By David Rogers. September 22, 2019. GLENDALE, AZ — With a little bit of old and a lot of newer, the visitors from out East proved unwelcome guests on Sunday at State Farm Stadium. The previously winless Carolina Panthers reignited playoff hopes in the still-young NFL season, defeating the Arizona Cardinals, 38-20, in front of a paid attendance of 60,104.
COVER IMAGE: Tight end Greg Olsen (88) hauls in a Kyle Allen pass for a big gain. All photographic images by Craig Weston for Blowing Rock News.
The two teams took turns scoring well into the second half, but while Carolina’s offense found the end zone five times for TDs on the day, the Panther defense limited Arizona’s Heisman Trophy-winning rookie QB Kyler Murray & Co. to only a pair of touchdowns and two field goals.
Through most of three quarters, it was anyone’s guess as to which team would emerge the eventual winner, perhaps even coming down to who had the ball last when the final whistle blew. With under three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Arizona placekicker Zane Gonzalez slotted a 47-yard field goal to narrow the Panthers’ advantage to 21-20.
But less than a minute later, Carolina’s running back Christian McCaffrey found space off right tackle and broke through into the secondary — and it was then a 76-yard footrace to the Arizona end zone. It was the longest TD run of his still emerging professional career.
McCaffrey, the much-heralded, second-year running back out of Stanford finished the game with 26 carries for a whopping 153 yards and the TD, but among the real offensive stars of the day for Carolina was 13-year NFL veteran tight end, Greg Olsen, and 2nd year quarterback Kyle Allen, who connected with Olsen six times through the air for 75 yards and two TDs.
Olsen has been injury-plagued for the last couple of years, so Sunday was among the former Miami Hurricane star’s most productive performance in recent memory.
Meanwhile, Allen was taking the reins of the Panther offense from the injured Cam Newton and didn’t disappoint. The second-year QB out of Houston made a strong case for the starting job permanently with four TDs, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers on 19-of-26 passing for 261 yards and no interceptions.
Allen’s aerials included highlight reel-worthy connections to Olsen, Curtis Samuel (5 catches, 53 yards, 1 TD), McCaffrey (3 catches, 35 yards), Jarius Wright (2 catches, 38 yards), and the longest pass play of the day to D.J. Moore (1 catch, 52 yards, 1 TD). The second-year pro out of Maryland took Allen’s perfectly thrown pass on a slant, then flashed his speed in outracing the Arizona defenders across the field and up for the TD.
Murray looked particularly sharp at times for Arizona, both passing and running. In first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s version of the “Air Raid” offense, Murray completed 30-of-43 passes for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but was intercepted twice by the Panthers’ third-year cornerback Donte Jackson and, perhaps more importantly, was sacked eight times by Carolina’s defensive front, sacks that surely proved to be momentum and drive killers.
- Kyle Allen’s performance was a breath of fresh air for the Panthers. Where Newton more frequently than not overthrew receivers or was wide of the mark in the first two games, Allen was exceptionally sharp, often with pinpoint accuracy even when falling backward (TD pass to Olsen in the left end zone). Given the contrast in offensive execution, the starting job should be Allen’s until proven that Sunday was a one-off performance.
Made effective by Allen’s execution to seven different receivers and McCaffrey’s rushing performance, Norv Turner’s offense could hardly be termed predictable on Sunday, especially given the hostile environment on the road. Rather, it was efficient and effective, periodically producing big plays.
- Whether the Panthers’ eyebrow-raising 8 sacks and 2 INTs made a statement that the defense is finally coming together or was more a reflection of a Cardinals’ ineffective and inadequate offensive line, the defensive performance was exceptional. Arizona was held to just 248 yards of net total offense, even while controlling time of possession for almost 32 minutes.
The Panthers defensive performance was multi-faceted. While Donte Jackson got both INTs off of Murray, the pressure up front that helped cause the errant throws was produced by multiple players. Five different defenders recorded the 8 sacks, led by DL Mario Addison’s 3, rookie LB/DE Christian Miller’s 2, and one apiece from LB Shaq Thompson, blitzing safety Eric Reid, and OLB/DE Brian Burns.
Carolina (1-2) will be back on the road next Sunday, at Houston (2-1), where the Panthers’ defense will face another formidable offense, this time featuring a pair of former Clemson stars, QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins. In just the first three games, Watson has thrown for 778 yards passing, connecting for 218 yards of those to Hopkins. The Texans have produced nine TDs while giving up only six to opponents. An interesting roster addition by the Texans just before the regular season was their acquisition of running back Carlos Hyde, a former Ohio State star how is capable of putting up big numbers both rushing as well as a pass receiver.
Arizona (0-2-1) will stay at home next weekend to face the Seattle Seahawks (2-1).