Kyle Allen performs under pressure in first NFL game


CHARLOTTE -- The events of Sunday's game against Atlanta were about as unconventional as Kyle Allen's journey to the NFL months prior.

But, even after being cut from the practice squad in September before being resigned in October, the rookie quarterback stayed ready.

After Taylor Heinicke, who earned his first NFL start in place of the injured Cam Newton, sustained an injury midway through the second quarter, Allen was suddenly next line to make his NFL debut.

"Today was all about confidence, you know what I mean? You got to go in and play confident," he said. "Over the years, you build up this confidence that you know what you can do as a player and you know what you can do when you have confidence in the players around you."

With the Panthers' training staff tending to Heinicke in the locker room, Allen's chance finally arrived.

On first-and-10 from the Atlanta 38, Allen's first three snaps helped sustain a surging Panthers drive: a handoff to running back Christian McCaffrey for a 4-yard gain, a pass completion (his first in the NFL) to McCaffrey for 2 yards and another McCaffrey handoff for no gain. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro came on to close out the series with a 50-yard field goal.

Allen's next four snaps allowed him to work up a real sweat. Following a 2-yard McCaffrey rush, Allen completed three straight passes to get into Atlanta territory. A 9-yard completion to wideout Curtis Samuel, a deep 24-yard pass to receiver Jarius Wright and a 3-yard pass to McCaffrey gave Allen a perfect 100-percent completion percentage on the day and put Carolina on the Atlanta 26.

Heinicke would return two snaps later at the two-minute warning to finish the remainder of the game, but, Allen, a former five-star recruit, made a nice impression in limited action.

"It didn't seem like it was his first NFL snaps. It was his first week dressing. The moment wasn't too big for him. He did a great job," said guard Greg Van Roten. "We didn't know if Taylor was going to come back or not, so we were riding with him. He was confident, made a couple throws and was just playing ball."

Head coach Ron Rivera said that while the "rookieness" was visible, he felt Allen "handled his situation well" in his first bit of Sunday action.

Coming off the bench wasn't a new situation for Allen, but the 22-year-old said those moments helped him prepare for the one he had in Week 16.

"I've been in a situation before where I've been a backup, so I understand that you got to be ready at the drop of a hat just like what happened today," Allen said. "Obviously, it was devastating for Taylor; the hit was pretty gnarly but you just got to clear your mind and go do what you're supposed to do. You practice this stuff all year, you game plan all week for weeks, so you're used to it.

"Just go in and when your number's called, you make plays. That's what you're paid to do."

After going undrafted in April, Allen didn't have to wait long to receive a call from Carolina, who signed him soon after the draft.

Prior to that, Allen started 14 of 20 games at Texas A&M from 2014-15 before sitting out the 2016 season after transferring to the University of Houston, where he started in three of his five appearances in 2017.

Fast forward eight months - and two stints on the Panthers practice squad - and Allen found himself lining up behind long-time center Ryan Kalil against the Falcons as an active member of the 53-man roster.

Losing the home finale is far from what the Panthers wanted, but having the chance to play Sunday after a roller coaster of a year gave Allen a much-needed spark as his first year comes to an end.

"It means everything. I think it's a testament of my mindset and who I am. I'm not gonna quit, I'll keep coming to work every day whether they call me, cut me, they bring me back," said Allen. "I'm gonna come and I'm going to do my thing every day.

"I appreciate them trusting me and giving me that opportunity to go out there."