The sentiment that echoed throughout the week was that this was no “Blood and Guts” type game for Sam Darnold nor Robby Anderson as they both geared up to play their former team for the first time. Regardless of both players taking the high road, there has to be some semblance of vindication to start the 2021 season with a win against the Jets. The Panthers defense was swarming and Darnold’s improved pocket presence was on full display by the young man who was infamously “seeing ghosts” in a forgettable Monday Night Football showing back in 2019.
Darnold entered the contest at the bottom of the league in completion percentage in clean pocket scenarios as well as in the red zone. The Carolina Panthers haven’t been great within 25 yards of the goal line either so that was definitely an area to watch as they kicked the season off on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers came away empty handed from a couple of trips inside the 20 yard line before a 22-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso put them on the board. A stingy defense that caused two turnovers and sacked quarterback Zach Wilson a whopping six times kept the Panthers in the lead from start to finish.
Shaq Thompson was all over the field recording ten total tackles – 5 assisted and 5 solo – along with one interception, a quarterback hit, a sack, and three pass deflections. Anderson was fairly quiet until he and Darnold connected for a 57 yard touchdown on Anderson’s first target of the day. The Panthers only other touchdown was scored when Darnold trotted into the endzone untouched from 5 yards out. How fitting that both scores came by way of former Jets players. Darnold was 24-of-35 for 279 yards, one touchdown, and one fumble.
It was a rough day in office for Wilson who is sure to see some ghosts of his own on the trip back up north. The rookie was 20-of-37 for 258 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also fumbled but recovered it himself. The lone bright spot for the Jets was receiver Corey Davis who hauled in five catches for 97 yards on seven targets. The run game was ground to a halt as the Jets were held to just 45 yards on seventeen carries.
Christian McCaffrey was back in action for the first time since the last month of the season last year. After being held out of the preseason, McCaffey had 30 touches and picked up 98 yards on the ground and 89 yards in the air. DJ Moore added six catches for 80 yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Hasson Reddick, Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, and Marquise Haynes all got in on the sack party while Donte Jackson added five tackles and one pass deflection. The Panthers now set their sights on next week’s matchup against NFC South foe, the New Orleans Saints who come into Bank of America having won eight of the last nine meetings.