It will not go down as a classic, but it sure was interesting. The Carolina Panthers led throughout before hanging on late for a 19-14 victory over the New York Jets.
The success had to be gratifying for quarterback Sam Darnold who was making his first start for Carolina. The former Jet outplayed his replacement, Zach Wilson.
Darnold showed off his arm in the second quarter. Known for his ability to throw the deep ball, he did just that in the second quarter. Darnold threw a perfect strike to receiver Robby Anderson, a catch and run that covered 57 yards to give Carolina a 10-0 lead.
The Panthers defense continued to shine the remainder of the first half and well into the second half before the Jets broke through and made it close with a late touchdown.
Putting pressure on Wilson was the key for Carolina’s defense. The Jets quarterback was sacked five times while being under constant duress. The pressure also led to the first year quarterback throwing an interception and forcing a fumble.
Shaq Thompson led the defense with 10 tackles and an interception. Wilson was hit by everyone it seemed as five different Panthers each recorded a sack. And it was very clear that the Jets could not move the ball on the ground as they totaled only 45 yards on the ground.
Back to the offense. Carolina’s offense always looks better when Christian McCaffrey is healthy and on the field. After missing most of last season, the former Stanford Cardinal returned to action with 187 all-purpose yards in the season opener.
Darnold ended the game completing 24 of 35 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
The Panthers got the win which was the main thing. It just felt like they should have had a larger margin of victory. But a lot was made in 2020 of Carolina losing close games. So winning the first game by five points has to mean something, right?
Yes, it means that the Panthers are tied for first place in the NFC South with a 1-0 record.