Bryce Young outdueled his rookie quarterback counterpart and Eddy Pineiro drilled a field goal at the buzzer to give the Carolina Panthers their first win of the season over the Houston Texans, 15-13.
The Panthers kicked off to the Texans to start the game. The defense came hot off the bye and forced a three-and-out right away. The offense was less hot. Going up against a Texans defense that has struggled to get to the quarterback all season, Ikem Ekwonu was blown by on the first play to give up a sack; the second straight week he’s given up a sack on the first drop back. The offense couldn’t get out of the shadow of the goal post and punted the ball back to the Texans. The teams traded punts with a Jonathan Mingo drop derailing the Panthers second possession.
The Texans had the game’s first productive drive, and it bled from the first quarter into the second quarter. It was notably kept alive by some highly accurate CJ Stroud passes with difficult catches on the back end by various Texans receivers, not just their top one. The drive was capped off with a fullback touchdown. The Panthers responded with a productive drive of their own, which was heavily reliant on Adam Thielen. He made a tough catch to get the Panthers inside the five, but three straight Chuba Hubbard runs were stonewalled then a pass to Thielen was knocked down, so the Panthers came away with no points.
The defense took advantage of the field position and got off the field with a Brian Burns sack where he bulldozed the running back in pass protection. Bryce Young led the offense into scoring range with completions to three non-Thielen receivers. He drew the defense offsides by rushing the offense to the line right before the two minute warning and hitting them with a hard count. After a holding penalty threatened to derail another goal to go, Young found his favorite target to get back inside the five and then hit Tommy Tremble in the back of the endzone to bring the score to 7-6 since Eddy Pineiro pushed the extra point to the right.
The defense built off the momentum and forced a three-and-out thanks to a Frankie Luvu sack on first down, but a booming punt by the Texans flipped the field and pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory. The Panthers made a nominal effort to move the ball, but it was put to an end by Young getting sacked by basically the entire defensive line on a four man rush.
The Panthers hit on a big play on the first drive of the second half when Young found Mingo on a deep cross that picked up 40 yards. The drive stalled out, and Pineiro atoned for the missed extra point with a field goal to put the Panthers up 9-7.
The defense quickly got the ball back when Donte Jackson stripped a Texans receiver after a catch. The offense couldn’t do much with it though and had to settle for another field goal after Raheem Blackshear was stuffed on a 3rd and 1 run.
The Texans had a more productive drive after the field goal. The Panthers had a few missed tackles in the backfield that led to big runs. They also had a deflected pass that hurt them. A Texans receiver went out of bounds, making him ineligible to receive the pass thrown to him, but Donte Jackson tipped the ball, making it a legal catch and 31 yard gain. The Panthers almost made a goal line stand, but the Texans finally punched it in on a 4th down quarterback sneak. The two point conversion was stopped by an incredible Frankie Luvu pass breakup.
The Panthers got a 52 yard kickoff return from Raheem Blackshear to set the offense up at midfield. Another unsuccessful run on first down immediately put the offense behind the sticks, and a third down sack two plays later quickly ended the drive. The Panthers defense did just as well, with Frankie Luvu stuffing a first down then breaking up a second down pass.
Unfortunately this is the part of the program where the Panthers offense unravels. Young was sacked on first down after a blitz wasn’t picked up. After a second down run, Young was sacked again on third down when none of his receivers were able to give him a target to throw to. The defense held firm again after a couple of first downs and forced a punt around midfield.
The Panthers protected Young long enough to get a pass off, but Hayden Hurst dropped the easy pass into the flat. They ran the same play to Hubbard, who caught the ball and took it for a first down. The Panthers worked the ball up the field with Young extending the drive with a tight pass to Adam Thielen on a 4th and 2 around midfield. A swing pass to Hubbard took the Panthers down to the 30 yard line at the two minute warning, at which point the Panthers throttled down to try to burn clock and force the Texans to use timeouts. The Panthers picked up a first down after three straight Hubbard runs, the last of which he dove threw traffic to pick up the key first down. Three more runs set up a game winning field goal attempt for Pineiro, but it took two tries. A Texans defender not only jumped offsides, but he also ran into Johnny Hekker and was called for a personal foul. It made it a 28 yard kick for the win, which he seemingly drilled through, but the play was whistled dead for the same player running offsides. He was again called for a personal foul for repeated infractions. It made it a 23 yard kick, which finally went in and gave the Panthers their first win (there was another flag for offsides on the last kick, for good measure).
A lot was made about the contrasting seasons between CJ Stroud and Bryce Young, and there were a lot of moments that illustrated the differences in their situations. Young was victimized by drops and a lack of contested plays from receivers and was under duress all day while Stroud got some help from his play makers. In the end, Young was able to make enough plays to get the first win of his career.
Defensively, while his name didn’t pop up a lot in this recap, Frankie Luvu was all over the field and gave CJ Stroud all sorts of hell. He finished with 12 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and two pass breakups (which don’t count the one on the 2-point try). He definitely gets the game ball on that side.
The Panthers are finally in the win column. It feels good. Now they’ll try to build off this when they host the Colts in Charlotte next week.