Carolina Panthers Analysis: 2 veterans lead the way during win vs. NY Jets

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson /

30. 19. 87. Final. 14

Two veteran players on the Carolina Panthers led the way during the team’s Week 1 victory over the New York Jets at Bank of America Stadium.

It wasn’t easy. Then again, one could argue a Carolina Panthers win rarely comes without a splash of drama.

After storming out to a 16-0 halftime lead, the Panthers held off a late charge by the upstart New York Jets en route to their first opening day win since 2018.

The 19-14 victory was keyed in no small part by the return of running back Christian McCaffrey. Carolina’s most versatile offensive weapon did it all on Sunday, even when his hands never touched the ball.

More on that later.

Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow dialed up a healthy dose of variable pressure looks, as Carolina’s all-new faster, deeper rotation of pass rushers sacked Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson six times, causing him plenty of problems all afternoon.

Let’s explore, in detail, a pair of Panthers who truly went the distance on Sunday:

Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey’s critical block caps off an incredible return

In his first game action since Week 9 of last season, McCaffrey shined early in the passing game, while showing remarkable patience and burst between the tackles akin to what we’ve seen throughout the player’s career.

Showing no signs of rust from a 2020 season derailment by way of ankle and shoulder ailments, McCaffrey touched the ball 30 times against the Jets, his highest single-game workload since Week 11 of the 2019 season.

And while McCaffrey’s 187 yards of total offense opened plenty of eyes, it was a block – not a catch, or a run – that keyed Carolina’s biggest offensive play of the game.

Panthers right guard Dennis Daley, playing in place of the absent John Miller, missed his block.

McCaffrey quickly aided his longtime teammate, taking on the responsibility, allowing Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold ample time and space to slide left before unloading a 57-yard touchdown pass to another former Jet in Robby Anderson.

Without this block by McCaffrey, the play likely ends up as a benign check down, an incompletion, or even a sack. Instead, Carolina is able to connect on a rare deep shot down the seam, converting one single play into six points to tip the scales further in their favor.

A signature game for Carolina Panthers OLB Shaq Thompson

Shaq Thompson, a team captain, and a rock-solid WILL linebacker, has been a steady presence during Carolina’s recent youth movement on defense.

Drafted in 2015, Thompson has racked up more than 100 tackles in each of his last two seasons.

Prior to kickoff on Sunday, Thompson dropped some interesting news on his Instagram: after donning No. 54 since his rookie season, he decided to turn back the clock, announcing he would adopt the old No. 7 from his college days at Washington.

What’s in a number, you ask?

Perhaps nothing.

But it’s worth noting that Sunday’s performance against the Jets was quite possibly the finest game of Thompson’s NFL career to date.

Thompson entered this season with one career interception – which came in 2016 against the San Diego Chargers. He matched his career total with this pick of Wilson.

Thompson’s sack total from 2020? Zero.

With this key third-down takedown of Wilson, Thompson’s already on the board after one game in 2021.

Thompson looked amazing, from start to finish. And that No. 7?

Chef’s kiss.

Must Read. Carolina Panthers: 5 major observations from Sam Darnold in Week 1 vs. NY Jets. light