CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bryce Young outplayed C.J. Stroud on Sunday in a rare matchup of the top two picks of the draft in their rookie season and helped the Carolina Panthers to their first win, a 15-13 victory over the Houston Texans.
Young moved the Panthers (1-6) in position for Eddy Pineiro‘s walk-off 23-yard field goal at Bank of America Stadium by completing five of his final six pass attempts. The top pick of the draft finished 22-of-31 for 235 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
He also rushed four times for 11 yards, including a 7-yard scramble on the game-winning drive that used up the final 6:17.
Stroud, taken No. 2 by the Texans, completed 16 of 24 pass attempts for 140 yards and no touchdowns.
When asked afterward how the showdown against Stroud went, Young responded, “Sorry, what did you say?”
When the reporter asked again, Young said, “Big showdown?”
When it was made clear the question was about him and Stroud, Young laughed and said, “Oh that.”
“We’re two teams,” Young continued. “C.J. is my dawg. I have a ton of love and respect for him. It’s not a one-on-one game out there. I’m super, super happy for this team, to be a part of this team.
“A really resilient win. … It took everyone. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”
This was only the fifth time the top two picks of the same draft met as rookies since the common draft era began in 1967. The last such matchup featured Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson of the New York Jets in 2021.
The second pick won three of the four previous meetings. Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts over Ryan Leaf and the Chargers in 1998 was the exception.
Stroud appeared to have the upper hand in this one with the Texans entering the game 3-3 and their quarterback playing at a Rookie of the Year level.
Young had struggled, owning the worst Total QBR rating in the NFL for qualified quarterbacks at 32.1 and one of the worst passer ratings (76.2) during his 0-5 start with one start missed due to an ankle injury. Young struggled so much that some critics were saying the Panthers made a mistake selecting him over Stroud.
On this day, Young had a career-best 103.6 passer rating, well ahead of Stroud at 81.9, and got the game ball.
When asked if the win took the pressure from the outside noise off him, Young brushed it off as he did the career-high six sacks that constantly had him playing from behind on Sunday.
“We didn’t have pressure,” Young said. “We just had urgencies. As a group, that urgency came from this building. It wasn’t from outside stuff. It wasn’t from anyone else. That doesn’t go away.”
But Young did show some emotion, particularly when Frank Reich gave him the game ball after what was Reich’s first win as the head coach of the Panthers.
“It’s definitely exciting for me,” Young said. “As we all know, wins aren’t easy to come by in this league. It’s great to get on the board, great to get a win. We’re super excited. Right now, it’s a time for us to enjoy it and have fun.
“Tomorrow we have to come back and watch film. We have to keep building off this. That’s a long journey. That’s a long road.”
Stroud made it clear earlier in the week that Young was playing better than most gave him credit.
“I don’t think in any way, aspect or form he’s playing bad,” he said. “That’s what people think if you’re not winning or you have a turnover here or there. Bryce is playing some really good football.”
Afterward, Stroud said he was happy for Young.
“His first win,” he said. “That’s big for him. Hopefully, he catches momentum.”
For Reich, the win and some of the plays Young made at least showed a glimpse of why he was sold on Young as the top pick from the start of the draft process.
“He’s just got all the instincts, all the playmaking ability, all the throws, great composure, seeing the field great,” Reich said after his first game since giving offensive coordinator Thomas Brown the playcalling duties. “So good things ahead.”