To call Sunday’s road game against the Arizona Cardinals a must-win for the Carolina Panthers is an understatement. Having only won one of their last ten games coming and with the health of starting quarterback Cam Newton up in the air, the Panthers needed to start fast and finish strong against a Cardinals team looking for their first win of the 2019 season.
While Newton was not officially listed as “out” until Friday, the Panthers players expressed their confidence in Kyle Allen all throughout the week and on Sunday he did not disappoint, leading Carolina to a convincing 38-20 win. Throwing for 261 yards and four touchdowns, Allen connected with three different Panthers for scores.
“We’ve struggled a couple of weeks. We’ve been close. We’ve been really close, and it’s cool to see a complete game, complementary football, everyone doing their part and coming away with the victory.”
Early on, it appeared a familiar foe was rearing its ugly head once again for Carolina – red zone woes. After driving down to the Arizona 15-yard line on the opening possession, Allen was strip sacked by cornerback Chris Jones and the Cardinals recovered. After rookie quarterback Kyler Murray engineered a 74-yard scoring drive, Allen put together a 75-yard drive of his own; capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel. It was the first time Carolina scored a first half touchdown dating back to Week 17 at New Orleans. Allen was under center for that score as well. Allen talked about how important it was for the offense to find their groove.
“It was huge, and I think it’s huge for everyone on the field, including the O-line. If you look back at the tape, I had all day to throw. It was huge from them, and like I said, we played complementary football. People were making plays when their number was called. You see Greg (Olsen) had two touchdowns. Curtis (Samuel) had one. I forgot who the other one was to, but everyone was making plays the their number was called, so it was big game for everybody.”
That other touchdown was to DJ Moore. The second-year receiver took a deep middle pass 52 yards for the score with under a minute left in the first half. It was Moore’s longest touchdown reception of his career. The two touchdown performance from Olsen should bring about sighs of relief for the Panthers fan base who has seen “Mr. Reliable” slowed by injuries for much of the last two seasons. Olsen joked that it’s the furthest he’s made it into the season in three years and says his foot feels fine. “I feel fine. It hasn’t bothered me in a while,” said Olsen. After taking a rest day with a tight back, Olsen says that today he finally felt like he could run and separate.
Olsen wasn’t the only finally feeling like he was in a groove. That Carolina defense that everyone has been buzzing about since training camp seemed to finally gel this afternoon. Save for a few bursts, Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray was pretty well contained. Murray was sacked eight times; a tie for the second-most in team history. Ironically, the last eight-sack game was against the Cardinals in 2016. Veteran defensive end Mario Addison got the hat trick, taking Murray three times – twice in the second quarter. Rookie Christian Miller had two sacks while Shaq Thompson, Eric Reid, and Brian Burns got in on the action as well.
Not to be outdone, cornerback Donte Jackson snagged two second-half interceptions after a crucial missed tackle earlier in the game. “It was really just one of those plays that you have to know who you’re tackling. He’s (David Johnson) strong and I just have to finish and know who I’m hitting,” said Jackson after the game. Bouncing back from that error, Jackson says that’s just who he is as a player.
“That’s just me. I’m a fighter. I play all day. That’s really what it is. I have short-term memory. I just want to go out there and make a play and help the team win. I knew that we had to get Kyle Allen back on the field because he was hot and that was the only thing that we were preaching on the sideline.”
Hot he was and with no timetable for Newton’s return, that should ease the anxiety of the Carolina collective. With that first win behind them, the team looks forward to next week’s game at Houston where they will contend with another mobile quarterback in Deshaun Watson. But for now, the Panthers look forward to Victory Monday, a concept that has been sorely missed but one that they want to regain familiarity with as the season continues.