play.
"We've lost two games, not because we're a bad team. That's something that can be corrected, injury or not with me. This team has a lot of fight. Our team has a lot of resiliency. And we have the right guys to pick it up from here."
McCaffrey, 24, echoed what cornerback Donte Jackson said on Sunday about still having the potential to make the playoffs. That's why McCaffrey opened a Zoom call with a statement about staying focused on fixing the mistakes that led to two losses.
"We have the guys to win," he said. "We put ourselves in position to win two weeks in a row. We've shown that we can win. We just have to do it.
"I wanted to address that first because there's a lot of talk with how we're going to be as a team. Well, we have the right culture. It's still early, and there is still hope."
McCaffrey said he'll attack his injury like he hopes teammates attack their upcoming game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
"The biggest thing we can do is stay strong and fight through it," McCaffrey said. "They say four to six weeks [to recover]. Well, that's a challenge to me. Hopefully, I'll get back a lot earlier than this."
McCaffrey said it's important in a world of negative social media to remain upbeat.
"There's a lot of noise that can be heard from the outside, and it's crucial not to listen to that stuff and to focus on the football and not beat ourselves," he said after the Panthers committed four turnovers in the loss to Tampa Bay.
"The biggest thing we can do is stay strong and fight through it. They say four to six weeks [to recover]. Well, that's a challenge to me. Hopefully, I'll get back a lot earlier than this."Christian McCaffrey
First-year NFL coach Matt Rhule also was focused on remaining positive despite the loss of McCaffrey. He said the Panthers won't change their offense just because they lost arguably the most dynamic player in the league.
"Mike Davis is a starting tailback in the National Football League," Rhule said of the 27-year-old who will replace McCaffrey. "He got out there [Sunday] and made some great catches. Was physical. He was ready when his number was called. He'll play well in Christian's absence."
McCaffrey didn't return after limping to the sideline following a 7-yard, fourth-down touchdown run that cut the deficit to 21-14.
McCaffrey said he aggravated the ankle late in the third quarter and then had it taped up during the break before the fourth. He said the ankle kept getting worse and that after the touchdown, he and the trainers agreed it "would be inefficient if I continued to play.''
"It sucks, to be 100 percent transparent," McCaffrey said. "Anytime you get injured, it's a horrible thing. You play football to play football, not to sit out."
Rhule felt McCaffrey's pain when the two texted after McCaffrey's MRI on Monday morning.
"I hate it for him," Rhule said. "No one wants to be out there and play more than Christian does. He had this for a reason. I'm sure he's rehabbing right now. I talked to him earlier today, and I'm sure he'll get back as quickly as he can."
The Panthers made McCaffrey the NFL's highest-paid running back during the offseason with a four-year, $64 million extension that averages $16 million per year.
Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady said during the preseason the offense was built around McCaffrey, who last year became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
But Rhule declined to make more of losing the Pro Bowl back than he would any other player.
"I care about our players beyond just football, beyond just winning," Rhule said. "So when a guy gets hurt, whether he's a really talented player or a guy that's just hanging on as the 53rd guy, I hate to see it.
"Christian is a special player. But even more so, he's a special person. I know how badly he wants to be out there for his team. After the game, he was upset he wasn't out there to help us at the very end."
Replacing McCaffrey won't be easy. He scored four of the team's five touchdowns this season and has 156 of the team's 216 rushing yards. He has led the Panthers in receptions the previous two seasons with 223 catches.
Davis, a fourth-round pick by San Francisco out of South Carolina in 2015, has one rush for 1 yard in limited playing time. His strength on Sunday came as a receiver. He had eight catches for 74 yards.
Davis has starting experience, making six of his 10 career starts in 2017 for Seattle. The Panthers also are looking at bringing up Reggie Bonnafon from the practice squad.
"We'll keep doing what we're doing," Rhule said. "Mike can run the football. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. When he went in there [Sunday] we didn't change what we did. He made the most out of his opportunities. I'm sure he will do the same thing [this week]."