By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
Carolina Panthers' Shaq Thompson (7) celebrates after an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. The Panthers won 24-9. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)
Carolina Panthers tight end Tommy Tremble (82) rushes for a touchdown as Houston Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (26) defends during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Houston Texans running back Phillip Lindsay (30) is tackled by Carolina Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)
Houston Texans wide receiver Anthony Miller (3) makes a touchdown catch against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) rushes for a gain as Houston Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (26) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) celebrates his touchdown run with Dan Arnold (85) and Cameron Erving (75) during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) scrambles out of the pocket against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) looks to hand the ball off during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)
HOUSTON (AP) Thanks to another efficient performance from Sam Darnold and continued dominant play by their defense, the Carolina Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2015, when they reached the Super Bowl.
That combination was certainly too much for the Houston Texans in Carolina's 24-9 victory on Thursday night. But a hamstring injury to star running back Christian McCaffrey could cause serious adversity for Darnold and the Panthers' offense going forward.
''Losing Christian is tough, but I thought we did a great job of bouncing back,'' Darnold said. ''We were able to put the first half behind us and do a good job in the second half.''
Darnold threw for 304 yards and ran for two touchdowns as the Panthers eased past the Texans despite losing McCaffrey early in the second quarter.
''In the second half we trusted Sam,'' coach Matt Rhule said. ''We were throwing more verticals and pushing the ball down the field.''
Carolina's top-ranked defense put the squeeze on Houston rookie Davis Mills in his first career start, sacking him four times and holding him to 168 yards passing. Mills was pressed into action after Tyrod Taylor suffered a hamstring injury last Sunday and was placed on injured reserve.
The Panthers have allowed 573 yards and totaled 14 sacks in three games.
Darnold topped 300 yards passing for the second straight game as he continues to revitalize his career with the Panthers after being cast aside by the New York Jets.
McCaffrey came in leading the league in scrimmage yards, the same thing he did in the 2019 season. But he missed all but three games in 2020 with various injuries as the Panthers sputtered to 5-11 in Rhule's first year.
Rhule said McCaffrey had a strained hamstring.
''I don't know the severity level of it yet, to be quite honest with you,'' Rhule said. ''But I knew the minute it happened I said: `Hey, he's out for the game.' That's all I knew. I saw him in there, and he's moving around, but it's a wait and see.''
Darnold rushed for Carolina's first score in the first quarter and put the game away when he bulled in from 1 yard out to make it 24-9 with about four minutes left, losing his helmet in the process.
Mills threw for a touchdown and avoided big mistakes after he threw an interception in the second half of Sunday's loss at Cleveland. But the Texans (1-2) couldn't run the ball, finishing with 42 yards on the ground, and that forced Mills into tough down-and-distance situations as Houston punted six times.
''We just weren't very good on offense tonight ... because we weren't able to run the ball,'' Texans coach David Culley said.
Mills' favorite target was Brandin Cooks, who had nine receptions for 112 yards.
''I thought he was great,'' Cooks said of the rookie. ''He handled himself well.''
Darnold's 5-yard run put the Panthers ahead early and McCaffrey was injured on Carolina's next drive. Rookie Chuba Hubbard was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Houston 5 to end that possession.
Hubbard, a fourth-round pick from Oklahoma State, finished with 11 carries for 52 yards and three receptions for 27 yards.
Anthony Miller grabbed a 1-yard touchdown pass about 30 seconds before halftime, but Joey Slye missed the extra point. Miller made his debut with the Texans after he missed the first two games with a shoulder injury.
Tommy Tremble dashed untouched into the end zone from 7 yards out to put Carolina ahead 14-6 in the third quarter. The teams traded field goals before Darnold's short rush on third-and-goal capped a 12-play drive that put it away.
Carolina rookie CB Jaycee Horn, the eighth overall pick in the draft, suffered broken bones in his right foot, Rhule said. ... Panthers S Juston Burris pulled a groin muscle and Rhule said he would miss some time.
HE SAID IT
''We just didn't execute. We missed tackles. They were just making plays they were supposed to make and we weren't making plays we were supposed to make.'' - Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey.
