September 16, 2015

While the Carolina Panthers shined defensively in the opener, the Houston Texans' formidable defense had a lackluster showing in part because of their quarterback's woes.

It's unclear, though, if the Panthers will have one of the league's top linebackers available as they look to send Houston to its first 0-2 start in seven years.

Carolina registered five sacks and forced three turnovers, including Josh Norman's interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, in a 20-9 win over Jacksonville last Sunday. The Panthers kept the Jaguars off the scoreboard in the final 30 minutes even with Luke Kuechly leaving late in the first half because of a concussion.

"I think it speaks loudly about the leadership on the defense and the fact that we play great team defense," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "Not taking anything away from Luke, but there is not one person that is more important than another on this defense."

Kuechly is listed as doubtful for the home opener and coach Ron Rivera said Friday he has yet to be cleared by an independent neurologist.

Kuechly, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, is the league's highest-paid middle linebacker after signing a five-year, $62 million extension earlier this month. He had a NFL-best 473 tackles in his first three seasons.

"Hopefully he will be healthy and ready to get back," said A.J. Klein, Kuechly's likely replacement should he sit out.

Houston suffered a 27-20 loss to Kansas City last week and is looking to avoid starting 0-2 for the first time since dropping its first four in 2008. The Texans had won at least their first two games in each of the previous five seasons.

They struggled to slow down the Chiefs in the first half Sunday and trailed by what proved to be an insurmountable 21 points less than five minutes before intermission.

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt did his part with a team-best nine tackles - a career high-tying six for loss - and two sacks. Houston, though, allowed three touchdown passes - two of them coming after Brian Hoyer turnovers deep in Texans territory.

"In situations where we get put in a short field or something like that, it's our job to stand up and make a play," Watt said. "And we didn't do that today."

Hoyer, who had a 52.9 percent completion rate and was sacked four times, was replaced by Ryan Mallett with 6:10 remaining. Mallett led Houston to 11 points while going 8 of 13 for 98 yards and connected with DeAndre Hopkins on an 8-yard touchdown, the receiver's second of the day.

Mallett will make his third career start Sunday.

''You feel bad when it's one week,'' Mallett said. ''But also you're excited to finally get out there and show what you've been working toward.''

Arian Foster's timetable for returning from groin surgery remains uncertain, though he's been ruled out for this game. The Texans totaled 98 yards on 21 carries against Kansas City with starter Alfred Blue gaining 42 on nine attempts.

Houston tight end Ryan Griffin sprained his MCL last week and was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list, which will put him out for at least eight weeks. That leaves Garrett Graham and C.J. Fiedorowicz as the only tight ends on the roster.

Carolina backup offensive tackle Daryl Williams also sprained his MCL in the first quarter last Sunday and is expected to miss two to four weeks.

The Panthers started 2-0 last season and have done that in consecutive years once, in 2002 and '03.

The Texans are 2-1 all-time against Carolina, losing the most recent meeting 28-13 in December 2011 at Houston. Cam Newton sparked the Panthers to an early 21-0 lead with a pair of touchdown passes.

The teams' only meeting in Charlotte came in September 2007, a 34-21 Texans victory.

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