INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nyheim Hines pulled off a rare feat Sunday for the Indianapolis Colts.
He scored on two punt returns, set up another touchdown with a 40-yard return four plays into the game and provided the jolt of energy the Colts needed to pull away from Carolina 38-6.
The Colts (7-8) snapped a four-game losing streak in their home finale and can avoid their second losing season in three years with a win next week.
Carolina (5-10), meanwhile, lost its seventh straight on a day it hoped new starting quarterback Will Grier could help the franchise change directions.
Instead, Hines never gave the Panthers a chance with a record-breaking performance.
His 195 yards on three returns is the highest single-game mark in franchise history — and the most by any NFL player since Eddie Drummond had 199 against Jacksonville in 2004.
And he wasted no time, either.
Just eight plays after Hines’ 40-yard return, Jacoby Brissett converted a fourth-and-goal with a 1-yard TD plunge for a 7-0 lead.
Hines made it 14-0 when he fielded the punt at his 16-yard line, found a lane in the middle of the field, cut left and eluded punter Michael Palardy right in front of the Colts’ bench before turning left in the end zone and running through the stadium tunnel. It was longest return by a Colts player in 12 years.
The Panthers never recovered.
But Hines wasn’t finished.
Midway through the fourth quarter, he somehow managed to snake his way through traffic, found an opening down the right sideline and sprinted 71 yards to make it 31-6.
All the Panthers could muster were two field goals — from 27 and 50 yards. Christian McCaffrey had 15 receptions for 119 yards and carried 13 times for 54 yards.
Marlon Mack rushed 16 times for 95 yards and one score, while Jordan Wilkins had nine carries for 84 yards and a score.
Carolina defensive tackle Vernon Butler was ejected early in the third quarter after throwing a punch at tight end Jack Doyle. After the announcement was made, following a booth review, Butler made an obscene gesture at the crowd’s boos.
Indy lost Pro Bowl guard Quenton Nelson when he entered the concussion protocol in the third quarter.
Grier had a rough starting debut.
He was 27 of 44 with 224 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and was sacked three times. And he lost DJ Moore, the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver, in the first quarter with a concussion.
Panthers: Close out the season by hosting NFC South champion New Orleans on Sunday.
Colts: Head to Jacksonville next Sunday for their season finale.