A lot of folks wondered beforehand if last Sunday afternoon’s game between the Carolina Panthers and the New York Jets would be a “revenge game” for Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. “No, not for me,” the fourth-year player from USC said in his pre-game presser. Darnold was “southern California cool” as he threw for 279 yards and a touchdown while running for another score, helping the Carolina Panthers pull out a 19-14 win over his former team. Darnold connected with fellow ex-Jet Robby Anderson for a 57-yard touchdown pass and utilized a now healthy Christian McCaffrey, who racked up 187 yards from scrimmage on 30 touches. McCaffrey missed 13 games last year due to injury. But he looked very good on Sunday as the Carolina Panthers get their first win in the first week of the 2021 season. It was the franchise’s first opening-day victory since 2018.
The Panthers went up 9-0 in the second quarter on that beautiful connection from Sam Darnold to Robby Anderson. On the Panthers’ next drive, Darnold made the score 16-0 when he scored on a five-yard quarterback draw. Offensively, the Panthers outgained the Jets in first-half yardage 272-82.
But it was the under-rated Panthers defense that was the story. Darnold and the Panthers offense struggled in the red zone early and actually fumbled the ball on a botched handoff that hit the fullback’s arm. During the ensuing Jets drive though, linebacker Shaq Thompson intercepted a Zach Wilson pass, giving the ball back to the Panthers. Carolina did nothing on their next drive, but then the momentum shifted in the second quarter when Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos stopped running back Tevin Coleman behind the line of scrimmage when they went for it on fourth-and-inches near midfield.
Shaq Thompson, who changed his number from 54 to 7 less than an hour before the game, played lights out. He had ten tackles, a sack, an interception, and broke up three Zach Wilson passes. Collectively, the Panthers sacked Wilson six times with six different players getting in on the action. The sixth sack came with two minutes left in the game when Wilson’s head hit the turf hard after being landed on by 320-pound defensive tackle Derrick Brown. Despite the pressure and the sacks, Wilson was able to get off two touchdown passes to wide receiver Corey Davis to give his team a chance to win at the end. But the Panthers were able to get a first-down in the game’s final minute to shut the door on the New York Jets, and the Panthers end the first week of regular season action at 1-0.
History was made at Bank of America Stadium when line judge Maia Chaka became the first black woman to officiate an NFL game. Chaka is just the third on-field female official in an NFL contest, joining Sarah Thomas and Shannon Eastin. I for one am sorry to only be writing a couple of sentences about something so impactful. Hopefully, there will be more moments like this where women of color and women period will get to be a big part of America's most popular sport. Then, possibly in the future something like a woman official will be the norm rather than the exception.