The Panthers welcomed the Jets to Bank of America Stadium for a Week 1 clash, and the defense showed up to play all afternoon against a rookie quarterback making his first career start. The Panthers pressured Zach Wilson all day, sacking him six times and picking him off once en route to a less-than-convincing 19-14 win over the Jets to start the 2021 season with a 1-0 record.
It was less-than-convincing because the offense had bouts of incompetence all afternoon. They botched a handoff on fourth-and-2 inside the Jets’ 5-yard line and failed to score. They punted from the Jets’ 33-yard line and decided against trying to score. They had to settle for a field goal in the red zone after failing to punch the ball in after a decent drive got them deep into Jets territory. The third quarter was a mess, and the Jets gained some momentum in the second half to turn a solid performance by the defense into a nail-biter late in the fourth quarter.
The important thing, however, is the Panthers managed to hang on and win the game. Sam Darnold was mostly good, Christian McCaffrey was his usual self, DJ Moore made some solid catches, Shaq Thompson looked the part of a defensive leader, Donte Jackson made an impressive pass breakup to force a fourth down late in the game, and the offensive line did their job and protected the quarterback.
There are nitpicks to make about this game, and we’ll certainly do those when we go into more detail with our reviews, but for now we can take a deep breath and celebrate the fact that we’re 1-0 on the young season. It feels good to say that, and despite the rocks along the way, at least the journey had a positive first stop.
The Panthers will welcome the Saints to The Vault next week with a chance to start the season 2-0. Hopefully they look even better next week than they did today.
If you’re interested, you can read a more detailed recap of the game below, broken down by quarter:
The Panthers won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half. The defense started out strong and forced the Jets to punt following a huge sack by Brian Burns for a loss of nine yards. Jaycee Horn also made a nice play in run support. The Panthers fed CMC four straight times to start their first series on offense, but a holding penalty by Pat Elflein stalled the drive and forced the Panthers to punt.
The Panthers defense forced a three-and-out on their next drive and injured the Jets punter on fourth down. There was a holding penalty on the Jets, and Matt Rhule elected to force them to punt again, so their kicker had to punt to DJ Moore. The Panthers ended up with good field position at midfield, but couldn’t sustain a drive long enough to put points on the board. Rhule elected to punt on fourth down from the 33-yard line instead of trying a 51-yard field goal, for what it’s worth.
The Panthers defense did their job to get the ball back for the Panthers’ offense, but emergency punter Matt Ammendola cranked a 66-yard punt to set the Panthers back deep in their own territory. The Panthers ran a few plays and picked up a first down before time expired on the quarter with the game tied at 0-0.
The Panthers started moving the ball well thanks to two fantastic catches by DJ Moore, and were faced with their first big situation of the year when they lined up for a fourth-and-1 play at the Jets’ 5-yard line. Sam Darnold fumbled the exchange with the running back and the Jets picked up the loose football, keeping the game tied at 0-0.
The Jets hit their first big play of the game on a pass to Corey Davis to get to midfield, but a Shaq Thompson interception gave the ball back to the Panthers at the Jets 33-yard line. The Panthers managed to get deep into the red zone but were unable to punch it in for a touchdown and had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso to take a 3-0 lead.
The Panthers defense continued to bully the Jets offense as Haason Reddick got his first sack of the season and Myles Hartsfield made an impressive pass breakup on third down. The Jets went for it on fourth-and-1, but Yetur Gross-Matos blew up the play in the backfield to give the Panthers the ball back after a turnover on downs. The Panthers took advantage of the field position and struck for a 57-yard touchdown on a pass from Darnold to Robby Anderson. The extra point was no good and the Panthers extended their lead to 9-0 with 4:06 left in the half.
The defense came in and put a stop to the Jets offense by forcing another three-and-out to give the offense another chance to put points on the board before the end of the half. Sam Darnold went 5-for-5 for 56 yards and took matters into his own hands with a 5-yard run for the touchdown to extend Carolina’s lead to 16-0 with 0:35 left in the half.
The Jets ran the clock out to go into the locker room with the Panthers up 16-0.
The Panthers started the second half on offense but went three-and-out on their first drive after the Jets sacked Darnold on third-and-2. The defense did their job and forced the Jets to punt again and gave the ball right back to the Panthers’ offense with decent field position. The Panthers were unable to do anything on offense for the second straight drive of the half and had to punt the ball back to the Jets.
The defense buckled down again and after a huge sack on Zach Wilson to push them back into second-and-20, the defense dropped the hammer on two straight plays to force another punt. The offense went three-and-out again, however, and punted the ball right back to the Jets. The Jets finally put a drive together and took advantage of a coverage breakdown in the Panthers’ secondary to put their first points on the board after Wilson found a wide open Corey Davis in the end zone. The Jets went for two, and the attempt was good to cut the Panthers’ lead to 16-8 with 1:25 left in the quarter.
The Panthers ran two plays and faced third-and-6 before time expired on the quarter with Carolina leading 16-8 over the Jets.
The Panthers resumed play at the start of the fourth quarter with a third-and-6 situation, and Darnold was able to find DJ Moore for a 7-yard gain and a first down to keep the drive alive. The Panthers drove down the field but stalled in the red zone and faced a fourth-and-2 situation, so the Panthers had to settle for a field goal to extend their lead to 19-8 with 8:42 left in the game.
The Panthers defense stepped up again and shut down the Jets offense and forced another punt with 7:21 left in the game to give the offense a chance to drain more clock and preserve the lead. The Panthers couldn’t get a drive going, but they managed to drain a few minutes off the clock before punting back to the Jets with 4:40 left in the game. Joseph Charlton was able to pin the Jets inside their own 10-yard line with a quality kick.
The Panthers defense became a mixture of good and bad plays on the next drive. They shut down the Jets on first, second and third down, but gave up a big play on fourth-and-8 and an even bigger play on the following first-and-10 snap to give the Jets a first-and-goal from the Panthers’ 10-yard line. Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos combined for a huge sack on first-and-goal, however, to set the Jets back on second-and-goal. The Jets faced third-and-goal as the two minute warning halted play, and the Jets picked up another touchdown to cut the Panthers lead again. The Jets went for two and could not convert, giving the Panthers a 19-14 lead with 1:56 left in the game.
The Panthers did their job on offense and picked up one first down to have the ability to line up in the victory formation and close out their first win of the year.