Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ 33-14 victory at New Orleans:
A few ‘firsts’ for rookie Kyle Allen
With starter Cam Newton resting a sore shoulder and backup Taylor Heinicke on injured reserve after taking a beating last week, the Panthers started rookie undrafted free agent Kyle Allen against the Saints.
Allen’s first drive went well, aside from two errant throws. He adjusted well to get the ball to rookie receiver DJ Moore for his first NFL first down, and then went to running back Christian McCaffrey for the next three first downs.
Allen scored his first-ever NFL touchdown to cap the 11-play, 75-yard drive, on a one-yard quarterback sneak.
But on the second drive, he took his first big-time NFL hit from an unblocked AJ Klein.
Allen unfurled a deep ball on third down on the Panthers’ second drive, which drew a pass interference penalty totaling 39 yards. That set up a 15-yard touchdown run by backup running back Cameron Artis-Payne, who spelled Christian McCaffrey after the first drive.
Allen also got a chance to convert his first fourth down, on a low catch by Jarius Wright in the fourth quarter.
Allen then threw his first NFL touchdown pass, firing to rookie tight end Ian Thomas in the end zone for an 8-yard score.
Allen finished the first half 13 of 21 for 173 yards, a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown, and no interceptions.
Surprisingly, the Panthers didn’t punt until 10:31 in the third quarter and led 23-0.
Allen threw a 53-yard bomb to receiver Curtis Samuel to put the Panthers up 30-0 in the third quarter. But he took another huge hit in the fourth quarter and had to leave the game for a medical evaluation.
He finished 16 of 27 for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
The Panthers sent in fourth-string quarterback Garrett Gilbert, meaning they have played four different quarterbacks in the season’s final three weeks.
Luke Kuechly, Christian McCaffrey pulled early, finish strong
McCaffrey was pulled at the end of the Panthers’ first drive, but not before hitting yet another milestone.
The second-year running back caught a 22-yard pass on the drive, which put him at 1,518 career receiving yards. He now joins Herschel Walker and Alvin Kamara as only two players with 1,500-plus rushing and 1,500-plus receiving yards in first two NFL seasons.
McCaffrey finished his season with 1,098 rushing yards and 867 receiving yards, leading the Panthers in both categories. He also finished the year with a franchise record 1,965 total yards.
After Allen left the game with an injury, McCaffrey even began warming up on the sideline as the Panthers’ apparent emergency quarterback.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly was also pulled at the start of the Panthers’ second defensive series. He finished the year with 130 tackles and a whopping 20 tackles for loss, which is a career-high by eight.
Panthers avoid making the wrong kind of history
With the win against New Orleans’ backups on Sunday, the Panthers (7-9) snapped a seven-game losing streak and avoided becoming the first NFL team in the 16-game era to begin a season 6-2 and end it 6-10.
Still, what a sobering sentence.