The Panthers beat the Texans last night, and while it certainly wasn’t the most visually appealing football game they’ve ever played, their 24-9 victory puts them at 3-0 on the season. The football world is still trying to figure out whether or not the 2021 Panthers are actually contenders or if they’re still just pretenders taking advantage of a weak schedule, but no matter what people say about us we’re 3-0, bay-bay, and that’s something we haven’t been since September 27, 2015.
Winning feels great, but this win may have cost the Panthers more than they were willing to pay after Christian McCaffrey and Jaycee Horn both went down with leg injuries that will put both players on the shelf for a while. We don’t know the severity of the injuries yet, but from all accounts last night it looks like Horn has a broken foot and McCaffrey has a hamstring strain. Both players are expected to miss time, and hopefully they’re both able to have speedy recoveries to get back on the field soon.
Alright, I think that’s enough rambling for now. Below are five takeaways from last night’s win, in no particular order.
The Panthers built character through adversity
The Panthers lost their best player on offense early in the second quarter when Christian McCaffrey left the game with a hamstring injury. The impact was immediate, as the Panthers went from a team who could drive down the field at will to a team who could barely function on offense. After McCaffrey went down, the Panthers ran 11 plays for 14 yards for the remainder of the half. They also allowed the Texans to drive down the field and score a touchdown in the last two minutes, and if not for a missed extra point by Joey Slye the score would have been tied at the break.
Things changed in the second half, though. The Panthers came out after halftime and ran a 9-play, 91-yard touchdown drive on their first possession to extend their lead to 14-6. The next time they were on offense, they ran a 10-play, 56-yard drive and added a field goal. And their next drive was a 12-play, 75-yarder that resulted in a touchdown to put the final nail in Houston’s coffin. It was good to see the Panthers respond to adversity, and despite the Texans being a ‘bad team’ it was refreshing to see the Panthers put an opponent away in the second half instead of turning a game they should win easily into a nail-biter.
The Panthers built character last night, and hopefully it’s something that sticks with them for a long time.
Sam Darnold looks like the real deal
Sam Darnold is proving week after week that the dysfunctional Jets appear to be the primary cause of his struggles over the last three years. So far this year he’s 73-of-107 (68.2 percent) for 888 yards, 6 total touchdowns (3 passing, 3 rushing), and 1 interception. He’s currently projected to throw for 4,736 yards with 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and I believe if he reaches those projections that Panthers fans should be incredibly pleased (especially if he continues to add rushing touchdowns, which are not counted in this projection).
Darnold put the team on his back in the second half and led them on three scoring drives to put the game away. He showed up when it mattered the most, and thanks to his command of the offense in the second half the Panthers are 3-0 instead of 2-1 this morning. He finished the night 23-of-34 for 304 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. He was smart with the football and made good decisions, and he has developed quite the relationship with DJ Moore, as evidenced by the production Moore had last night.
Speaking of which...
DJ Moore is starting to look like Smitty 2.0
Moore grabbed 8 receptions on 12 targets for 126 yards and is currently on pace for 117 catches for 1,520 yards and 5 touchdowns this season. I don’t know if he’ll reach those numbers based on the amount of weapons the Panthers have on offense, but he’s been lighting up the stat sheet over the last three weeks.
Steve Smith has said on multiple occasions that Moore is the new version of himself, and he has shown that he’s up to the task of being ‘the new Smitty’ so far this year. The Panthers picked up Moore’s fifth-year option in April, so he’ll be in Carolina through the 2022 season, but they should seriously look into signing him to an extension now before he becomes too expensive to keep.
Terrace Marshall Jr. and Tommy Tremble showed flashes of their potential
Tremble scored his first NFL touchdown last night on a nifty tight end sweep and grabbed a huge 30-yard pass to give the Panthers a first down at the Houston 12-yard line (that resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Gonzalez to extend their lead). Marshall grabbed 4 receptions on 5 targets for 48 yards (including a 23-yard gain that set the Panthers up in the red zone and gave them the chance to score their last touchdown to ice the game).
It’s still early, but based on what I’ve seen so far the Panthers look like they have a pair of quality players who can be useful weapons on offense for the next several years. Hopefully they continue to get opportunities to develop throughout the year, but I like what I’m seeing from them right now and want to see more from both players.
The defense is still legit
The Panthers defense tallied 4 sacks, 9 quarterback hits and 1 pass defended last night, and once again proved to be a menace to their opponent. They pressured Davis Mills all night long, and didn’t allow the Texans to cross midfield until their final drive of the first half (where they scored their lone touchdown of the game). Shaq Thompson continues to play well since switching to the No. 7 jersey, Brian Burns is still a menace, Haason Reddick is playing himself into a big contract (get on that now, Fitterer), Donte Jackson is playing great (and has vastly improved his run support), Derrick Brown looks like a monster in the middle of the line and Morgan Fox has turned out to be a great pickup in free agency. Jaycee Horn was having a great start to his rookie year before going down with a foot injury in the second half, and it’s unfortunate that he’s going to miss time this year after the start he had.
The Panthers lost Horn to injury, but will add AJ Bouye who was activated to the 53-man roster after serving the final two games of his six-game suspension (the first four were served last year while he was in Denver). Juston Burris also left the game with an injury but his status is still unknown as of this writing. Hopefully he’ll be able to take advantage of the 10-day rest between games.
Overall I like what I’m seeing from the defense and hope they can continue to build on their success. If the defense can continue to play at the level we’ve seen over the last three games, and if the offense can protect the football and avoid mistakes, this Panthers team has the potential to be a playoff contender as the season goes on.
What do you think, Panthers fans? Who stood out to you last night? Share your thoughts with us!