Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers entered Thursday night’s NFL Week 3 contest with a perfect record. Thus far throughout his young career in Charlotte, Darnold has proven skeptics wrong.
Carolina took on a game Houston Texans squad led by rookie third-round pick Davis Mills, who was called on to replace an injured Tyrod Taylor under center.
In the end, the Panthers moved to an impressive 3-0 with a 24-9 win over a much lesser team. Below, we look at the seven winners and losers from this midweek clash.
Winner: Davis Mills, quarterback, Houston Texans
Having tallied a total of 14 passing yards through the first 23 minutes Thursday evening, it seemed like Houston was holding back this rookie third-round pick. For good reason. The former Stanford star was rushed in to a starting role due to Tyrod Taylor’s injury and Deshaun Watson’s off-field issues. He’s a project and nowhere ready to start.
But as the second quarter progressed, Mills proved naysayer wrong. That included leading the Texans on a seven-play, 64-yard touchdown-scoring drive to wrap up the second quarter. Said drive saw Mills complete 5-of-6 passes for 60 yards with the only incomplete pass being on a spike. While Houston watered down its playbook to an extent, Mills was still able to complete 19-of-28 passes for 168 yards without an interception. Not a bad NFL debut for the rookie.
Loser: Christian McCaffrey, running back, Carolina Panthers
We hate to call McCaffrey a loser here simply because he suffered an unfortunate hamstring injury in the first half. But that has to be considered the case after a tremendous start to the 2021 season and considering the injuries he suffered through last year.
Here’s a guy who has tallied an otherworldly 2,766 total yards and 25 touchdowns in his past 19 games dating back to 2019. With that said, he missed all but three games a season ago and is playing under an historical contract. We’ll have to wait to find out the full extent of the injury. But given that he was ruled out almost immediately, it’s likely going to be some time before we see CMC dominate on the gridiron. We’re all losers for that.
Related: NFL Week 3 fantasy football rankings
Winner: D.J. Moore, wide receiver, Carolina Panthers
Not necessarily seen as a No. 1 receiver by the common fan, that’s how the 24-year-old Moore has produced since the start of the 2019 season. Over the course of the past two years, the former first-round pick from Maryland tallied a combined 153 catches for 2,368 yards and eight touchdowns. He continued this solid performance by catching 14-of-19 targets for 159 yards through the first two games.
Almost immediately, Moore’s impact was felt Thursday night against the Houston Texans. He caught two passes for 55 yards in Carolina’s first-quarter touchdown drive, finishing the game with eight receptions for 126 yards. It sure seems like Moore has found something special with Sam Darnold.
Loser: Mark Ingram, running, Houston Texans
Houston needed this veteran Pro Bowler to step up with Mills making his regular-season starting debut. It might have been too much to ask given the downtick in production we’ve seen from the 31-year-old back.
Even then, Ingram looked like a shell of his former self against a top-end Panthers defense. The former Heisman winner gained 21 yards on six attempts for an average of 3.5 yards per rush. He also added one reception for negative yards. Regardless of how well Mills plays moving forward, he’s going to need more balance on offense. Ingram did not provide that for the Houston Texans Thursday evening.
Related: NFL Week 3 power rankings
Winner: Sam Darnold, quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Off to an absolutely brilliant start to his Panthers career, the 24-year-old Darnold is in the process of proving naysayer wrong. The former No. 3 pick had Carolina at an undefeated 2-0 heading into Week 3. He completed 68.5% of his passes for 584 yards with four total touchdowns against one interception in those two games.
Despite some fumble issues against Houston (two, zero lost), the USC product continued that excellent play on the road. Darnold completed 23-of-34 passes for 304 yards with two total touchdowns and zero interceptions. He even performed well as the Texans were able to focus more on him with McCaffrey out for the final three quarters of the game. It has led to Carolina starting the season with a shocking 3-0 record.
Loser: Robby Anderson, wide receiver, Carolina Panthers
After an offseason filled with trade rumors, Anderson just recently signed a two-year, $29.5 million extension with Carolina. He hasn’t really lived up to said contract thus far this season. The stats show us this in more ways than one.
Anderson caught all of four passes in two games heading into Thursday night. He responded by catching just one pass for eight yards on two targets against a suspect Texans secondary. That’s just not going to cut it.
Winner: Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Houston Texans
This is a player Houston needs to step up moving forward if it wants to remain competitive throughout the 2021 season. Since being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, that’s exactly what Cooks has done.
That continued Thursday evening against an elite Carolina defense with Cooks catching 9-of-11 targets for 112 yards. If nothing else, this type of performance can potentially provide Houston with some draft assets ahead of November’s NFL trade deadline.