If any game was a “must win” for the Carolina Panthers, you have to think this week’s home matchup against the Houston Texans would be that. The game pits the top two picks of this year’s draft, Bryce Young and CJ Stroud, against one another and comes one week after the bye with the Panthers still searching for their first win of the season.
Sunday also marked the return of safety Xavier Woods and right guard Austin Corbett to the lineup after missing time due to injuries. For Corbett it was his first action since tearing his ACL in last season’s finale. It was offensive coordinator Thomas Brown’s first game taking the reins of play calling after the team announced the change during the bye week. Both teams settled for punts on their first two possessions before the Texans hit pay dirt first. A 17-play drive that amassed 92 yards over the course of 9:20 culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Andrew Beck. Houston went 4-for-4 on third down conversions on that drive. The Panthers responded with a 10-play drive of their own all the way down to the 2-yard line before coming away empty-handed and turning the ball over on downs. On their next offensive possession, a 1-yard touchdown pass from Young to tight end Tommy Tremble put the Panthers on the board. Kicker Eddy Pineiro missed the extra point, leaving the score 7-6 in favor of Houston with 1:35 to play in the first half.
Carolina opened the second half with a 46-yard field goal to take a 9-7 lead. Defense came up big as cornerback Donte Jackson forced Beck to cough up the ball. Woods recovered the ball at Houston’s 32 yard line and advanced it to the Texans’ 27. The drive stalled at the 19 and Pineiro added another field goal to make the score 12-7 with 7:58 to play in the third quarter. Houston bounced back from the turnover with a 12-play touchdown drive that ended with Stroud sneaking into the end zone. The failed 2-point conversion left the Texans in command with a 13-12 lead with under a minute left in the third quarter.
The Panthers punted away their next two possessions as Young was pummeled by sacks. But still, it was No. 9 with the ball in his hand, leading his team down the field, looking for his first NFL win as the clock ticked down. On 4th & 2, Young hit Thielen to keep the chains moving and hopes alive. Steady running by Hubbard go the ball to the 20 with Pineiro warming up for the walk-off field goal. The ending was not without theatrics however. Back to back flags on Houston’s Tavierre Thomas moved the ball all the way to the 5 yard line and also caused a re-kick after Pineiro booted his first attempt through the uprights. With the game on the line, Pineiro’s 23-yard field goal propelled the Panthers to a 15-13 win to put the team at 1-6 on the year.
The pair indelibly linked for the duration of their careers, Stroud and Young did not disappoint. Young finished 22-of-31 for 235 yards and one touchdown. Stroud finished with 140 yards on 16-of-24 passing and neither rookie committed a turnover. Thielen led all receivers with 8 grabs for 72 yards. The Panthers will try to stay in the win column as they host the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday.