The Panthers, despite defeating running back Christian McCaffrey in the second quarter at NRG Stadium on Thursday night, beat the Houston Texans 24-9 to secure a 3-0 start.
The night was made possible by a huge performance from Darnold and wide receiver DJ Moore, who finished with 126 yards on eight receptions. Darnold threw for 304 yards, completed nearly 68% of his passes and had a pair of touchdowns.
Darnold has now pitched for 888 yards this season, the best streak of his NFL career.
“The way we fought threw this first half, a lousy first half for us, but the way we bounced back in the second half is huge,” Darnold said on the NFL Network.
Panthers suffocate Texans, Davis Mills
The Panthers, after two quick practices that resulted in punters, scored the first goal on a 5-yard Darnold run that closed a 10-play, 88-yard practice.
Although Houston’s offense was virtually non-existent, Carolina only got to take advantage of it after halftime.
The Texans didn’t make it through the midfield until their final first-half practice. Quarterback Davis Mills – who started his first game in the NFL after Tyrod Taylor was placed in injury reserve this week – scored 4 of 5 for 19 yards to start the game.
In his last halftime practice, however, Mills clocked an impressive 5 of 6 for 60 yards before topping him off with a one-yard TD pass to Anthony Miller.
This impressive training brings all its momentum into the second half for Houston.
The Panthers extended their lead to eight after a 7-yard run from Tommy Aspen midway through the third quarter, and made it a two-possession game after a bullet shot to the basket minutes after the fourth quarter.
Darnold then pushed them to the 15-point victory with a final one-yard touchdown, her second of the game, at the end of the fourth to keep Carolina’s winning streak alive.
Mills finished the day with 168 yards and a touchdown while throwing 19 of 28 for Houston. Mark Ingram led the Texans on rushing with 21 yards on six carries, scooping up exactly half of their rushing yards.
“I thought he did really well,” Texans coach David Culley said of Mills, via Mark Berman de Fox26. He didn’t return the ball at all, which was important for the game. I thought he had thrown the ball very well. I thought when we came out on the attack just before half-time he did a great job of getting us down onto the pitch and making great throws, great plays. I think he did a good job for us.
Christian McCaffrey injured again after a first race
While they’ve always been victorious, the Panthers could be without McCaffrey in the near future, something they all know too well.
McCaffrey left Thursday’s game in the second quarter after sustaining a hamstring injury and did not return. He appeared to twist his leg on a 2-meter run and awkwardly jump on his right leg before going out of bounds.
McCaffrey – who racked up a record 324 scrum yards in the Panthers’ first two games – played just three games last season with multiple injuries.
It’s unclear how long he’ll be out, and head coach Matt Rhule said after the game the Panthers weren’t sure about McCaffrey’s status or the severity of the injury. Still, there’s no doubt his absence will have an impact on the Panthers.
Carolina finished with 117 rushing yards in the win. Chuba Hubbard led Carolina with 52.
McCaffrey wasn’t the Panthers’ only significant injury. Rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn broke his foot after falling to the ground in the third quarter without contact. He planted his right leg on the court before descending, then needed help off the court. The No. 8 pick in the overall draft was transported to the locker room.
While both injuries are problematic, the Panthers are seated well in the meantime. They are undefeated after three games for the first time since 2015, a season in which they reached the Super Bowl.