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Carolina Panthers Win Despite Key Injuries to Extend Win Streak to 3-0

Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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Injuries, both past, and present, established storylines on Thursday night that both teams would need to address in Week 3.

Last week was riddled with injuries, and none worse than at the quarterback position. Houston’s starting QB, Tyrod Taylor, suffered a hamstring injury after rushing in a touchdown on Sunday that led rookie QB Davis Mills to take the helm. The Texans were on a short week with a young quarterback facing the buzz saw that is the Panthers’ defense.

Carolina was heading into Week 3 with a 2-0 record and a lot of eyes watching to see if their quarterback could continue the win streak.

Both young men had a large stake in this game for similar, yet very different reasons. On one side, you have a quarterback ready to justify why he should be starting despite limited work in college. On the other, you have a young quarterback ready to prove that he deserves to lead a winning franchise. [[ad:athena]]

Quarterback Justification

There wasn’t much hope in a win for the Texans, but this was an opportunity to see what their draft pick could do in the NFL. Mills had an abbreviated season during his collegiate career due to a lingering knee injury from high school. Despite these setbacks, he was still the top-ranked quarterback in 2017, ahead of Tua Tagovailoa. He played a total of 14 games at Stanford and threw 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His first game, which was the only one he played that year, came in 2018, then he played eight games in 2019, and only five games in 2020.

Despite these obstacles, Mills was still the first selection off the board for the Texans. It sparked a loud conversation given the controversy surrounding Deshaun Watson. For the Texans, even thinking about starting Watson after Taylor injured himself was out of the question. It’s Mills’ team until Taylor is fully healthy.

He completed 19 passes out of 28 attempts for 168 yards and a touchdown to WR Anthony Miller. He was sacked four times for a loss of 17 yards. WR Brandin Cooks saw 11 targets for nine receptions and 112 yards and the full complement of running backs between Mark Ingram, David Johnson, and Phillip Lindsay couldn’t get much going against Carolina’s defense. Mills was up against tough odds, but he still managed to move the chains and not implode under an enormous amount of pressure.

Quarterback Redemption

On the other side of the ball, Panthers QB Sam Darnold is on a redemption campaign. Finally out from underneath the thumb of Adam Gase, Darnold is on a mission to prove why he deserves to be a contender in the NFL.

Granted, the road is less bumpy when RB Christian McCaffrey is on the field to alleviate a multitude of issues. Darnold has had the luxury of having McCaffrey the first two weeks of the season, but that wasn’t the case on Thursday night. The elite back left early in the game with a hamstring injury and was promptly ruled out. He had seven carries for 17 yards and two receptions on two targets for nine yards before his night was over.

Despite a rocky few series after McCaffrey’s exit, Darnold stepped up to the plate and took command of the offense. He rushed in two touchdowns on eight carries for 31 yards. He also passed for over 300 yards on 23 completions with no interceptions. He did fumble twice and was sacked three times for 14 yards, but all of those came in the first half of the game.

Statistics aside, the optics for Darnold were in his favor. In his post-game interview, he was a man renewed. He didn’t want to talk about his time with the Jets since that was in his past. Instead, he complimented every player on the team and seemed like a man at home for the first time since entering the league.

Both quarterbacks have something to prove in their own right and Thursday’s night’s game was a glimpse into the future of both franchises.

McCaffrey Exits Early

It was heartbreaking to see McCaffrey limp off the field in the second quarter and a punch to the gut when he was ruled out shortly after. The severity of his injury is unknown, but head coach Matt Rhule said it is a hamstring strain.

The offense stalled somewhat after that, but they picked themselves back up again. The biggest concern, aside from when McCaffrey will return, is who is going to take his place until then.

Chubba Hubbard had a slow start but ended the game with 11 carries for 52 yards and three receptions for 27 yards. Royce Freeman got involved with five carries for 17 yards and one reception for eight yards. However, it was the third-round rookie, Tommy Tremble, who had the only RB touchdown on one rush for seven yards and had the longest reception of the entire team for 30 yards on one target.

If you combine Hubbard, Freeman, Tremble, and even Darnold, you may get sort of close to McCaffrey-like production.

This is doable for real football but horrible for fantasy. The best that managers can hope for is a quick recovery for McCaffrey.

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Quick Hits/Injury Updates/COVID-19

Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey suffered a hamstring injury early in the second quarter and was ruled out for the rest of the Thursday night game. … Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown is on COVID-19 reserve and is in danger of missing Sunday’s game against the Rams. … Browns WR Jarvis Landry is on IR, but WR Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to start after being a “full go” in practice. … Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa suffered fractured ribs after initial tests at the field were negative. QB Jacoby Brissett will start for the Dolphins against the Raiders. … Colts QB Carson Wentz suffered two sprained ankles in their matchup against the Rams. The Colts are preparing as though he will not play although he is considered a true game-time decision. Backup Jacob Eason or practice squad and former Green Bay Packer backup Brett Hundley may get the starting nod if Wentz cannot go. … Bengals WR Tee Higgins is “on pace” to not start this weekend. … Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is dealing with hip soreness but it was also reported that he is dealing with a non-COVID-related stomach bug. … Viking RB Dalvin Cook missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury. … Giants TE Evan Engram was practicing again after missing the first two weeks of the season. … Raiders RB Josh Jacobs was practicing with a non-contact jersey. … Washington RB Antonio Gibson is dealing with a shoulder injury but head coach Ron Rivera said he is fine. … Cowboys WR Amari Cooper was limited at practice with an injury to his ribs. … Kyle Shanahan says RB Trey Sermon is on a good path to play on Sunday.