Every week I write a column called “3 plays to love, 3 plays to hate” which highlights the key plays that shifted momentum in that week’s game. Over the course of a 16-game season, that’s 48 individual “plays to love,” sometimes with more than one player getting credit on a single big play.
With the 2017 regular season now in the books, Devin Funchess is the Carolina Panthers “plays to love” MVP, and it wasn’t even close. In all, Funchess was credited with nine “plays to love.” Luke Kuechly was a distant second with five plays to love followed by Mario Addison with four.
(Note: I always exclude Cam Newton from consideration because by virtue of his position, he always leads the Panthers in both “plays to love” and “plays to hate”.)
Here is the recap of the biggest plays Funchess made during his 2017 breakout season.
Week 2 vs. Bills – On a 1st-and-25 from midfield in the second quarter, Funchess ran a deep route and went up high to pull in a spectacular 21-yard reception. The big play led to a key field goal in the Panthers 9-3 win.
Week 4 at Patriots – The Panthers trailed by three in the second quarter and were facing a three-and-out deep in their own territory. Funchess caught a short pass then shrugged off Erik Rowe’s tackle to pick up just enough yards for a first down. The drive was extended and was ultimately concluded with a Devin Funchess touchdown to put the Panthers up 17-13.
Week 4 at Patriots – Funchess made two “plays to love” to set up Graham Gano’s game-winning field goal. On first down, he broke up a potential interception on an underthrown pass. Then, on 3rd-and-3, he shrugged off an injury to haul in a seven-yard gain for a first down, extending the drive that ended with Gano’s game-winner.
Week 5 at Lions – Funchess got two “plays to love” on a scoring drive to put the Panthers up 17-10 at the half. On a third down, he fought through a Glover Quinn tackle to get just enough for a first down. He then ended the drive with a strong touchdown in the back of the end zone, helping Carolina to a win.
Week 10 vs. Dolphins – The Panthers led 17-7 early in the third quarter. Cam Newton called an audible and hit Funch with a quick screen pass. Thanks to great blocking by Christian McCaffrey and Matt Kalil, Funchess sprinted 28-yards into the end zone, putting the Panthers up 24-7 in
Week 14 vs. Vikings – Carolina led by 14-13 midway through the third quarter. Facing 3rd-and-7 from the Minnesota 18, Cam used his incredible elusiveness to buy just enough time for Funchess to get open in the end zone for a huge touchdown in an eventual Panthers win.
Week 17 at Falcons – On a day when the Panthers offense was terrible, it was Funchess who hauled in a big 44-yard reception in the fourth quarter to set up a Carolina field goal. The field goal cut the Falcons lead to 16-10, but the Panthers ultimately fell to Atlanta.
The key word that runs through each of these plays is “strength.” On several occasions, Funchess caught passes short of a first down then powered through would-be tacklers to get beyond the sticks. On other plays Funchess went up and over defenders in tight coverage or used his strength to hold on to passes after taking a hard hit.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver had a very strong 2017. His 63 receptions, 840 yards, and eight touchdowns were all career highs, and many of these plays swung momentum and led to Panthers victories. Funchess was a huge part in the Panthers 11-5 season and in making the playoffs.
And with that, Devin Funchess is our 2017 “plays to love” MVP!
Which Devin Funchess Play to Love was your favorite?
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vs. Patriots - Fuch shrugs off Erik Rowe for a first down, then scores a TD
vs. Patriots - Funch breaks up potential interception, then converts on 3rd-and-3 to set up game-winning FG
vs. Lions - Funch shrugs off Glover Quinn for a first down, then scores a TD
vs. Dolphins - The 28-yard screen pass TD