The Carolina Panthers were riding high into Houston, Texas on Thursday boasting the best defense in the league. Historically, primetime hasn’t been all that kind to the Panthers; they’re 3-9 under the bright lights. After swapping 3-and-out possessions with Houston, Sam Darnold established an early connection with DJ Moore. Moore had receptions of 29 and 26 yards to set up the first score of the evening – a 5-yard rush by Darnold. Despite a monster first quarter by the fourth year receiver – he had 5 catches for 76 yards, the Panthers offense sputtered through the rest of the half, turning the ball over on downs at the 5 yard line and punting their last two possessions. Running back Christian McCaffrey left the game with a hamstring injury with 12:13 remaining in the half and did not return.
Defensively, the Panthers had been on a roll and started the game with the same aggression that had them atop nearly every defensive statistical category coming into Week Three. The Texans were limited to 31 total net yards after the first quarter but gained a whopping 64 yards on their first scoring drive. Former Panthers kicker Joey Slye missed the extra point and his former team took a 7-6 lead into halftime.
Traditionally the Panthers have struggled in the third quarter, and it looked like that trend would continue into this game with defensive penalties the Texans opening drive. After a pass inference penalty against Donte Jackson and an offsides penalty against Bravvion Roy; the defense took a huge hit when rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn left the game with a foot injury. After the game head coach Matt Rhule confirmed that Horn broke multiple bones in his foot. With the defense hampered, Darnold and the offense stepped up, scoring on the rest of their remaining possessions. Tight end Tommy Tremble scored a 7-yard touchdown set up by a 25-yard reception by wide receiver Alex Erickson. Facing 4th-and-1 deep in Texans territory once again, the Panthers elected to go for the field goal and took a 17-6 lead to start the fourth quarter. The Texans countered with a field goal of their own as Slye booted a 53-yarder through the uprights to cut into the lead but they would get no closer. Darnold got his second rushing touchdown of the day on a 1-yard keeper to round out the scoring. He finished with an overall rating of 95.7 after throwing for 304 yards. Moore finished the day with eight catches for 126 yards. The Panthers move to 3-0 and now turn their attention to preparing for the Dallas Cowboys while the Texans drop to 1-2.