Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season gets underway on Thursday, September 23 (8:20 PM ET, NFL Network) as the Houston Texans (1-1) host the Carolina Panthers (2-0) in an interconference matchup. This marks only the sixth all-time meeting between the two franchises, with the Panthers holding a 3-2 series advantage. Carolina has won each of the past three meetings, including a 16-10 victory in Houston in Week 4 of the 2019 season. Running back Christian McCaffrey led the way in the win, totaling 10 receptions, 179 scrimmage yards (93 rushing, 86 receiving) and a rushing touchdown.
Carolina enters this game with its first 2-0 record since 2017 and will look to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2015, when the Panthers started the season by winning their first 14 games and advanced to Super Bowl 50. Last week in their win over New Orleans, quarterback Sam Darnold passed for 305 yards, his fifth-career game with at least 300 passing yards, and two touchdowns for a 99.1 rating. Darnold will be looking to surpass 275 passing yards in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. His top target last week was wide receiver DJ Moore, who had a team-high eight receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. He has at least 90 receiving yards in two of his past three against the AFC South. Wide receiver Robby Anderson, who had a touchdown catch in Week 1, had seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in his only career game against Houston (December 15, 2018 with the Jets).
McCaffrey enters Week 3 with a league-best 324 scrimmage yards (170 rushing, 154 receiving) and leads all running backs with 14 catches. In three career games on Thursday Night Football, he has 255 scrimmage yards (85 per game) and four touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing). Linebacker Haason Reddick has recorded 1.5 sacks in each of his first two career games as a Panther this season. Defensive end Brian Burns also had a sack last week and aims for his fifth in a row with a sack, tied for the longest active streak in the league. Rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, recorded his first-career interception in Week 2.
Houston rookie quarterback Davis Mills is expected to make his first-career start on Thursday. Mills, who was selected in the third round (67th overall) out of Stanford in the 2021 NFL Draft, passed for 102 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut last week. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks led the team with nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 and is aiming for his fourth consecutive game with at least 75 receiving yards. He also has a touchdown reception in three of his past four games. Running back Mark Ingram had two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) in his last game on Thursday Night Football (December 12, 2019 with Baltimore) and he leads all active running backs in career rushing yards (7,450) and rushing touchdowns (63). Running back David Johnson has 487 scrimmage yards (121.8 per game) and three rushing touchdowns in four career games on Thursday Night Football. Running back Phillip Lindsay had a touchdown catch in Week 2 and is one of two players in the league with both a rushing and receiving touchdown this season.
Linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the Houston defense, as his 176 tackles since the start of the 2020 season are the most in the NFL. Fellow linebacker Christian Kirksey recorded a fumble recovery last week and is one of three players in the league with both an interception and fumble recovery this season. Safety Justin Reid had an interception and forced fumble in Week 2 and is one of two players with an interception in each of the first two weeks of the season.
Thursday’s contest marks the second of eight games exclusively televised on NFL Network this season and will be produced by FOX. The game will feature Joe Buck, Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews and Kristina Pink on the call.