Sam Darnold rushed for two touchdowns as the Carolina Panthers maintained their perfect start to the season with a 24-9 victory over the depleted Houston Texans on Thursday.
Panthers quarterback Darnold opened the scoring for the Panthers with a five-yard rush midway through the first quarter and then sealed victory after barreling over from one yard in the fourth quarter to make it 24-9 with four minutes remaining.
It capped another composed performance from Darnold, who is rebuilding his career with Carolina after being jettisoned by the New York Jets after three seasons earlier this year.
The 24-year-old also threw for 304 yards from 23 of 34 attempts as the Panthers moved to 3-0 for the season with a well-deserved road victory.
But it was a rough debut for Texans quarterback Davis Mills, making his first career start in the absence of the injured Tyrod Taylor and Deshaun Watson, who remains in the cold as he battles multiple sexual assault allegations.
Although Mills found Anthony Miller for a second quarter touchdown, he was given a torrid first outing, finishing with 168 yards.
Victory came at a cost for the Panthers however, who lost star running back Christian McCaffrey with a hamstring injury in the first half.
The Panthers started on top, with Darnold leading an 88-yard drive midway through the first quarter before rushing for his first touchdown.
With both offenses struggling to generate momentum, the remainder of the half descended into a punting competition.
The Texans punted their next three possessions but were somehow still in the game as the half drew to a close.
Carolina's third punt of the half gave Houston one last chance to get on the board and this time Mills took his chance, making four completions to advance the ball upfield before finding Brandin Cooks for an 11-yard gain.
From there, Mills hit Miller in the end zone to make it 7-6. Kicker Joey Slye missed the extra point attempt.
The Panthers regained control when rookie running back Tommy Tremble rushed from seven yards to make it 14-6 before Zane Gonzalez's 21-yard field goal extended the lead to 17-6.
Slye's 53-yard field goal field goal put the Texans to within one score at 17-9 but Darnold's second rushing touchdown of the night made the game safe.