Scott Fowler

Seeing was believing in Kyle Allen’s improbable start for Panthers. It’s no fluke

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There were times, while watching Kyle Allen in person on Sunday in Arizona, that I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

The way Allen would hit receivers in perfect stride, allowing them to catch the ball and do something with it. The way he scampered around in the pocket and then — when it seemed certain he was about to throw the ball out of bounds — could find a receiver.

Almost everything Allen touched turn to gold Sunday in the Panthers’ 38-20 win over Arizona. Sentences like this one were uttered about Allen in the Panthers’ locker room after the game, from tight end Greg Olsen: “All four of his touchdowns were very different.”

All four of them?! Panthers quarterback Cam Newton — who didn’t make the trip to Arizona to better rehab the foot injury that kept him out of this game — hadn’t managed a passing or rushing touchdown in any of his past four starts. And now Allen, only 23, is throwing four TD passes in a single game?

No wonder the Panthers’ locker room felt as light as one of Pennywise’s red balloons on Sunday, but without any of the residual creepiness. The Panthers finally had something go right Sunday. And then another thing. And then so many things that — after two straight home games that were embarrassments — Carolina found an embarrassment of riches.

Much of this was due to Allen, whose poise after a first quarter strip-sack botched the Panthers’ first drive was contagious. “Kyle did a great job today,” said running back Christian McCaffrey, who contributed 153 rushing yards and a career-long 76-yard TD run himself. “He made plays all over the place.”

That he did, playing only about half an hour from where he grew up with the sort of calm demeanor that you would expect of someone with a whole lot more than the two NFL starts Allen now has.

Allen had a few bursts of emotion — particularly a high-stepping routine worthy of a collegiate drum major when he threw his fourth and final TD pass to Olsen on a beautifully lofted pass to the back of the end zone. But mostly he seemed unfazed, unhurried and unsurprised that an undrafted free agent who was out of a job for much of the 2018 season would play this well. In doing so, Allen has given Panthers fans something to talk about — and something of a quarterback controversy to debate.

“For me, it’s just football, man,” Allen shrugged. “I just kept telling myself to have a plan when you come to the line of scrimmage. Don’t make it more difficult than it is.”

Allen said he would actually talk to himself as he readied for the snap on each play, saying: “Have a plan, have a plan.”

The plan kept working. “He just stepped in the huddle with the energy, like he’d been in the huddle all season, like a veteran quarterback,” said Curtis Samuel, who caught Allen’s first TD pass. “He wasn’t nervous. He wasn’t shaken. He just delivered passes.”

Allen’s four-touchdown passing performance was the first time that had happened for Carolina since Newton threw four against Green Bay in December 2017.

Allen’s 144.4 quarterback passer rating — based on his 19-for-26 completion rate for 261 yards, four TDs and zero interceptions — was the second-highest mark ever by a Panthers quarterback in a single game (minimum 10 pass attempts). Newton, again, holds the record with a 153.3 rating against Atlanta during his MVP season of 2015.

Now let’s step back for a moment. Kyle Allen isn’t Joe Montana or Tom Brady. Postpone the coronation. No need to get the Hall of Fame gold jacket sized up quite yet. This was the Carolina Panthers (1-2) playing a very good game against a very bad team — Arizona is now 3-15-1 since the start of the 2018 season.

What does it mean for the long term? Hard to tell. The Panthers have seen brief bursts of brilliance at the quarterback position before that flamed out — I remember watching Matt Moore once out-dueling Brett Favre. Then again, what happened Sunday is kind of the way an undrafted free agent like Jake Delhomme began his career, too.

With Allen, the Panthers have somebody who looks like they can play in the NFL. If you dismissed what happened in Week 17 of last year against New Orleans as a fluke, you couldn’t so easily dismiss this one.

“In his second start, you have to tip your hat to how well he played,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Allen.

“I think he’s real confident in who he is as a football player,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He was a very heralded player coming into college, he had a good college career and I think he’s just confident that he has that kind of ability. He’s got a lot of swag, which is kind of interesting when you watch him, and he’s been able to back it up.”

With Newton possibly sidelined for one or more weeks, Allen is going to get more opportunities. Ron Rivera is deeply loyal to Newton and he said Sunday that Newton would definitely return to being the Panthers starter again once he’s healthy.

“He’s our quarterback and he’s who we rely on,” Rivera said of Newton. “But for now, we’re going to stick with Kyle, and we’ll keep rolling and see how things unfold as we go forward.”

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”