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Friday Morning Thoughts: Things Are About to Get Tough

Final takeaways from the Panthers win in Houston.

I've never been a fan of Thursday Night Football. It's not Sunday, so it doesn't feel like a traditional game week. Not to mention, I hate it for the players and coaching staffs that have to cram a full week's work of preparation in a three-day window. Not only does it give you a limited amount of time to prepare but also to recover. Injuries are a big part of the game and unfortunately, the Panthers lost two of their biggest stars in the 24-9 win over the Texans - RB Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) and CB Jaycee Horn (broken foot).

I'm not sure that you can put any blame on Horn's injury being a result of playing on Thursday night because quite frankly, it was a freak injury. McCaffrey's on the other hand, could be a factor of not having ample time to recover from Sunday's game. Safety Juston Burris also exited the game with a pulled muscle and did not return.

The reality is, this Carolina Panthers football team is good. The brutal reality is they are not as good without Jaycee Horn and certainly not as good without Christian McCaffrey. Last year, the offense looked completely different with CMC on the sidelines and it had a similar feel to it last night the moment he came off the field. Sure, Sam Darnold stepped up and delivered some really nice throws but he took quite a few hits waiting for guys to get open.

The previous two times the Panthers started the season 3-0, they made the Super Bowl. Will that happen in 2021? Eh, probably not. Even with a healthy McCaffrey and Horn, it would have been a tough ask. Let's be honest with ourselves here. Carolina beat a bad Jets team, a dismantled Saints defense, and a bad Texans team. The Panthers are 100% deserving of their 3-0 record and although it may seem like I'm taking away from the win over New Orleans, I'm just stating the facts. Now, offensively, the same Saints that hung 38 on Green Bay in week one got stopped in their tracks by Carolina's defense. Tip your hat to Phil Snow for a perfectly executed game plan. Defensively, the Saints were without five starters. That absolutely played a factor in some of their defensive issues. 

Despite a very favorable start to the season, things are about to get more difficult starting next week when the Panthers make the trip back to Texas for a showdown with the Dallas Cowboys. Carolina is clearly improved on both sides of the ball in terms of depth, so they are in a much better position to sustain their early-season success compared to a year ago when things fell apart following a 3-2 start. 

In the secondary, guys like A.J. Bouye and Rashaan Melvin will be forced to step up and fill in for Jaycee Horn. Fortunately for Carolina, both of those guys have played a ton of football in the NFL and are ready for the moment. Bouye missed the first two games due to suspension and was made inactive for Thursday night's game. He'll be a big piece for this defense moving forward. 

Carolina just has to hope that McCaffrey's injury isn't anything too serious to where he will miss an extended period of time. Missing only one or two games would be a sigh of relief for Panthers fans. If the results of the MRI show that he will miss a ton of time, that completely changes the outlook of this team.

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