On an evening in which notable injuries brought about unfortunate news for the Carolina Panthers, they still emerged undefeated. Despite injuries to Christian McCaffrey and Jaycee Horn, Sam Darnold and an impressive defensive effort led the Panthers to a win over rookie quarterback Davis Mills and the Houston Texans on Thursday night.
- READ: McCaffrey (hamstring) expected to miss a few weeks
- READ: Jaycee Horn likely out 2-3 months with broken foot
- READ: Texans QB Mills looking for areas to improve after first start
- Sam I am. Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold got the job done in the win column for the third week in a row, looking sharp in the second half with some big throws behind solid protection. It took Carolina’s offense a few drives to find its footing after Christian McCaffrey’s injury, but with D.J. Moore getting open throughout the night, Darnold anchored things with 304 passing yards. Still, the ball security issues that plagued him as a Jet cropped up again in the form of two fumbles. Darnold’s awareness as the pocket breaks down around him is still lacking, but fortunately for him, Panthers center Matt Paradis recovered both fumbles.
- Missing McCaffrey. The difference McCaffrey made for Carolina’s offense, versus his absence after exiting with a hamstring injury, was stark. The Panthers had a trio of three-and-out possessions in the first half -- on the first, McCaffrey didn’t get a touch on the opening drive, and the other two came after his injury. In between, Carolina put together a 10-play drive and a 14-play drive as McCaffrey averaged 4.4 yards per carry and caught a couple passes. He even threw in an exceptional cut block in pass protection to allow a sticks-moving completion to Moore. Backup Chuba Hubbard was solid in relief, but Carolina can’t get CMC back soon enough.
- Cooking with gas. What wide receiver Brandin Cooks means to the Texans offense can’t be overstated. For most of the first half, Houston was unable to get him involved and its offense went nowhere. Rookie QB Davis Mills finally found him for four receptions in a two-minute drive before the half, including a 30-yarder, and the outcome was a TD drive. Cooks finished with nine catches for 112 yards -- or 53% of Houston’s 210 yards of total offense. He’s the only truly dangerous playmaker the Texans can lean on.
- Meet you at the quarterback. The Panthers’ athleticism in the pass rush should be the envy of defensive coordinators across the league. They’re not too imposing from a size standpoint on the edge, but the first-step get-off from multiple positions is lightning quick, whether it’s Brian Burns, Haason Reddick or a blitzing Shaq Thompson. At times, it looked like they might swallow Mills whole, particularly late in the game when Houston could no longer afford to run the ball. The Panthers notched three sacks, and Burns added one for his fourth of the year.
- Mills stands in. If the Texans learned nothing else about rookie QB Davis Mills in his first career start, they learned something about his toughness. The three sacks he took don’t do justice to the duress he was under from Carolina’s pass rush. Early in the game, the Texans kept him mostly upright with quick passes, but the offense couldn’t move the ball that way. Once Mills began taking deeper drops and holding the ball longer, the heat was turned up. He took some big hits in the pocket, particularly late in the game, and was pressured 10 times. Not only was his pass protection overwhelmed, his running game was non-existent. Check the box on his toughness and, for now, judge nothing else.
Next Gen stat of the night: Panthers DE Haason Reddick had seven QB pressures, 1.5 sacks on 27 pass rush snaps (25.9%).
NFL Research: Panthers TE Tommy Tremble (21 years, 113 days old) became the youngest tight end to score a rushing touchdown in NFL history with a 7-yard end-around in the second half. The last tight end to score a rushing touchdown at age 22 or younger was Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots in Week 13, 2011, against the Colts.