Kyle Allen felt all week like he was ready for his first NFL start, even as he was the first undrafted free agent to start a game in his rookie season since Matt McGloin in 2013 – his coaches and teammates agreed.
We’re not sure even they saw this coming.
Allen and the Panthers stormed out to a 23-0 halftime lead as the rookie threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns and the Panthers defeated the New Orleans Saints 33-14 to finish their 2018 season 7-9; the Panthers had previously lost seven consecutive to take them from 6-2 and challenging for the NFC South to playing a meaningless Week 17 game as the only consideration was draft position instead of playoff contention.
The Panthers will draft 16th in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Saints declared multiple offensive starters inactive, with Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara not suiting up and backup Teddy Bridgewater getting the start – Bridgewater played well, at times showing the escapability and abilities to make plays outside of the pocket that made him such a threat in Minnesota, but the Panthers, after struggling all season to get off the field on third down or in the red zone, were able to hold the Saints to 4-of-10 on third down and their only red zone success came as the game was already well in hand for the Panthers.
The Panthers rested multiple defensive starters, with Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, and Mike Adams eventually ceding to their younger counterparts – but 38-year old defensive end Julius Peppers continued to play until the final drive as he searched for the sack that would put him into third all-time on the NFL sack leader list; a second-quarter sack put him at 159.5, just a half-sack behind former Panther and Hall of Famer Kevin Greene.
Peppers, while he didn’t get the sack, played another Peppersesque game as the future Hall of Famer finished with four tackles – three of them for a loss – along with a QB hit and a pass deflection.
Kyle Allen started the game hot, completing four-of-six passes for 61 yards and an apparent touchdown to DJ Moore for the first passing touchdown of Allen’s career – when the referees overturned the score and placed the ball inside the one, which Allen pushed into the end zone for a quarterback sneak – his first rushing touchdown.
Allen wouldn’t have to wait long for his first passing touchdown, as after Cameron Artis-Payne ran through arm tackles for a 15-yard score on the next drive – the Panthers would score on all of their first-half drives – the rookie from the University of Houston who spent seven weeks without a job this season calmly led the Panthers on a 16-play, 90-yard drive that ended in an eight-yard touchdown pass to Ian Thomas to put the Panthers up 20-0.
Thomas, who scored a touchdown last week as well, would finish with five catches for 61 yards and the touchdown – Allen would spread the ball around to eight pass catchers on the day.
After the Panthers struggled to throw the ball down the field throughout the 2018 season as Cam Newton’s shoulder struggles deepened over the course of 2018, Allen had no problem dialing up the deep ball – a first-quarter deep ball to Curtis Samuel, although underthrown, resulted in a 39 yard pass interference penalty during the Panthers second touchdown drive. A third-quarter beauty of a deep ball over the middle went for a 53-yard touchdown to Samuel – it was Samuel’s seventh touchdown of the season.
Samuel would finish with two catches for 72 yards and the score.
Kyle Allen goes DEEEEP! 🎯
— NFL (@NFL) December 30, 2018
Allen would give way to backup Garrett Gilbert for the first NFL playing time of his career, after a crushing blow by Marcus Davenport knocked him out of the game – Gilbert would throw only three passes, completing two of them for 40 yards.
The Panthers also rested some starters, with Luke Kuechly – who set the franchise record for most tackles for a loss with 20 last week against the Falcons – coming out of the game after the Panthers first drive; the Panthers only defensive representative for the NFC at the Pro Bowl in 2018 finished his 2018 season with 130 tackles, an interception and two forced fumbles.
Christian McCaffrey, who entered the game needing 75 yards to pass 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his second season, would finish 35 yards short as he also was relieved by Artis-Payne after the first series with the offense – in true McCaffrey fashion, he touched the ball on five of the 11 plays and accounted for 40 yards as the Panthers struck first.
McCaffrey finished his second season with 1,098 rushing yards, 867 receiving yards and 107 receptions and became the third player in NFL history to have over 1,500 rushing and 1,500 receiving yards over the course of their first two seasons.
- Devin Funchess was a surprise inactive for the Panthers; Funchess was the fourth player to start a game and miss Week 17 – although Cam Newton, Trai Turner and Kawann Short were all listed on the injury report this week and missed practice. Funchess was a healthy scratch – his contract is up at the end of this season and he is not expected back in 2019.
- Allen entered the game with 38 passing yards, collecting all of them in relief last week while Taylor Heinicke was getting his left elbow braced in the locker room before Heinicke returned; Allen would finish with 266 career passing yards, good enough for 14th all-time in Panthers franchise history – ahead of players like Brian St. Pierre and Randy Fasani.
- Chandler Catanzaro missed his first kick of the season when he doinked a first-quarter extra point off the left upright; he also made a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter.
- Ryan Kalil played in the final game of his 12-year career, the second-most starts (145) of any Panthers offensive lineman, behind only Jordan Gross – after missing over half of 2017 with a neck injury, Kalil started every game in his final season.
- The Saints scored their first touchdown of the game as Bridgewater hit Tre’Quan Smith for the nine-yard score early in the fourth quarter to top off a nine-play, 75-yard drive and the multi-positional Taysom Hill rushed for their second with just under four minutes left.