Carolina Panthers

Who knows if he’s an NFL starter, but Panthers QB Kyle Allen proved he belongs

Is Kyle Allen an NFL starter?

That’s kind of an overreaction, no matter how impressive he was in his first career start Sunday.

But is he an NFL quarterback? Absolutely.

Allen left no doubt whether or not he deserves a spot on an NFL roster, completing 16-of-27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the Panthers’ 33-14 victory over New Orleans with a shoulder injury. The undrafted rookie said his first goal was to leave New Orleans with a win — but proving he’s more than a practice squad-level player was a close second.

Mission accomplished.

“Yes he did, he showed us that he’s capable,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s a young man, he’s got some growing (to do) and some things to learn but I do think he’s a guy that’s going to come in and compete and give us everything he has.”

After the Panthers waived him from their preseason roster, Allen spent nearly two months on the team’s practice squad before moving to the active roster last week. That means he has spent most of his professional career running opponents’ offenses, not the Panthers’.

Before last week, he had about as many reps running Carolina’s offense as you or I did. On the practice field, that is.

Mental reps are a different story.

“If I waited to this week to grasp the offense, I would’ve been doing something wrong,” Allen said. “I’ve been learning since OTAs but until this week, I hadn’t taken any reps the entire season with our offense. It was good to get a feel for the timing and stuff, but I think conceptually, I’ve been learning since the day I got here.”

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Still, despite Allen’s accelerated learning curve, the reasonable expectation was some sort of watered-down version of Norv Turner’s offense Sunday, right?

Not according to Torrey Smith. Not only did the rookie impress his coach and teammates, he did so with the full playbook at his disposal.

“I thought he did a great job. He took what was there,” Smith said. “He made some big-time throws, too, so you can’t say that they babied the game plan — we ran our stuff. He was prepared for his opportunity, and you know he has the talent.

“There were no changes. Zero. We ran our offense and he did a good job.”

Allen led that offense to touchdowns on consecutive drives to start the game — the first time the Panthers have done that this season. He looked poised as he navigated a constantly collapsing pocket, extended plays with his feet and took shots down field when they were there.

The game didn’t bring about a world of pressure on his shoulders. Win or lose, the Panthers’ playoff plans weren’t changing. But Allen said he felt some sort of responsibility to send the Panthers’ retiring veterans off with a victory, along with every other player who labored through the team’s seven-game losing streak.

“It’s the preparation, it’s the opportunity,” Allen said. “We had a team meeting last night and spoke a lot about opportunity and I think that this league is filled with opportunities. The guys that stay in the league for a long time are the guys that take advantage of those opportunities.

“Obviously, there’s a lot to clean up about this, but we just wanted to come out of here with a win. For all the guys who have struggled this whole season … just sending them out in a good way.”

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Rivera smiled when first asked about what Allen proved Sunday, and he spoke proudly about what he saw during an ultimately innocuous season finale.

“He’s one of those guys who can take a moment and make it what it is,” Rivera said. “Some guys get moments like that and seem to blow it all out of proportion and don’t seem to be able to handle it. Kyle always seems to have that same, steady approach, and I appreciate that.

“The moment never seems to get too big for him.”

This was a day Allen thought about constantly during the seven weeks he spent trying out for several teams, staying sharp throwing to receivers who had all but given up on their football careers.

It’s too small a sample size to definitively say whether he is a future NFL starter, but Allen showed everyone what he was always aware of — he’s not a practice squad quarterback.

“That’s always been my mindset, I think that it’s the mindset of a lot practice squad quarterbacks,” he said. “If you have that mindset (of being a practice squad player), you’re not going to go anywhere. The goals never end. I knew coming into this game I was going to be confident and I was just going to stick to the plan.

“You execute each play, you come to the play with a plan and then you go to the next one. You don’t need to make it bigger than it is, and I think that’s what helped us today.”

Allen is signed through the 2019 season, so he’ll likely get another opportunity to show his value if Cam Newton misses extended time with his injured right shoulder.

And like he was Sunday, he’ll be ready.

Marcel Louis-Jacques, 704-358-5015: @Marcel_LJ