AP

Injuries to McCaffrey, Horn sour Panthers’ 3-0 start

Sep 23, 2021, 8:32 PM | Updated: Sep 24, 2021, 12:36 pm

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) breaks away from Houston Texans defensive tackle Roy...

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) breaks away from Houston Texans defensive tackle Roy Lopez (91) during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)


              Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) breaks away from Houston Texans defensive tackle Roy Lopez (91) during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Normally teams would be fired up after starting the season 3-0.

But there is plenty of concern in Carolina after losing three key players in a 24-9 win over the Houston Texans on Thursday night, including running back Christian McCaffrey, who will miss multiple weeks with a strained hamstring.

The team may have lost standout rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn for the season, according to coach Matt Rhule. The first defensive player selected in this year’s NFL draft has three broken bones in his right foot and the team said Horn will decide after consulting with his family on whether to shut it down for the season.

Also, safety Juston Burris has a groin injury and it’s uncertain how long he will be out.

McCaffrey, a 2019 All-Pro, pulled up on the game’s third series while running a sweep and did not return. McCaffrey, who missed 13 games last season due to injuries, appeared on the verge of a big game and there’s no denying the Panthers have a completely different offense without him in the backfield. McCaffrey’s mere presence allows Carolina’s play-action passing game to function, and without him the Panthers could really struggle in Week 4 against Dallas.

Chuba Hubbard and Royce Freeman are Carolina’s other options at running backs, representing a significant drop-off from McCaffrey.

Hubbard struggled to find room after McCaffrey left the game in the first quarter, but had a decent second half to finish with 52 yards rushing on 11 carries. Freeman had 17 yards on five carries.

The good news for the Panthers is quarterback Sam Darnold is playing well.

He completed 23 of 34 passes for 304 yards with no interceptions and ran for two more touchdowns. The fourth-year QB has thrown for more than 275 yards with a rating above 95 in three straight games.

“For us, we’re starting to find our identity as an offense,” Darnold said. “I’ve just got to, whatever play is called, we’ve got to execute that play. That’s my job is to get us in the right play and make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders, and the offense is moving in the right direction.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Carolina’s run defense continues to be outstanding, holding the Texans to 42 yards rushing on 17 carries. The Panthers entered the game with the league’s No. 1 ranked run defense and they’ll almost certainly keep that spot after lowering their average to 45 yards per game. That’s a huge credit to defensive tackles Derrick Brown and DaQuan Jones, who have been stout up front and set the tone for Carolina’s pass defense. By making opponents one dimensional, defensive coordinator Phil Snow has dialed up some elaborate blitzes and the Panthers have responded with 14 sacks. That ties a franchise record through three games.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Carolina’s offensive line. It allowed five quarterback hits and three sacks on Darnold because of protection issues. Carolina has been rotating players at the two guard spots and left tackle is far from a secure position with Cameron Erving making far too many mistakes. The Panthers have the option of moving Taylor Moton to left tackle, but coach Matt Rhule seems against making that move. This is a group that is going to continue to struggle when the Panthers play better defenses like Tampa Bay.

STOCK UP

D.J. Moore has clearly emerged as Carolina’s undisputed No. 1 receiver and he played like it Thursday night. With McCaffrey exiting the game, the Panthers needed someone to step up and Moore did, catching eight of the 12 passes thrown his way for 126 yards. He appeared to cramp up at one point, but did return. The Panthers also got a big game from rookie Tommy Tremble, who ran for a 7-yard touchdown on a tight end sweep and also hauled in a 30-yard reception to help set up another score.

STOCK DOWN

Conversely, wide receiver Robby Anderson has not been very productive since signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension before the season. After catching 95 passes for 1,096 yards last year with Teddy Bridgewater under center, Anderson has just five receptions for 103 yards, 57 of those coming on a touchdown reception in Week 1 against the Jets. The lack of chemistry between Darnold and Anderson is a little perplexing given they played together for two seasons with the Jets.

INJURED

Rookie Hubbard and veteran Freeman are expected to carry the load with McCaffrey out against the Cowboys. Rashaan Melvin and A.J. Bouye will see additional reps filling in for Horn. Look for Sam Franklin to step in at safety if Burris is sidelined for any length of time. The Panthers could make a move at safety given they’re a little thin after placing Myles Hartsfield on injured reserve last week. And if John Miller’s shoulder becomes a lingering issue, Trent Scott or Brady Christensen could fill in at guard. Miller banged up his shoulder against the Texans but stayed in the game.

KEY NUMBER

573 — Yards allowed by the Panthers’ defense, the fewest of any NFL team that started 3-0 since the 1992 Reggie White-led Philadelphia Eagles. They are also 20th team in the Super Bowl era to give up 600 or fewer yards, 30 or fewer points in the first three games. Of the previous 19, 15 made the playoffs.

NEXT STEPS

Expect Rhule to preach the “next-man-up” mentality when the Panthers get back to work next week. Carolina has the weekend off before returning to the state of Texas on Oct. 3 to face the Cowboys. Carolina is 5-9 against Dallas.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

7 months ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

7 months ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

7 months ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

7 months ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

7 months ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

7 months ago

Injuries to McCaffrey, Horn sour Panthers’ 3-0 start