HOUSTON -- The Carolina Panthers survived another Christian McCaffrey injury behind impressive quarterback Sam Darnold and a stingy defense, moving to 3-0 Thursday night in a 24-9 road victory over Houston that also raised several questions.
Can the Panthers win games against higher-level competition without McCaffrey, if his hamstring injury proves serious?
Can the secondary hold up after losing two starters — cornerback Jaycee Horn (foot) and safety Juston Burris (groin) — Thursday?
And ultimately, will Carolina’s fast start be a mirage or something that will last?
For the third straight game, Carolina never trailed. Yet it was a difficult — and costly — win. Carolina’s offensive line was exposed a number of times, blowing a number of assignments and allowing Darnold to take some big hits.
But Carolina got the sort of huge performances you need from some of its lesser-known players like rookie tight end Tommy Tremble (a 7-yard TD run, a 30-yard reception). And Darnold came up big numerous times, especially on a 91-yard touchdown drive that broke the game open in the third quarter.
Christian McCaffrey’s hamstring
Christian McCaffrey is one of the three best running backs in football and maybe the best — when healthy.
But those two words — when healthy — are beginning to take on ominous meaning with McCaffrey. He got hurt in the second quarter of this game on a run to the left, a non-contact injury as he prepared to try and speed up and turn the corner.
McCaffrey spent about 20 minutes under a blue injury tent, although he was declared out of the game almost immediately due to a hamstring injury. Hamstring injuries are tricky and often mean a multiple-week rehabilitation.