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Panthers at Texans
Expanded coverage of Carolina’s Week 3 game at Houston.
Kyle Allen didn’t throw a single touchdown pass Sunday after throwing four of them last week. He got sacked three times and fumbled the ball away on every single one of them.
“Ball security, obviously, was unacceptable today by me,” said Allen, who has fumbled five times in two starts.
But Allen won — again — as Carolina edged Houston, 16-10, behind their second-string quarterback. It helped that Allen ducked his way into one incredible “escape room” play late in the game. And that, for the second straight week, the undrafted Allen outplayed a first-round draft pick.
Allen is now 3-0 as an NFL starter for the Panthers and 2-0 this season. Cam Newton — the quarterback Allen is subbing for because Newton has a Lisfranc injury to his left foot and can’t run — is 0-8 in his last eight starts and 0-2 this season. So there’s that.
And there was this: Third-and-6 from Houston’s 29. Carolina was leading, 13-10, with 3:14 left in the game. Allen dropped back and J.J. Watt — the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best pass rushers the league has ever seen — broke free and had Allen lined up and seemingly dead to rights for about a 10-yard loss.
But Allen ducked under Watt’s grasp, barely kept his knee off the ground, looked downfield and found Jarius Wright for a 17-yard gain that kept the clock moving. It was a vintage Newton sort of play, and it left Watt — the future hall of famer — disconsolate afterward.
“I take that one all on me,” Watt said, referring to the loss. “If I make that play at the end, (Carolina is) probably out of field-goal range. Probably we get the ball back with some time left. So I put that 100 percent on me. I have to make that play. He (Allen) made a great play.”
The Panthers bled the clock down to 28 seconds after that, got Joey Slye’s third field goal and then left Houston with too little time to get all the way downfield. By the end, Allen had thrown for 232 yards (24-of-34) for an 89.3 quarterback rating, and Houston’s Deshaun Watson had thrown for 160 yards (21 of 33) with a 75.3 rating.
So that was the good for Allen. The bad, though, was also evident: He couldn’t hold onto the ball. For the second game in a row, Allen lost a fumble on Carolina’s first drive. And then he lost two more — all on sacks. If Allen got sacked Sunday, the ball was coming out — every time.
Put it this way: Newton has lost five fumbles since the start of the 2016 season (he has played 47 games during that time). Allen has lost four fumbles in two games (the fifth was recovered by Carolina).
“I’ve got to have two hands on the ball all week this week,” Allen said. “I haven’t played in a lot of games, but I need to get those reps with ball security. ... I can’t put our team in that position. Having three turnovers by one player is not going to win many games.”
It won this one, though, because Carolina’s defense was operating at an elite level. With six sacks and two turnovers, the Panthers harried Watson all afternoon. Allen then made his one big play on the Panthers’ last drive, which came on a short field due to Eric Reid’s fumble recovery, and that turned out to be enough.
Of the escape from Watt, Allen said: “I owe it to the team, right? I put our team in terrible positions in that game, so I owe it to them to keep fighting.”
In the meantime, Allen is navigating the delicate balance for the Panthers of being “Mr. Right” vs. “Mr. Right Now.” At some point, Newton is going to return. Newton said in a video blog Friday that he had hid the severity of a foot injury he suffered Aug. 22 so he could play in Carolina’s first two games this season, and that he could still be out anywhere from one week to six weeks with his injured foot.
“For me,” Allen said, “I’m playing until I’m not playing. ... It’s simple for me. I’m just going to prepare like I’m going to play because, even if I’m not the No. 1 and Cam is in there and God forbid he gets hurt, I’ve got to go in there.”
Sunday’s uneven performance by Allen will undoubtedly quiet some of the fans who thought he was the next Tom Brady after his near-perfect game against Arizona. But it also showed his composure. Even after three turnovers, Allen was able to do his part in pulling off another win.
“The thing I love about Kyle is he’s very poised and under control,” said Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who caught all 10 passes Allen threw to him Sunday. “At the end of the day, that gives us a lot of confidence when your quarterback, your leader, is able to move the ball down the field — even after bad stuff happens.”