Sam Darnold, D.J. Moore lead Panthers to win over Texans to secure 3-0 start

It didn’t start out great, but Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers are still perfect on the year.

The Panthers, despite losing running back Christian McCaffrey in the second quarter at NRG Stadium on Thursday night, beat the Houston Texans 24-9 to secure a 3-0 start.

The night was made possible thanks to a huge showing from Darnold and wide receiver D.J. Moore, who finished with 126 yards on eight receptions. Darnold threw for 304 yards, completed nearly 68% of his passes and ran in a pair of touchdowns.

Darnold has now thrown for 888 yards this season, the best stretch in his NFL career.

“The way that we fought threw that first half, ugly first half for us, but the way that we bounced back in the second half is huge,” Darnold said on the NFL Network.

Panthers stifle Texans, Davis Mills

The Panthers, after a pair of quick drives resulting in punts, scored first off a 5-yard Darnold run that closed out a 10-play, 88-yard drive.

Though Houston’s offense was essentially non-existent, Carolina couldn’t capitalize off of it again until after halftime.

The Texans didn’t cross midfield until their final drive of the first half. Quarterback Davis Mills — who started in his first NFL game after Tyrod Taylor was placed on injured reserve this week — went 4-of-5 for 19 yards to start the game.

In his final drive of the half, though, Mills went an impressive 5-of-6 for 60 yards before capping it with a 1-yard TD pass to Anthony Miller.

That impressive drive carry any momentum into the second half for Houston.

The Panthers pushed their lead to eight after a 7-yard Tommy Tremble run midway through the third quarter, and made it a two possession game after a chip-shot field goal minutes into the fourth.

Darnold then pushed them to the 15-point win with a final 1-yard touchdown run, his second of the game, late in the fourth to keep Carolina's winning streak alive.

Mills finished the day with 168 yards and a touchdown while throwing 19-of-28 for Houston. Mark Ingram led the Texans in rushing with 21 yards on six carries, picking up exactly half of their yards on the ground.

“I thought he did very well,” Texans coach David Culley said of Mills, via Fox26’s Mark Berman. He did not turn the ball over at all, which was a big thing going into the game. I thought he threw the ball very well. I thought when we went out on offense right before half, he did an excellent job of taking us down the field and making some nice throws, nice plays. I thought he did a nice job for us.”

Christian McCaffrey injured again after early run

Though they still got the win, the Panthers may be without McCaffrey for the near future, something they’re all too familiar with.

McCaffrey left Thursday’s game in the second quarter after injuring his hamstring, and did not return. He appeared to tweak his leg on a 2-yard run, and hopped awkwardly on his right leg before running out of bounds.

McCaffrey — who racked up a league-best 324 yards from scrimmage in the Panthers’ first two games — played in only three games last season with multiple injuries.

It’s unclear how long he’ll be gone, and head coach Matt Rhule said after the game the Panthers weren't sure of McCaffrey's status or the severity of the injury. Still, there’s no question his absence will impact the Panthers.

Carolina finished with 117 rushing yards in the win. Chuba Hubbard led Carolina with 52.

McCaffrey wasn’t the only significant Panthers injury. Rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn broke his foot after falling to the ground in the third quarter without contact. He planted his right leg on the field before going down, and then needed help off the field. The No. 8 overall draft pick was carted to the locker room.

While the two injuries are problematic, the Panthers are sitting good in the meantime. They are undefeated through three games for the first time since 2015, a season they made it to the Super Bowl.

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey left early in the second quarter after injuring his hamstring Thursday night in Houston. (Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)