The Carolina Panthers improved to 3-0 with a 24-9 win over the Houston Texans, but the attention in the immediate aftermath centered around the game’s “war of attrition”.
Two major injuries on each side of the football marred the victory, with the Panthers losing RB Christian McCaffrey to a first-half hamstring injury and CB Jaycee Horn to a broken foot injury in the second half.
Rhule called McCaffrey’s injury a hamstring strain after the game, saying they would need an MRI to determine its severity. The Head Coach said Horn “broke a couple of bones” but did not disclose which part of the foot. Rhule also said starting safety Juston Burris pulled a muscle, but did not say where.
The Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead before the McCaffrey injury, as Sam Darnold ran in for his first of two rushing touchdowns to cap a 10-play, 88 yard drive. Darnold showcased his continued chemistry with DJ Moore, connecting with him for two pass plays of more than 25 yards on that drive.
Moore caught eight of Darnold’s 23 completions for 126 yards, as the first-year Panthers QB turned in his second 300-yard performance in his first three games. Darnold completed 23-of-34 for 304 yards.
“I think if you watch the way we call the game, we trust [Darnold].” Rhule said. “Sam has some moxie man. He’s protecting the football, and still pushing the ball down there.”
The game was not without drama, despite the scoreline. Houston looked to have tied the game before halftime, but former Panthers kicker Joey Slye missed the equalizing extra point.
With McCaffrey departing at the 12:13 mark of the second quarter, the offense looked stagnant without him in the first half.
“Losing Christian’s tough, I thought Chuba and Royce did a great job,” Darnold said. “I thought we did a great job of bouncing back and putting that first half behind us.”
Even without McCaffrey, the Panthers rushed for 120 yards as a team, outrushing the Texans 120-42.
“I always believe when your name is called you have to step up,” reserve running back Chuba Hubbard said. “It was just a tough situation, you never want to see your teammate go down. Especially Christian.”
Matt Rhule and Joe Brady diversified the offense in the second half, including Tommy Tremble in the plans with a seven-yard touchdown rush on a tight-end reverse. By the time Darnold punched another touchdown in from one-yard out, the Panthers had a comfortable margin.
“Proud of our guys, wasn’t our best game, sloppy game, with too many penalties,” Rhule said. “A lot of things we have to clean up.”
Offsides penalties were the main culprit for the Panthers, with three of those infractions encompassing their eight penalties for 64 yards. Darnold also fumbled the ball twice, but the Panthers offense was able to smother the ball to avoid turnovers.
Despite the mistakes, Carolina’s defense kept the Houston offense in check, adding another four sacks to its ledger. The Panthers are expected to get veteran DB AJ Bouye back to try and shoulder the loss of Horn, who will be out indefinitely.
The short week of Thursday Night Football, and with the Panthers already shorthanded, became an exacerbation of the Panthers’ paper-thin depth at key positions.
“It’s definitely a challenge to get your body right,” Panthers defender Haason Reddick said. “It’s just one of those things that’s part of the job. You have to be a pro.
Reddick had 1.5 sacks to give him 4.5 to lead the team. Brian Burns added a sack as well to give him three for the season.
The Panthers get an extended break before returning to the Lone Star State for their Week Four matchup one week from Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.