CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are kind of past the point of being too careful.
Knowing their margin for error this season is gone, they went into the week prepared to take a few chances — with quarterback Sam Darnold taking a few shots over the top, as well as on special teams.
And they didn't wait long to try.
In the first quarter, the Panthers went to their bag of tricks out of punt formation, and it wasn't even a pass by punter Johnny Hekker.
On fourth-and-1 from their 38-yard line, backup safety and personal protector Sean Chandler took the snap before it got to Hekker and went up the middle for a 2-yard rush to convert and keep the drive alive.
Seven plays and 60 yards later, Darnold hit DJ Moore with a 5-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a lead they'd never give back.
"It was a way to set the tone early, something we had talked about all week long," Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks said. "We had a few up last week. It didn't really present the look, but we were trying to be aggressive."
While Wilks is a defensive coach and can lean conservative by nature (he loved the running for 185 yards and 37:03 time of possession), there's also a certain backs-to-the-wall mentality at work here.
Too often this year, the Panthers have spent too long on the field on defense, but the combination of running well and taking a risk gave them a chance to breathe early.
"Taking that chance," defensive end Brian Burns said of the fake. "He pulled it out at the right time and executed. We stole a possession, basically. That was big."
— Wilks loved having such a big time of possession advantage, and getting D'Onta Foreman back on track was a huge part of that.
Foreman had 24 carries for 113 yards Sunday, his fourth 100-yard rushing game since taking the lead role in the running game after the Christian McCaffrey trade.
And coming on the heels of a 24-yard performance against the Ravens, Foreman got the game he needed as well.
"I just had to bounce back from last week," Foreman said. "It was so horrible and terrible. I was so ready to play again, I don't know what to say."
Along with Moore getting over 100 yards (103 on four catches), the Panthers had some balance on offense for the first time in a bit.
"I think you guys called it out last week of how we can get DJ the ball more, how we could be more creative, so I think we got to get the ball to our stars," Wilks said. "I thought, again, the offensive coaches did a great job in trying to create that formula this week. D'Onta has to get his touches in order to get going a little bit. I think he had a little over 20 carries, and that is really his threshold right there. He has to get at least 20 touches to get going.
"Again, we created some good things with DJ just trying play-action to get over the top. I felt like we could really run by these guys. As good of a secondary they have, sometimes their squad sits on things, and it was good to see that."
— There was a scare in the fourth quarter when Burns was slow to get off the field and walked slowly to the medical tent.
He slammed his helmet to the ground in apparent frustration on the way, creating some reasonable concern.
He came out of the tent a moment later to flash a thumb's up to the crowd, and said afterward his emotion was anger rather than fear.
He explained that after taking a shot to the knee earlier, a Broncos tight end "chopped that same knee."
"I was hurting, but I was more pissed than hurt," he said. "I was pissed off because I hate that block."
Burns came back to finish the game, and had his second multi-sack game of the season, getting him to 10.0 sacks for the year.