4 takeaways from the Panthers’ Week 1 victory over Jets

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One up, one down in the win column for the Carolina Panthers in the 2021 season. And in addition to being a nice step forward, their Week 1 victory over the New York Jets did tell us a few things about the state of the team thus far.

Here are four takeaways from the 19-14 victory.

Sam Darnold passes his first test

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New Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold didn't ace his first test under center in Carolina. He airmailed a number of passes, including a would-be touchdown to tight end Ian Thomas, and still didn't appear completely comfortable in the pocket throughout the afternoon. He was, though, just good enough. Darnold, with the exception of what could have been a costly fumble at the Jets' 8-yard line in the second quarter, protected the ball. He completed 24 of his 35 passes for a touchdown and no interceptions. The former third overall pick won't be expected to suddenly turn into a Patrick Mahomes or an Aaron Rodgers. But he will be expected to keep a hold on that rock and keep offensive coordinator Joe Brady's script going. He did that today.

Matt Rhule wasn't kidding about Christian McCaffrey

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Head coach Matt Rhule was very methodical about how he used running back Christian McCaffrey in the preseason. And by "very methodical," we mean "not using him at all so he can save him for the real games." Well, after zero exhibition snaps, Rhule and the Panthers didn't think too much about unleashing their superstar in Week 1. McCaffrey was busy, chalking up 30 total touches for 187 scrimmage yards in the win. Maintaining this heavy workload is not sustainable in the long run, especially after McCaffrey fought through three separate injuries and missed 13 games in 2020. But, he's the superstar for a reason and we'll likely keep seeing this type of action for the team's best player moving forward.

The defense is going to be for real

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Yes, it's only Week 1. And yes, this performance came against the youngest and perhaps least talented team in the game. But this unit did not play with their food. The Carolina defense took up residence in the Jets' pocket all day, totaling six sacks of rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. That pressure boiled over into the backfield as well, with New York averaging only 2.6 yards per rush. Linebacker Shaq Thompson, who apparently morphed back into his playmaking days from college with the number change, was the star of the group. He led the charge with ten tackles, an interception, a sack and three pass deflections. Phil Snow's personnel is fast and versatile, just like the braintrust of the organization built it up to be.

There may be a new kicker next week

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First-year kicker Ryan Santoso may be in his only year with the Panthers . . . and after just one game. The initial red flag popped up when Rhule passed up on a potential 52-yarder in the first quarter for a punt. The second then came on a missed extra point later on in the half following the Robby Anderson 57-yard touchdown. General manager Scott Fitterer loves his draft picks, and that's another possible pitfall for Santoso. If he does not take the field for another game in 2021 for Carolina, the team can recoup the seventh-round draft pick they sent to the New York Giants to get him. Plus, the team hasn't really committed to Santoso either. [vertical-gallery id=640284]

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