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Bryce Young took "control" of the Panthers offense, en route to his best game

Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE — For DJ Chark Jr., Sunday was the start of something special.

Bryce Young, the Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback, No. 1 overall pick and the passer that's been tasked with giving the Queen City a king again, put together a coming-of-age performance. The Panthers left Bank of America Stadium on Christmas Eve with a loss, a 33-30 defeat to the Green Bay Packers, but also with a hope that springs anew.

Because on Sunday, Young had the best game of his short career. He finished 23-35 with 312 passing yards, two touchdowns with no turnovers. His passer rating of 113 was nearly 10 points higher than his next closest game. And to Chark, it's just the beginning.

"There's so much more to come," Chark said Sunday of his quarterback. "He's making plays, he's comfortable, but that's who we know him to be, at least in this locker room. We do, we believed in him the whole way through. Three, four or five years from now, he's gonna be definitely at the top, if not one of the top QBs."

Bryce Young

It's a bold statement for a team sitting at 2-12. Yet Chark delivered the proclamation with unwavering confidence; much like his quarterback delivered on the day.

"He was in complete control," interim coach Chris Tabor said. "He knew exactly how the game was being played."

That control was evident not only in the actual plays, but each facet of the game Young touched.

"In and out of the huddle, being consistent with the calls and making the reads," Chark explained. "If things not there, it breaks down, he's able to save us and get us some yards or do something. So, yeah, I would say he was in control. And he's continuing to improve every week."

The Panthers first offensive drive opened with what would have been a three-and-out if not for a Packers penalty on the punt that kept the ball moving. Three plays later, the Panthers punted again. Short gains and overthrows defined the first six offensive plays. The second drive proved, however, they wouldn't define the day.

The subsequent drive, facing second-and-5 from his own 36-yard line, Young found tight end Tommy Tremble down the seam. Tremble hurdled a defender for a few extra yards and when the dust had settled, the Young-to-Tremble connection had picked up 32 yards. From there, the drive stalled, but it was enough to put the Panthers in Eddy Piñeiro's range and get on the board.

Bryce Young

By the time the second quarter rolled around, the Panthers and Young had found a groove they'd been looking for all season. It was evident in plays like the 19-yard throw in the flat Young made to Chark, with double coverage on his receiver and Preston Smith baring down in his face.

It flashed in moments like the 17-yard crosser Young delivered in stride to Adam Thielen on the same drive, or the first offensive play of the fourth quarter, when he rolled right on a bootleg and lofted a pass over Jaire Alexander's head and placed perfectly for Thielen to make a one-handed catch.

"Man, impressive," Thielen said, when asked about what Young showed against the Packers. "Really the stuff that I saw and a lot of us saw in OTAs, training camp. Just that confidence, that kind of attitude. And then, you collectively make some plays for him, and watch out, he's got the hot hand, as we say. So, obviously super impressive and excited to build on that."

Added Young, "I think it's as good as we've looked as a unit and, whatever the stats or whatever may say, you point at one person and you say, oh, it's a good game, I think it's all of us. I think this was a good building block for us as a unit … we all stepped up."

The rookie QB's shining moment on the day, however, was inarguably the late fourth-quarter touchdown to Chark. Facing first-and-goal from the Packers 10-yard line, Young had to scramble right off play action. Buying time with his legs, Young waited for Chark to pull off his defender and create just enough space. From there, the former Heisman Trophy winner threaded the needle to Chark.

"We were kind of a full field," Young explained, "was able to step up and find a lane to extend. Great job again from DJ breaking off his route, working with me in the scramble drill."

Added Chark, "Whenever he needs a play, I want to be there and make it for him and be that guy."

There are some caveats to the box score. Young was facing a defense that is in the bottom 10 of the league, allowing an average of 349.9 yards per game. And, at the end of the day, the Panthers didn't come away with the win. A 19-yard pass to Thielen with 13 seconds remaining put the ball firmly in Pińeiro's range, with a chance to send the game to overtime, but the Panthers couldn't get the ball clocked in time to give their kicker a chance. That's what Young will remember most over the short Christmas break.

"The sting is that we lost. You can try to make up any moral victory but we do this to win," Young said.

Rookie years, though, are as much about learning, connecting and finding out exactly what one can do in the NFL. In that way, Bryce Young and the Carolina Panthers took a huge step forward on Sunday. It's what gives Chark the confidence to declare Young will be one of the best quarterbacks in the league in a few years. It's what gives him the confidence to say it even now.

"Obviously that's speaking in the future, but just right now, he's continuing to work his way to it," Chark said. "To whom much is given, much is required, and he's coming to work every day. So, I'm happy for him."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16.

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