Carolina Panthers

Analysis: Kyle Allen’s breakout game saved the Panthers’ slow-starting season

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Sitting on the bench at State Farm Stadium, having just tossed his second touchdown of the first half, Kyle Allen put into words exactly what everyone watching him was thinking:

“That was (expletive) beautiful.”

Allen was referring to his 52-yard strike to D.J. Moore, who took a deep crossing route about 35 yards after the catch and into the end zone. Moore caught the ball in stride, and then went weaving and winding downfield, navigating blocks from Jarius Wright and Curtis Samuel at the exact right time.

So yeah, what Allen said.

But really, Allen’s comment applies to much more than just that one throw.

The Panthers picked up their first win of the season on Sunday, outmatching the Arizona Cardinals, 38-20. It was a complete departure from Carolina’s first two games of the season, a pair of disappointing losses ripe with self sabotage. Instead, against Arizona, there was no foot-shooting or “missed opportunities” to bemoan.

Make no mistake: The Panthers needed this win, and now. They needed it in the standings, to prevent an 0-3 start that almost certainly would have cratered their playoff chances. (Since 1980, only six of 176 teams to begin a season 0-3 have made the postseason.)

They needed it to keep pace in the NFC South, as they now find themselves just one game behind New Orleans. With Atlanta and Tampa Bay both losing Sunday, the Panthers are somehow in a manageable three-way tie for second place.

They needed it to be an umbrella for all the negative clouds that have honed in on Bank of America Stadium for the past year.

Most of all, they needed it because they needed hope.

After Sunday’s offensive outburst, they have it.

“As a team, we understand where we were at,” Allen said. “We understand the talent we have. We understand that we are able to do these things on a consistent basis, and we’ve just been missing a little bit.

“I don’t think there was much that needed to be said. We just needed to go out and do it.”

It all starts with and circles back to Allen, the second-year backup tasked with filling in for an injured Cam Newton. Newton missed practice all this week after re-injuring his left foot against Tampa Bay, giving Allen a full week to prepare for his second career start. And considering his first came in Week 17 last year — after New Orleans had already clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs and the Panthers were eliminated from contention — this game carried more gravitas.

And no matter how bad Arizona’s defense is — the Cardinals allowed 458.5 yards per game through two weeks, second-most in the NFL — there is no escaping the fact Allen put on a masterful performance in his Arizona homecoming.

Allen finished the day 19-for-26 with 261 yards and four touchdowns, and his stat line doesn’t fully do his afternoon justice. He routinely found the open receivers, spreading the ball out as evenly as offensive coordinator Norv Turner would like. Curtis Samuel and Moore both scored, and Greg Olsen had two touchdowns of his own in addition to 75 yards receiving. Allen did fumble twice, but both times were because his offensive linemen got beat — and even then, he recovered one of his own.

“Some teams have one guy, and defenses will double him and try to take him out of the game,” Allen said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defense double one of our guys because we have so many different guys with different skill sets, so it’s tough.

“When people had their number called today, they made plays.”

After two weeks of glaringly inconsistent quarterback play from Newton, Allen’s breakout Sunday could not have stood out more. He finished with just the 11th four-touchdown game in team history, and the first since Newton did so against the Packers in 2017. Some of his throws, including on-the-run tosses to Olsen and Samuel, were almost unbelievable if you didn’t see them yourself.

“For me, it’s just football, man,” Allen said. “It’s cool to have all my family and friends here, and go out to dinner with them last night, but at the end of the day, I kept telling myself this: ‘Have a plan when you come to the line of scrimmage every play. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be.’ ”

His success opened up run lanes for Christian McCaffrey, too. In particular, one lane.

Midway through the third quarter, McCaffrey made a jump-cut to sidestep blocks from Greg Van Roten and Olsen — and then he was gone, 76 yards and into the end zone. He juked Arizona rookie safety Deionte Thompson almost out of his shoes, not to take away from him high-stepping a late ankle tackle to stay upright.

“It’s tough to explain what I saw — it’s kind of a blur — but at the end of the day I saw a hole and it was my job to make the safety miss,” McCaffrey said. “Up front they did a great job.”

By the time Carolina’s defense caught up to the surging momentum, it was too late for Arizona. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, ran for 69 yards and constantly eluded Panthers defenders, but he also threw two second-half interceptions that shifted the balance of power. Add in eight sacks, including three from outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Addison and two from rookie Christian Miller, and Sunday’s second half quickly got out of hand.

This one win does not absolve Carolina of its two previous blemishes. That 0-2 hole can’t be erased. The points Allen and Co. put up can’t be retroactively shifted back to another week.

What it does do is stop the bleeding. After going 1-9 in its previous 10 games, this Panthers team — and fan base — were desperate for a win. Coach Ron Rivera was fed up of answering questions about Newton’s health this week, to the point that he calmly walked out of his midweek news conference.

Things in Charlotte were tense, to say the least.

“It’s good to get off the schneid, that’s for doggone sure,” Rivera said. “I think the guys really showed some resilience.”

That pressure should ease up, at least for a day. The Panthers’ season is not over before October, and even though maybe it shouldn’t be, that’s notable.

That’s what happens when for once you play, as Allen said, beautiful football.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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