Carolina Panthers

A Panthers QB decision is looming, but Kyle Allen continues to play (well) in the now

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Eventually, the Carolina Panthers will have to make a difficult decision.

Their starting quarterback Cam Newton — you know, the former NFL MVP? — has missed the last four games while recovering from a Lisfranc injury in his left foot. He played practically on one leg in Carolina’s first two games this season, a pair of close losses, and then realized it was better in the long-term to just take the time to get healthy.

And this must be mentioned: Dating back to 2018, when Newton’s shoulder problems reduced him to a shell of himself, he has lost his last eight games as a starter.

Since Newton went out, undrafted second-year stand-in Kyle Allen has taken the reins at quarterback. All he’s done since then?

Win four straight games — three of them on the road, including Sunday’s 37-26 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London — without throwing a single interception. Including his Week 17 win over the Saints last season, Allen is now the first quarterback in NFL history to win his first five starts without tossing a pick.

So when Newton comes back, what do you do: Stick with the hot hand, at the risk of alienating your locker room, or go back to your longtime starter... also at the risk of alienating your locker room?

A tough decision, indeed.

“I’m not going to worry, speculate on anything until I have to address that. Until then, we’re going to stay in the now, focus on what we’re doing right now,” coach Ron Rivera said postgame Sunday.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re just not going to deal with the question until it’s time.”

Fine. Pundits can debate all they like. There are arguments to be made on both sides.

But there is one argument no one can dispute:

Right now, with the Panthers’ season saved and heading into their bye week 4-2, Allen has given this offense life.

“You ask him to win the games, and he’s won four in a row,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “Obviously him and a lot of other guys deserve a lot of credit.”

It’s true that Allen alone hasn’t led the Panthers to this point. Running back Christian McCaffrey, who received MVP chants on Sunday after another ho-hum two-touchdown game, has put himself in the conversation as one of the league’s best players.

The offensive line has responded to losing two starters, Trai Turner and Greg Little, without becoming a turnstile. And of course, Carolina’s defense has mutated into a hyper-aggressive version of what it was to begin the season, racking up interceptions and sacks by the handful..

But only crediting everyone but Allen doesn’t tell the full story.

His statline Sunday won’t earn any sort of honors — 20-of-32 passes completed for 227 yards and two touchdowns — but in reality, he again proved he can make NFL throws.

Against Jacksonville last week, McCaffrey was asked to carry the load, minimizing Allen’s impact. The reverse was true Sunday. While the Bucs’ stout run defense held McCaffrey to just 31 yards on 22 attempts (with a long run of 10), Allen picked up the slack.

“He’s been very consistent for us,” coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s made the plays we needed.”

That was perhaps no more obvious than on Carolina’s 99-yard first-quarter drive, which ties for the longest in franchise history. Allen found DJ Moore in a tight window on third down — from the Panthers’ seven-yard line, at that — which kept the drive alive, and from there he ripped off chunk plays: Olsen for 16 yards on a corner route; then Curtis Samuel for 21 on a deep post; then Moore again for 23.

Eventually the drive culminated with a one-yard touchdown run from McCaffrey, but Allen completed all five of his passes for 68 yards.

“They have a tough run defense, you saw it. We tried to run the ball. Tough defense, man,” Allen said. “But yeah, I mean we were trusting the pass today. We made the plays when they needed to be made.

“Credit to us.”

Credit to him may be more like it, especially as his receivers dropped a number of balls. Moore dropped an out route on third down that would’ve extended a possession, and the usually-reliable Jarius Wright bobbled two others.

Now before anyone goes anointing Allen a savior, even after his fourth win this year, factor in that Tampa Bay carries the league’s worst passing defense. They’re the only team in the league allowing more than 300 yards passing per game, so circumstances favored Allen.

But still, he took advantage.

“People can go round and round in circles trying to find (flaws), but at the end of the day, he’s won four games in a row and three games away from our home field,” Olsen said. “That’s hard to do in this league.”

As for the looming decision, Allen would be the last one concerned about it. Mimicking his coach, Allen has repeatedly insisted that he’s only focused on the here and now, and teammates always point to his steady demeanor as arguably his most redemptive quality at quarterback. Throw four touchdowns, fumble the ball three times — no difference, the same calm Kyle Allen.

And although he’s not the emotional live wire that Newton is, he still knows to appreciate this moment.

“I think the best way to describe it is just fun to win, man,” Allen said. “It’s been a grind. We’ve been working our asses off to win. We do it every single week. It’s fun to win.

“We’re going to keep winning, keep working our asses off to win ... I haven’t really had time to kind of sit back and look at it because I’m keeping my head down, taking it one week at a time.”

Eventually — whether in two days or two months — Newton’s foot will heal. That decision still looms.

But with the way Allen is playing now, even with Carolina heading into the bye week, he doesn’t have time to think about that future. If he does, it’ll derail the now.

And for Kyle Allen, the now is going pretty darn well.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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