Thursday Night Football reaction: Panthers 3-0, but the only things we learned are concerning

Carolina Panthers tight end Tommy Tremble
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Ricky Dimon


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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports -- just about any and all you can think of! -- and coaching tennis in Atlanta, GA. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me. For Ricky Dimon media enquiries, please email
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The Carolina Panthers are 3-0. You cannot make this stuff up, folks.

Unfortunately for Panthers fans, nothing about beating a Houston Texans team that was playing with a backup to the backup at quarterback really proves anything. Even more unfortunate is that Thursday night’s 24-9 victory definitely came at price. The question is: how big a price?

Good news: Panthers are playing playoff-caliber football

Any way you slice it, 3-0 is 3-0. The Panthers have no need to apologize for it. To be a good team, you have to beat the bad teams; and that is exactly what Carolina did on Thursday. The Texans at least managed to score a Week 1 win over lowly Jacksonville, but they lost to Cleveland 31-21 last weekend and now find themselves suiting up rookie quarterback Davis Mills under center. Deshaun Watson is inactive and Tyrod Taylor is hurt, so Houston doesn’t really have any choice other than Mills. The former Stanford standout completed 19 of 28 passes for 168 yards with 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions on Thursday night. However, Mills was sacked 4 times and that is part of why the offense never got into much of a rhythm.

You can’t blame the struggles on Mills — or on any other Texan, for that matter. This Carolina defense is just darn good. The Panthers have now allowed a mere 30 points through 3 games. Yes they have also faced the Jets, but they dominated 26-7 against a New Orleans squad that had humiliated Green Bay 38-3 one week earlier. Linebacker Shaq Thompson was everywhere against Houston, cornerback Donte Jackson shut down both the run and the pass, and linebacker Haason Reddick produced 1.5 sacks.

With the defense dominating and quarterback Sam Darnold playing mistake-free football, the Panthers are looking legit. Already 3-0, in their next 8 games they face the entire NFC East in addition to 0-2 Atlanta and 0-2 Minnesota. Is it time to start talking about playoffs?!?!

Glory at what price?

Of course, we already knew that Carolina’s defense was a force. Making mincemeat out of a depleted Houston side didn’t really teach us anything.

What we did learn on Thursday is that the Panthers sustained significant injuries on both sides of the ball. The severity of them remains to be seen, but they are without question significant in terms of the guys who went down. Running back Christian McCaffrey played in only 3 games last year and this franchise can only hope that the story isn’t the same in 2021. McCaffrey pulled up lame with a hamstring strain in the first quarter and was immediately ruled out for the rest of the game. Rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn suffered a broken foot. Horn’s non-contact injury came in the third quarter and he obviously did not return.

Even with Darnold looking like an entirely new player now that the scenery has changed from New York to Carolina and even with the defense on a roll, how sustainable is success if McCaffrey isn’t on the field? Over the course of 17 games, no matter how good any defense is an offense will at times have to pick up some slack. That is especially the case for the Panthers if Horn is out for an extended period of time.

On the surface head coach Matt Rhule’s club is in great shape through 3 weeks. What happens in the near future may be determined by the impending infirmary report.

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