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Panthers 24 Texans 9: Sam Darnold comes up big in Week 3 win over Texans

It wasn’t pretty, but the Panthers gutted out a win on Thursday Night Football.

Carolina Panthers v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Despite the numbers you will see in the box score, this game was pretty much a big pile of steaming crap. Yes, the Panthers won the game, and Sam Darnold looked the part of a franchise quarterback in the second half, but they lost several key players to injuries that appear to be long term. Christian McCaffrey hurt his leg in the first half, Jaycee Horn hurt his leg in the second half, and both players look like they’re going to miss a considerable amount of time.

The Panthers fell apart in the second quarter when CMC went down and allowed the Texans to pull to within one point at the half, but Sam Darnold put the team on his back in the second half, and the Panthers looked more like the team we hoped they would be en route to a convincing 24-9 win. Darnold finished the game 23-of-34 for 304 yards, 2 rushing touchdowns and 0 turnovers, and he was sacked three times for a loss of 14 yards. It was an ugly win, that’s for sure, but they all count the same in the standings, and the Panthers are now 3-0 after three weeks.

The Panthers started this game like they’ve started the previous two by setting the tone early on defense and scoring in the first quarter to take the lead, but then Christian McCaffrey sustained a hamstring injury early in the second quarter and the wheels completely fell off the wagon.

The Panthers completely shut down on offense and failed to put up any more points in the first half, and finally allowed an opponent to score in the first half when the Texans ran the two-minute drill at the end of the half and scored a touchdown with 0:25 left in the half. Joey Slye missed the extra point, however, and the Panthers maintained a slim 7-6 lead at the half.

The Panthers played much better in the third quarter than they have in the first two weeks of the season, and even extended their lead with a brilliant drive late in the third quarter. Tommy Tremble rumbled into the end zone on a tight end sweep on first-and-goal to extend the Panthers’ lead. Alex Erickson also had a big catch to set up the first-and-goal situation the Panthers scored on.

The Texans pulled a little closer with a field goal in the middle of the fourth quarter, but the Panthers’ offense continued to keep the train rolling on their next possession and took five minutes off the clock while scoring another touchdown on a Sam Darnold sneak — his second rushing touchdown of the game — to extend their lead to 24-9 with 4:07 left in regulation. After forcing a turnover on downs with 2:30 left, the Panthers picked up one more first down and then lined up in the victory formation to close out a 24-9 win that improved their record to 3-0 on the year.

The Panthers now have 10 days to get healthy before heading to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in Week 4. Hopefully that game is a lot easier to watch than this one was, and I firmly believe that’ll be the game we learn more about who this team really is. But for now, enjoy the weekend Panthers fans, because we’re 3-0 and look like a potential contender. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that, so we should enjoy it while it lasts.

If you’re interested, you can check out a more in-depth game recap broken down by quarter below.

First quarter

The Panthers started the game on offense after the Texans won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. The opening kickoff was a touchback and the first play of the game was a pass from Sam Darnold to DJ Moore for a 7-yard gain. Unfortunately they were unable to pick up the other three yards and had to punt after a three-and-out. The defense came to play, though, as they forced the Texans into a three-and-out of their own and got the ball right back on offense.

The Panthers had better results on their second drive as Darnold connected with Moore several times to move the ball efficiently down the field, and Darnold punched it into the end zone with a nifty 5-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers the lead. Zane Gonzalez tacked on the extra point to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 6:36 left in the quarter.

The defense got off the field quickly again after letting the Texans pick up one first down, but managed to force a punt before the Texans could reach midfield. The Panthers offense continued where they left off, and approached midfield as the quarter came to an end with the Panthers up by a touchdown.

Second quarter

The Panthers continued to drive down the field, but failed to put points on the board after going for it on fourth-and-1 inside the Houston 10-yard line and failing to convert after Chuba Hubbard was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The Panthers suffered a big loss on their previous drive when Christian McCaffrey went down with a hamstring injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.

The Panthers defense committed a few penalties to give the Texans free yards and first downs, but clamped down when it mattered and forced another punt to give the ball back to the offense. The offense almost turned the ball over on a Sam Darnold fumble and promptly went three-and-out and punted the ball right back over to the Texans.

The defense did their thing and forced another three-and-out after a big sack by Brian Burns — his third of the season — and forced the Texans to punt again. The Panthers once again failed to gain any ground and had to punt again right after the two-minute warning.

The Texans made the most of the opportunity and drove down the field to score. Joey Slye missed the extra point to keep the Panthers in front 7-6 with 0:25 left in the half. The Panthers tried to move downfield and get into field goal range but were unable to do so and took a 7-6 lead into halftime.

Third quarter

The Panthers started the half on defense and locked down when it counted the most, and forced the Texans to punt on fourth-and-4 around midfield. The offense took over at their own 10-yard line and started building a decent drive that put them at midfield after a string of positive plays. Alex Erickson picked up his first reception for a key first down to set up first-and-goal, and the Panthers increased their lead on the next play with a tight end sweep to Tommy Tremble for the touchdown. The extra point was good and the Panthers led 14-6 with 6:20 left in the quarter.

The defense came out and forced another three-and-out to give the ball right back to the offense with a chance to add more points to their lead. They managed to drive down to midfield before time expired on the quarter with the Panthers holding a 14-6 lead.

Fourth quarter

The Panthers started the final quarter with a 30-yard strike from Darnold to Tremble to put the offense in the red zone with a chance to extend their lead even further. The Panthers couldn’t pick up a first down, but Gonzalez hit a 21-yard field goal to extend the Panthers’ lead to 17-6 with 12:44 left in regulation.

The Texans put three points on the board after Joey Slye nailed a 53-yard field goal to pull to within eight points. The Panthers started their next drive holding on to a 17-9 lead with 9:09 left in regulation.

The Panthers drove the ball all the way down the field and scored another touchdown to extend their lead even more, and also took over five minutes off the clock while doing so. Gonzalez added on the extra point to give the Panthers a 24-9 lead with 4:07 left in regulation. The Texans were unable to pick up a first down on fourth-and-11 and the Panthers took over on downs with just over two minutes left in the game. The Panthers picked up the first down they needed to get and lined up in the victory formation after the two-minute warning to run out the clock and preserve the win.