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Panthers' Kyle Allen gets reboot in place where it all started

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton has a swag that can be seen from the top row of the stadium. It’s as bold as the outfits the Carolina Panthers quarterback wears to postgame news conferences.

Kyle Allen's swag isn't as readily apparent. But his teammates believe it's there. Wide receiver D.J. Moore saw it when Allen stepped into the huddle for his first NFL start last season in Week 17 at New Orleans. He said it brings a smile to everyone in the huddle.

Those in the stands can’t see it. Allen isn’t aware he does it. Moore can’t even describe it, but he swears it’s there.

It’s one reason Moore and his teammates believe Allen will bounce back from a four-interception performance in a 29-3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons as the Panthers face a critical game for their playoff hopes on Sunday, when they return to New Orleans to face the first-place Saints (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

"You won’t see it unless you are in the huddle," Moore said. "It just comes out when the game is going on. You’ve really got to be in the moment with him.

“It’s a quick-second difference, and then he goes right back to where he was. Like in a snap. Anything can happen with Kyle."

Losing to the Saints (8-2) would all but end the Panthers' playoff hopes because the NFC wild-card leaders -- currently Minnesota (8-3) and Seattle (8-2) -- are almost out of reach, barring a collapse with six games remaining.

The Panthers (5-5) need Allen to play at his best. Unlike his debut on Dec. 30, 2018, this game has high stakes.

“I have to play good football if this team wants to win," said the 23-year-old Allen, who has nine interceptions in his past four games.

Looking back

The Panthers’ playoff hopes had long since ended when these teams met in last year’s regular-season finale. Carolina had lost seven straight after a 6-2 start.

The Saints had nothing to play for, either. With the NFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs secured, they rested most of their offensive starters for the game and most of their defensive starters for the second half. Carolina’s 33-14 victory and Allen’s two-touchdown, no-interception performance barely registered a blip on the NFL radar.

Now Allen and the Panthers are playing to avoid major staff changes by owner David Tepper, who on Monday said long-term mediocrity wouldn’t be accepted. To do that, they need Allen to play the way he did in his debut and the way he did in his first five NFL starts, in which he had nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

Allen completed 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. He showed confidence in himself and the offense the moment he stepped on the field.

“You could tell he was somebody we could get behind and play for," tackle Taylor Moton said. “Nothing’s too special for him."

Said Moore: “He wasn’t scared. He was just ready to show what he could do."

Allen didn’t have much to lose. He had been cut earlier in the season and, after being re-signed to the practice squad, wasn’t promoted to the 53-man roster until a Week 16 game against Atlanta. He got into that game only because backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, first up after Newton was shut down with a sore shoulder, was injured.

“I was just stoked to be in a uniform," Allen recalled. “Then Taylor went down in the second quarter, and I didn’t have time to blink. It was cool. It was like a welcome-to-the-NFL moment."

Memorable moment

Two of Allen’s more memorable moments in his first start were a first-down pass to Jarius Wright on fourth-and-7 and a 53-yard deep ball to Curtis Samuel. It was a revelation for an offense that had been devoid of the deep ball because of Newton’s bad shoulder, and Allen ran at full speed to the end zone to celebrate with his wide receiver.

“Kyle was doing well, and I was like, ‘OK, this guy can ball,’" Moton said.

The success carried into Allen’s first four starts this season after Newton reaggravated a Lisfranc injury suffered in the third preseason game.

Allen had seven touchdown passes and no interceptions after winning his first four starts. Then came a 51-13 loss to San Francisco in which Allen had three picks. In the words of coach Ron Rivera, Allen started trying to do too much. He went from becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to win his first five starts with no interceptions to looking like the player who was benched in college at Texas A&M and Houston because of turnovers.

But the Panthers believe that Allen, because of his unflappable personality, will be fine. As Tepper said, Allen still has played above expectations.

“With him and with who he is, he’ll bounce back," Rivera said.

Looking forward

Rivera met with Allen after Sunday’s loss to assure the QB that he hadn’t lost confidence in him.

“Learn. Learn from the experience you just had," Rivera shared of the conversation. “Take the good with the bad."

New Orleans coach Sean Payton recalled that Hall of Famer Troy Aikman started his career with an 0-11 record. Peyton Manning was 3-11 in his first season. Even Saints quarterback Drew Brees, also headed for the Hall of Fame one day, was 3-9 for the Chargers in his third NFL season.

“Look, he wouldn’t be in there if he wasn’t ready to be," Payton said of Allen. “Clearly when you watch him, he’s ready to. ... He’s handled this season with tremendous poise and has been a real good leader. ... He’s certainly someone that has good poise."

Allen accepts growth. He doesn’t accept mistakes. He says his confidence hasn’t been shaken by a few poor performances.

“I’ve had lows before," he said. “The confidence stays the same."

The look Allen gives in the huddle lets his teammates and coaches know it.

“It’s hard to explain," Moton said. “It’s like an on-off switch automatic. Nobody will be able to describe it because it happens so fast. If something big happens, he’ll get hyped and then right back to being calm.

“I’ll be like, ‘What?’ It’s a little scary."