Twelve weeks ago, it seemed like Allen’s bet hadn’t paid off. He was out of football after the Panthers waived him from their practice squad.
But at 12 p.m. local time Sunday, Allen will be in New Orleans starting for the Panthers in their season finale.
“It’s incredible to think that not that many weeks ago I was sitting on my couch waiting for a team to call me, and now I’m back here starting an NFL game in my rookie season,” Allen said. “It’s improbable, but I made sure I was prepared for this opportunity. I feel like I have been preparing the right way, and I think I’m going to do great.”
Allen, re-signed to Carolina’s practice squad on October 30, certainly looked prepared when pressed into service last week. Taylor Heinicke started in place of an injured Cam Newton in last Sunday’s home finale against the Falcons, but Heinicke exited early in the second quarter with an elbow injury.
Allen directed the offense for the next nine plays over the course of two drives, completing all four of his passes for 38 yards.
“Me and him are pretty close. I’m excited for him,” said Heinicke, who finished the Falcons game but went on injured reserve Wednesday. “He’s had a roller coaster of a season – being here, being home, being back – so it’s kind of cool. It’s like a late Christmas gift for him. I think he’s going to do well.”
Allen did well in his short audition against Atlanta.
“Entering the game, I didn’t really have any nerves,” Allen said. “It was quick. ‘Taylor is down. You’ve got to go in and make plays now.’ The preparation was there from the beginning, so I just went in, trusted my eyes, trusted my instincts and just played ball.
“I didn’t know what it was going to feel like when I got on the field, but I felt at home.”
Allen has the pedigree to suggest that he should be at ease on the football field, but things haven’t come easily for him. Ranked as the top pro-style quarterback in the 2013 high school class by Rivals.com, Allen picked Texas A&M and took over as the Aggies’ starter midway through his freshman year. But midway through his sophomore year he was benched, eventually prompting him to transfer to Houston. Early in the 2017 season, he lost the starting job there as well and opted for the NFL.
Allen performed well with the Panthers in the preseason, completing 25-of-38 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown, but realistically he was looking at practice squad all along with relative veterans in Heinicke and Garrett Gilbert battling for the backup job (Heinicke won it; Gilbert was re-signed this week to back up Allen).
“I’ve been studying the whole time,” Allen said. “Every week has been a preparation week like I was going to play, so this week is about timing and getting in rhythm with all the guys on offense.”
Allen has two MVPs on his side and in his ear to help him make the most of his opportunity.
“Cam has been great,” Allen said. “He’s in there helping us out, breaking down stuff. We played them (the Saints) two weeks ago, so he’s telling us what he saw on the field as far as how he felt about something and the different tendencies.
“Since being inactive, he hasn’t been inactive. He’s been locked in, and that’s awesome coming from a guy who was an MVP, number one pick.”
Kurt Warner wasn’t a No. 1 pick. He wasn’t even drafted out of Northern Iowa, but he went on to become not only a league MVP but a Hall of Fame inductee. Allen threw passes to Warner’s son, Kade, during his decorated prep career at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“Kurt just loves football. He breathes football,” said Allen, adding that he has talked to Warner this week. “When I’m around Kurt, I soak up a bunch of stuff.
“Seeing people like Taylor (Heinicke) and talking to people like Kurt, there are so many of those stories out there. Just for me to get an opportunity for me to be in a game like this and hopefully further my career and get a win for us, it’s amazing.”
View photos from the week of practice as the Panthers prepare for their game against the Saints.