Sports Darnold, defense lead Panthers past Texans; McCaffrey hurt
Panthers' Brady believes McCaffrey can return to top form
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers ranked near the bottom of most offensive categories last season. They’re hoping a healthy Christian McCaffrey changes all that. McCaffrey combined for 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns during a memorable All-Pro 2019 campaign, but missed 13 games season last season due to ankle and shoulder injuries. He was electric in the three games he did play against the Raiders, Buccaneers and Chiefs, amassing 374 yards along with six touchdowns.
HOUSTON (AP) — Thanks to another efficient performance from Sam Darnold and continued dominant play by their defense, the Carolina Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2015, when they reached the Super Bowl.
That combination was certainly too much for the Houston Texans in Carolina's 24-9 victory on Thursday night. But a hamstring injury to star running back Christian McCaffrey could cause serious adversity for Darnold and the Panthers' offense going forward.
“Losing Christian is tough, but I thought we did a great job of bouncing back," Darnold said. “We were able to put the first half behind us and do a good job in the second half."
Carolina Panthers cut kicker Ryan Santoso after one game, sign Zane Gonzalez
Ryan Santoso's time with the Panthers didn't last long, as Carolina cut their newly acquired kicker after his lone game with the team. Santoso converted two field goals – a 29-yarder and a 22-yarder – but missed one of his two extra-point attempts in the Panthers' 19-14 win over the New York Jets.From NFL plays to college sports scores, all the top sports news you need to know every day. The Panthers will recoup the conditional seventh-round pick they initially gave up to the Giants in the trade for Santoso. Carolina signed kicker Zane Gonzalez off the Detroit Lions' practice squad in a corresponding move.
Darnold threw for 304 yards and ran for two touchdowns as the Panthers eased past the Texans despite losing McCaffrey early in the second quarter.
“In the second half we trusted Sam," coach Matt Rhule said. “We were throwing more verticals and pushing the ball down the field."
Carolina's top-ranked defense put the squeeze on Houston rookie Davis Mills in his first career start, sacking him four times and holding him to 168 yards passing. Mills was pressed into action after Tyrod Taylor suffered a hamstring injury last Sunday and was placed on injured reserve.
The Panthers have allowed 573 yards and totaled 14 sacks in three games.
Darnold topped 300 yards passing for the second straight game as he continues to revitalize his career with the Panthers after being cast aside by the New York Jets.
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McCaffrey came in leading the league in scrimmage yards, the same thing he did in the 2019 season. But he missed all but three games in 2020 with various injuries as the Panthers sputtered to 5-11 in Rhule's first year.
Rhule said McCaffrey had a strained hamstring.
“I don’t know the severity level of it yet, to be quite honest with you,” Rhule said. “But I knew the minute it happened I said: ‘Hey, he’s out for the game.’ That’s all I knew. I saw him in there, and he’s moving around, but it’s a wait and see.”
Darnold rushed for Carolina's first score in the first quarter and put the game away whento make it 24-9 with about four minutes left, losing his helmet in the process.
Mills threw for a touchdown and avoided big mistakes after he threw an interception in the second half of Sunday's loss at Cleveland. But the Texans (1-2) couldn't run the ball, finishing with 42 yards on the ground, and that forced Mills into tough down-and-distance situations as Houston punted six times.
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“We just weren’t very good on offense tonight ... because we weren’t able to run the ball,” Texans coach David Culley said.
Mills' favorite target was Brandin Cooks, who had nine receptions for 112 yards.
“I thought he was great," Cooks said of the rookie. “He handled himself well."
Darnold's 5-yard run put the Panthers ahead early and McCaffrey was injured on Carolina's next drive. Rookie Chuba Hubbard was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Houston 5 to end that possession.
Hubbard, a fourth-round pick from Oklahoma State, finished with 11 carries for 52 yards and three receptions for 27 yards.
Anthony Miller grabbed a 1-yard touchdown pass about 30 seconds before halftime, but Joey Slye missed the extra point. Miller made his debut with the Texans after he missed the first two games with a shoulder injury.
into the end zone from 7 yards out to put Carolina ahead 14-6 in the third quarter. The teams traded field goals before Darnold's short rush on third-and-goal capped a 12-play drive that put it away.
Carolina rookie CB Jaycee Horn, the eighth overall pick in the draft, suffered broken bones in his right foot, Rhule said. ... Panthers S Juston Burris pulled a groin muscle and Rhule said he would miss some time.
HE SAID IT
“We just didn’t execute. We missed tackles. They were just making plays they were supposed to make and we weren’t making plays we were supposed to make.” — Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey.
Carolina visits Dallas on Oct. 3.
Houston visits Buffalo on Oct. 3.
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Kristie Rieken, The Associated Press
Fantasy football waiver wire: Chuba Hubbard steps into the Christian McCaffrey role .
With Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey out for several games, Chuba Hubbard becomes the go-to pickup this week in fantasy football leagues.Unfortunately, the injury bug has struck McCaffrey again. And those fantasy managers who drafted him at the top of the first round have a major hole in their lineup to fill -- assuming, of course, they didn't already draft his backup just in case something like this happened.