Rapid Reactions: Colts beat Panthers soundly in all three phases


The Big Headline

The biggest story heading into Sunday's matchup with the Colts was rookie quarterback Will Grier's first start.

The result wasn't the storybook debut Panthers fans had hoped to see for their new quarterback, as the Panthers fell to the Colts 38-6. Grier had an up-and-down day, finishing 27-for-44 for 224 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

Grier was put in a tough situation from the start. After back-to-back three-and-outs to open the game, the Panthers found themselves at an early 14-point deficit. On top of that, he didn't have much time to work in the pocket, getting sacked five times.

One thing that will always help a rookie quarterback out is running back Christian McCaffrey. CMC didn't have much going on the ground Sunday, but he hauled in a franchise-record 15 receptions for 119 yards.

McCaffrey was sensational on Sunday, as usual, setting multiple records including breaking his own record for most receptions by a running back in a season (109). McCaffrey's performance inched him closer to the 1,000-1,000 club, needing just 67 more yards with one game left on the year.

Disasters on special teams

Already facing a 7-0 deficit midway through the first quarter, the Panthers were forced to punt. After offsetting penalties on punter Michael Palardy's first kick, Colts head coach Frank Reich decided to force the Panthers to re-kick. It turned out to be one of Reich's best decisions all day.

On the ensuing kick, Colts return man Nyheim Hines shook the Panthers' coverage team and took the punt 84 yards to the house. Hines had already nearly taken one punt the distance, returning the Panthers' first punt 40 yards and giving the Colts a short field on their first touchdown drive.

The Panthers defense had barely given anything up yet and the team was already trailing 14-0.

Then, midway through the fourth quarter, Hines struck again with a 71-yard return for another touchdown. Sunday marked just the 10th time since 1995 a team has returned two punts for touchdowns in the same game. Two of those 10 have come against the Panthers, as the Broncos did the same on Nov. 9, 1997.

No action for Jackson

For the first time this season, Donte Jackson was a healthy scratch and didn't start at cornerback. Jackson started all 16 games last season as a rookie and was the team's No. 2 corner again this season when he was healthy.

Instead, Ross Cockrell got the nod opposite No. 1 cornerback James Bradberry.

What was more surprising, though, was the fact that Jackson didn't rotate into the lineup after a few plays. The Panthers opted to stick with the Bradberry-Cockrell duo and even chose to use Javien Elliott at nickelback instead of Jackson.

Cockrell made the most of his opportunity, leading the team with 10 tackles. Cockrell's best play came to close out the first half when the Colts elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 3-yard line. Cockrell met Colts running back Marlon Mack in the backfield and forced him out of bounds to force the turnover on downs.

While he may not have gotten any action in the secondary, Jackson saw a few reps on special teams, where he was penalized for the illegal formation that forced the re-kick.

We'll have to wait and hear Fewell's reasoning for sitting Jackson.

DJ Moore enters concussion protocol

When a rookie quarterback is making his debut, it's never a good sign when his top target goes down on the second possession.

That's what happened to Grier on Sunday when wide receiver DJ Moore left the game with 8:14 left in the first quarter. Grier tried to hit Moore on a quick slant, but Moore was shaken up on the play and later ruled out with a concussion.

Entering Sunday's game, Moore had recorded back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and led the NFL in receiving yards with 711 since Week 9.

View photos from Week 15 as Carolina visits Indianapolis.

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