CHARLOTTE – As the media milled around the Panthers locker room Monday, looking for interview targets in the final hour before the team dispersed at the end of the season, a pair of starting quarterbacks chatting at their lockers were barely noticed.
“We have supported each other through it all,” Kyle Allen said after receiving congratulations from Taylor Heinicke on his standout showing in Week 17. “We know the amount of work and the amount of struggle that we’ve gone through the last couple of years. There’s a lot of respect there.”
It’s way too early to forecast what Carolina’s quarterback situation behind Cam Newton will look like in 2019. Newton missed the last two games because of a chronically sore throwing shoulder. Head coach Ron Rivera didn’t offer a medical update Monday, only saying, “I’m pretty excited about him going forward.”
Rivera also has reason to be excited about a situation behind Newton that has been turned on its head.
When training camp began in July, Garrett Gilbert was Newton’s presumptive backup, having served as the third-stringer behind Newton and Derek Anderson for the final 10 games of the 2017 season.
But Heinicke, claimed off waivers by the Panthers in April, beat Gilbert out for the backup job and got his first NFL start in Week 16. Heinicke played well before an elbow injury limited him. He managed to play through the pain save for nine snaps, which resulted in four attempts and completions by Allen, an undrafted rookie who was signed off the practice squad to back up Heinicke.
Heinicke landed on injured reserve after the game, elevating Allen to the starting spot – with Gilbert signed to back him up – for the season finale at New Orleans.
Allen faced a challenging set of circumstances, but he faced them head-on.
“Those are my favorite types of situations to be in - no one expecting that you’re going to do it,” Allen said. “It was just such a great opportunity to prove the people who believe in you right and prove people who don’t wrong. I like those opportunities.”
Allen, in a word, was amazing, turning in a performance that made him a candidate for the Pepsi Rookie of the Week (you can vote for Allen here). He led the offense to touchdowns on its first three drives against New Orleans’ first-team defense, rushing for one touchdown and throwing for one as Carolina built a 20-0 lead. He made it 30-0 late in the third quarter on a 53-yard strike to Curtis Samuel before a hard hit to his throwing shoulder turned it over Gilbert for most of the fourth quarter.
“Taylor came in last week and did some really good things, and Kyle got his opportunity and did some real good things. Even when Garrett (waived Monday) got a chance, he put some good numbers up, too,” Rivera said. “It’s kind of nice because I think it reflects on how hard those guys work and the work their position coach has done with them.
“And as far as the offense, it speaks very well to what the potential is for this offense going forward.”
Allen said his shoulder injury isn’t anything serious, saying he expects that it will take just a couple of weeks at his California home for it to be a thing of the past.
“Then I want to put on a little more weight to become a little bit more durable,” Allen said. “I also want to work on my feet.”
The contract Allen signed when promoted from the practice squad runs through the 2019 season. That doesn’t come close to guaranteeing that a guy who was terminated from Carolina’s practice squad early in the season will be a part of the 2019 plans, but Sunday’s showing sure makes for a good last impression.
“Win or lose or however I performed, I was going to go into the offseason looking at it the same way, but it’s good to go in it that way for sure,” Allen said. “I think it certainly helps it. I’ve always loved being here. I love the coaches, love the staff here, all the players here. I want to do everything I can to stay here.”