CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A year ago, it seemed almost impossible to imagine Kyle Allen as an NFL starting quarterback.
Well, to everyone but Allen.
With the Panthers placing Cam Newton on injured reserve Tuesday, Allen will have the opportunity to start at least 14 games this season. Despite going undrafted and spending most of 2018 either not on an NFL team or relegated to the practice squad, the 23-year-old says he knew he would one day have this opportunity.
"To be honest, I always expected to be in this position," Allen said. "I kind of always thought I was going to be here, even with all that stuff that happened in college. I expected that at some point I was going to get back here, so to sit back and think about, 'Oh, it's cool,' it's not who I am."
All that stuff was beating out eventual Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick Kyler Murray for the starting job at Texas A&M . then losing the job . then transferring to Houston . losing his job again . and eventually going unselected in the 2018 draft.
Allen's confidence and calm demeanor have been on display over the past six weeks as he guided Carolina to a 5-1 record while questions about Newton's return continued to be thrown his way.
After a college career that included losing the starting job at two different schools, the chance to show what he can do at the professional level for any length of time was a massive opportunity.
But all of the uncertainty surrounding the length of his tenure is gone.
With eight games to go (five of which are against playoff contenders), this is Allen's team. Not only has he helped guide the Panthers to five wins, but coach Ron Rivera acknowledged that he had already taken on a leadership role.
Taking on that role was clearly important for the young quarterback because for so long the Panthers have been the 2015 NFL MVP's team.
"We trust in 7," edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. "Cam's a helluva player, but life goes on. He knows that. We know that."
After Allen's hot start — four touchdown passes in a return home to Arizona, and winning his first four games of 2019 — his performance has dipped. In the past two games — a loss at San Francisco and a win over Tennessee — he has thrown the only four interceptions of his career and has completed just 52.2% of his passes.
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That's more than a 13% decrease in accuracy compared to his first four starts, when he threw for 901 yards and seven touchdowns.
And if he's sacked twice on Sunday, he will become the first Panthers quarterback sacked at least two times in seven consecutive games since Jimmy Clausen during the 2010 season.
Although his performance this season hasn't been spectacular — he is 29th in completion percentage this year (60.7 percent) and has been sacked on 9.5% of his pass attempts (fourth-most), Rivera thinks eliminating the distractions surrounding Allen's job security will only help.
"I do think that clarity will help him," Rivera said. "It's one of those things where now, 'If I don't play well back to back, something's going to happen immediately.' No, this is the situation, these are our circumstances and we're going with them."
Allen, however, disagrees. He feels that the certainty of the starting job won't change a thing about he feels after a game, poor performance or not.
"I was never looking over my shoulder, honestly," Allen said. "My job is to, from before he went on IR, my job is to get ready to play every week and when someone told me it's not my week to play anymore, then that's when I would stop playing. It's still the same thing right now."
Per usual, everything is status quo for Allen.
He will have an opportunity to prove his cool this weekend in a game that couldn't be bigger for the Panthers.
Not only will they be facing a strong NFC contender coming off a bad loss to the L.A. Chargers, but Carolina is traveling to Green Bay for a game that is expected to feature freezing temperatures and someone named Aaron Rodgers.
Add to that how Allen grew up rooting for the Packers because his dad's side of the family is from Milwaukee, it's hard to imagine a much bigger game after learning you're taking over the starting job for good.
But this is Kyle Allen. Playing cool no matter what the circumstances. With no one else around to take his job, the Panthers believe in him.
"We've been rolling with Kyle since Week 3, you know? After Week 3, 4, 5, 6 — after you continue to see it, how are you not a fan?" safety Tre Boston asked. "We support each other, so it's easy for us all to hop on board because it's what we're about. It's a brotherhood, and if we truly believe in the next man up, that's how we have to (conduct) ourselves."
Photos: Green Bay Packers struggle on road in 26-11 loss to Los Angeles Chargers