Carolina visits Dallas on Oct. 3.
Houston visits Buffalo on Oct. 3.
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said that "all signs" are pointing toward offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (head) entering the league's concussion protocol this week. Lewan was strapped to a stretcher and carted off the field in Monday night's win over the Buffalo Bills, so all things considered, this has to be good news. The 30-year-old won't be guaranteed to return in Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs, but it looks like he has avoided a serious neck injury. Kendall Lamm replaced Lewan at left tackle for the rest of the Monday night game and would likely get the start on quarterback Ryan Tannehill's blind side if Lewan isn't cleared for this weekend.
Denver Broncos pass-rusher Bradley Chubb's (ankle) return isn't quite around the corner, according to head coach Vic Fangio. Chubb had a walking boot on his surgically repaired ankle on Tuesday and has been on Injured Reserve since he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle on Sept. 22. Denver's defense got off to a hot start against some of the worst teams in the NFL, but they've come crashing back down to Earth and allowed a season-high 34 points to the division-rival Las Vegas Raiders in the Week 6 loss. They could certainly use Chubb's pass-rushing help, but it doesn't look like it's coming anytime soon. Despite Denver's struggles on defense of late, they'll be on the streaming radar in Week 7 on Thursday night against a banged-up Cleveland Browns team.
Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III (hip) was upgraded from a limited practice on Monday's estimated report to a full practice on Tuesday. Gordon has been dealing with some nagging injuries in recent weeks, but it hasn't kept him from playing on game days, and he continues to split the backfield work right down the middle with rookie Javonte Williams. The 28-year-old should be good to go for Thursday night's clash with the Cleveland Browns. Williams has been more efficient and has shown more big-play ability through six games, but Gordon is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has scored two touchdowns on 332 rushing yards on 70 carries. He'll be on the RB2/3 borderline again this week.
The New Orleans Saints designated wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (hamstring), linebacker Kwon Alexander (elbow) and defensive end Marcus Davenport (shoulder) for return from Injured Reserve this week. The Saints will now have 21 days to activate the trio from Injured Reserve. Michael Thomas (ankle) is also getting closer to a return, but Smith appears to be ahead in his recovery. Smith has only played in one game in Week 4 before getting injured, and he wasn't targeted at all in the passing game. Marquez Callaway currently leads all Saints receivers with 13 receptions on 21 targets for 222 yards and three touchdowns on the season, with Deonte Harris actually leading the team with 236 receiving yards. Smith could have a bigger role before Thomas returns, but it's hard to get excited about him in this low-volume Saints passing attack.
The Denver Broncos cut wide receiver David Moore on Tuesday, according to a source. The move isn't unexpected after the team added John Brown last week. Moore was active for two games but didn't record a reception on his two targets. The Broncos are also looking forward to the return of Jerry Jeudy, who remains on Injured Reserve after suffering a high ankle sprain in the season opener. Jeudy has resumed workouts but has a less than 50% chance to return on Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. There's a much better chance that Jeudy will make his return in Week 8 against the Washington Football Team. The second-year wideout figures to return to a considerable role in Denver's offense and should be rostered in all leagues.
New York Giants wide receiver C.J. Board (arm) was placed on Injured Reserve on Tuesday after suffering a broken arm in the Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Board will miss at least the next three games while on IR, but he'll probably be out longer. The 27-year-old has just four catches on six targets for 51 yards through the first six games of the season, and he hasn't played more than 31% of the offensive snaps in any one game so far this season. With Kenny Golladay (knee) and rookie Kadarius Toney (ankle) unlikely to play in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers, the Giants could be down to Sterling Shepard, Dante Pettis, Collin Johnson and John Ross as their primary receivers.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder) missed another practice on Tuesday. His DNP designation on Monday came on the estimated practice report, but he actually missed practice on Tuesday. Beckham is looking truly questionable after missing some game time in the Week 6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It could be a death blow to Cleveland's offense, as they'll also be without both starting running backs Nick Chubb (calf) and Kareem Hunt (calf). If OBJ cannot play on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Rashard Higgins and rookie Anthony Schwartz would operate in three-receiver sets if Jarvis Landry isn't ready to come off Injured Reserve. Peoples-Jones would be the most attractive after going for nine catches (11 targets), 171 yards and two touchdowns in the last two weeks.
