With the Panthers and Jets both losing in Week 10, their rivalry has been overshadowed by a much more interesting story. The New York Times reported that Sam Darnold’s carriage was adorned with an orange and black pumpkin to honor Halloween, but it has now reverted back to its underwhelming pumpkin form.
After Sam Darnold was traded from the New York Jets to the Cleveland Browns, his car became a pumpkin.
Highlights of the article:
- The good days for Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers have come to an end.
- In his past three games, the fourth-year quarterback has thrown six interceptions.
- If Darnold wants to remain in Carolina, he has to build on a strong finish to Week 6.
Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers were the NFL’s greatest story what seems like an eternity ago. The New York Jets were collectively chastised on social media for giving up on Darnold, the third overall selection in 2018, so early.
Okay, we can continue to point and laugh at the Jets, but Darnold isn’t exactly looking like Cinderella at the moment.
After a great start to his Panthers career, Sam Darnold has fallen back to earth.
We could write a 250-word poem on Darnold’s latest performance and what went wrong. However, there are instances when it’s better to let the numbers speak for themselves.
- In the Panthers’ first three games, Darnold completed 68.2 percent of his throws for 888 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He also scored three touchdowns on the ground. During that time, Carolina went 3-0.
- In the Panthers’ next three games, Darnold completed 54.7 percent of his throws for 685 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions. He also scored two touchdowns on the ground. Carolina was defeated in each of its three games, including two at home.
To be fair to Darnold, not all of those problems are his fault. Christian McCaffrey, the All-Pro running back, is out again, and the receivers have battled with drops. Carolina also traded tight end Dan Arnold to the Jacksonville Jaguars in late September, after he had zero drops on 11 targets through the first three games of the season.
Still, a quarterback’s completion percentage dropping almost 14 points in three games isn’t a good indication. Darnold’s completion percentage of 61.2 is in line with his career average of 60%.
If Darnold wants to stay in Carolina, he’ll have to improve on his late-game performance against the Vikings.
In his first season with the Panthers, Darnold is at a fork in the road. Given the rebuilding condition of the Atlanta Falcons and the early inconsistency of the New Orleans Saints, the Panthers’ 3 -0 start looked to be enough to get them into the playoffs.
At 3-3, the stakes have shifted dramatically. In the Panthers’ 34-28 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, Darnold led an 11-play, 96-yard touchdown drive late in the game. But don’t forget that the Vikings intercepted his first throw of the game, leading to an early three-point lead. In theory, the Panthers would have won 28-25 if it hadn’t been for that field goal.
Darnold will need to improve on his late-season performance in Week 6 and attempt to go back to his September form if he wants to remain in Carolina for the long term. Although it’s unrealistic to expect Darnold to avoid mistakes as consistently as he did in the first three games (his career touchdown-interception ratio was 52-46 through Week 6), his early performance should instill some optimism.
Darnold isn’t going to last much longer if he continues playing like the quarterback that was kicked out of New York. Limiting turnovers and attempting to complete as many passes as possible are the keys, at least for now. No one expects Darnold to start throwing no-look passes like Patrick Mahomes or slicing apart defenders with his legs like Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson.
Darnold is also still distant from Adam Gase. Isn’t that supposed to explain something?
If Darnold can’t turn things around, the Panthers aren’t doomed.
Sam Darnold of the Carolina Panthers looks like his old self, which is terrible news for the former USC quarterback. | Getty Images/Grant Halverson
From the outside, this season looked to be a proving ground for Darnold and the Panthers. If he performs well enough, the club may consider signing him to a long-term contract and retaining him as the franchise quarterback.
To begin with, the Panthers are in a rebuilding year, so missing the playoffs won’t be the end of the world. Head coach Matt Rhule may need to make a few adjustments, but 2022 is the Panthers’ big year. Right now, the objective should be a 9-8 season (or better) with lots of room for improvement heading into next year.
Darnold’s fifth-year option was picked up by the Panthers this spring, guaranteeing him $18.8 million in 2022. Let’s not pretend, however, that his financial responsibilities bind him to the starting position. If Darnold can’t turn things around, the Panthers might be smart to look for a new quarterback.
The Houston Texans’ fifth-year quarterback, Deshaun Watson, may be traded next spring depending on how the Deshaun Watson scenario plays out. The Panthers would have the 15th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft as of this writing, which is likely too low to draft Ole Miss standout Matt Corral, who might go as high as No. 1.
Darnold’s carriage has returned to a pumpkin for the time being. He still has a few months to find his glass slipper, get a big deal, and live happily ever after… at least until he has to face Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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