New York Giants OT Korey Cunningham and WR Dante Pettis were signed off the practice squad Tuesday, Oct. 19.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Rashard Robinson was signed off the practice squad Tuesday, Oct. 19.
The New York Giants placed left tackle Andrew Thomas (ankle, foot) on Injured Reserve on Tuesday, so he'll be forced to miss at least the next three games. Thomas is dealing with a right foot injury and also a left ankle issue, so he was pretty hobbled in the Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The Giants offensive line will be more vulnerable in the near future, beginning in a Week 7 matchup with the Carolina Panthers. It's bad news for quarterback Daniel Jones, especially if he's without starting running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) for a second straight game this weekend. Expect Matt Peart to fill in on Jones' blind side in the immediate future.
Denver Broncos WR David Moore was released Tuesday, Oct. 19.
New York Giants rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney (ankle) is expected to be out for at least one game, according to a source. However, as of right now, it doesn't sound like the Giants plan on placing Toney on Injured Reserve, which would require him to miss at least three games. The 22-year-old first-rounder exploded for 10 catches and 189 yards in Week 5 when Kenny Golladay injured his knee, and he was in line for another big role in the Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams before he aggravated his ankle on Sunday. Toney should remain involved in the passing game whenever he returns from his ankle injury, so he's worth stashing in deeper leagues. With Golladay not a lock to return in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers, Sterling Shepard could be in line for a massive target share.
Chicago Bears S Deon Bush (quad) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Oct. 19. DB Teez Tabor was signed off the practice squad to replace him on the roster.
Free-agent RB Chris Thompson was signed to the practice squad of the Chicago Bears on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
New Orleans Saints LB Kwon Alexander (elbow), DE Marcus Davenport (shoulder) and WR Tre'Quan Smith (hamstring) were designated for return from the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Oct. 19.
The Indianapolis Colts are signing defensive tackle Antwaun Woods to their active roster on Tuesday, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Woods was signed to the Colts practice squad before the Week 3 game against the Tennessee Titans, but he was released last week. He'll now rejoin the team and provide defensive line depth at nose tackle. Woods, 28, recorded 23 tackles (seven solo), two QB hits and a sack in 14 games (seven starts) for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020. He played on just 18% of the defensive snaps and had one solo tackle in the Week 3 loss to the Titans. Woods will serve in a rotational role once again.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder), RB Nick Chubb (calf), OT Jack Conklin (knee), A.J. Z. Green (shoulder, groin), C JC Tretter (knee) and OT Jedrick Wills (ankle) did not participate in practice Tuesday, Oct. 19. DE Jadeveon Clowney (ankle, chest, knee), DE Malik Jackson (knee), QB Baker Mayfield (shoulder), TE David Njoku (limited), LB Malcolm Smith (abdomen), and LB Mack Wilson (calf) were limited. DE Myles Garrett (knee, ankle), DE Takkarist McKinley (ankle), DT Malik McDowell (elbow, foot), CB Greg Newsome (calf), CB Denzel Ward (neck) and CB Greedy Williams (knee) practiced in full. The Browns did not practice Tuesday, so the report is an estimation.
Chicago Bears DE Robert Quinn was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, Oct. 19.
Denver Broncos LB Baron Browning (concussion), S Caden Stearns (illness), LB Alexander Johnson (chest), LB Andre Mintze (hamstring) and LB Aaron Patrick (ankle) did not participate in practice Tuesday, Oct. 19. OT Garett Bolles (knee), QB Teddy Bridgewater (foot) and TE Noah Fant (foot) were limited. RB Melvin Gordon (hip), DE Shelby Harris (wrist) and S Justin Simmons (hand) practiced in full. The Broncos did not practice Tuesday, so the report is an estimation.