Carolina Panthers fans give Sam Darnold an earful in his return
Following a five-game absence due to a shoulder injury, Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold returned to the field in Week 16 to face Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers – much to the chagrin of Panthers fans in attendance.
When the former face of the New York Jets took the field for the first time against Tampa Bay, boos cascaded down from the bright blue stands of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Boos from the crowd as Darnold comes in at QB pic.twitter.com/DZsEjHqdYW
— Carolina Blitz (@KeepBlitzin) December 26, 2021
Panthers fans booed when Sam Darnold entered the game at QB 😬
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) December 26, 2021
Carolina head coach Matt Rhule spoke about the boos after the game.
“You know, I come from Philadelphia. To me, it shows that people care,” Rhule said. “Walking off the field, people booing – we are not winning. I have no problem with that. People spend their hard-earned money to come watch us play. It is part of it when you are the head coach, when you are the quarterback. That is all part of it. It makes it that much better when you win.”
Rhule – who was in the mix for the Jets’ head coaching vacancy in 2019, which eventually was filled by Adam Gase – heard negative chants of his own from fans. “Fire Rhule” chants could be heard throughout the game.
“Fire Rhule” chants 👀 pic.twitter.com/gSKiHD7fFT
— andrew 🐝 (@AndyFromCLT) December 26, 2021
“I much prefer passion over apathy. I much prefer pressure over nothing,” Rhule said. “I could do something else. I think our fans have been great. They support us and you know sometimes you need to be booed. … What fans deserve is they deserve a winner. They saw a really good team early in the year and they’re not seeing it right now. I understand their frustration.”
Regarding the boos for Darnold, Rhule said, “Now for Sam, I hate it for him, because all he has done is played hard and got hurt. He is just not Cam and what Cam means to so many people. But Sam was able to handle that. I have no issue with our fans.”
Darnold did not start the game against Tampa Bay, but rather, he partook in a quarterback platoon employed by Rhule, sharing reps with Cam Newton (who got the start). Darnold would end up getting more action than Newton, playing 44 snaps (63% of Carolina’s offensive plays) to Newton’s 26 (37%).
It was a rough return for Darnold in what amounted to a 32-6 loss, the third of Darnold’s career at the hands of Tom Brady. He completed 15 of 32 passes for 190 yards and no touchdowns while taking four sacks. The defeat officially eliminated Carolina from playoff contention.
Darnold’s first season outside of New York quickly went downhill after a hot start and has yet to stop plummeting.
Over his first three games, Darnold averaged 296.0 passing yards per game, had six total touchdowns to only two turnovers, and earned a 99.0 passer rating, all while leading the Panthers to a 3-0 start.
Across his seven appearances since then, Darnold has a 1-6 record while averaging 184.0 passing yards per game with six total touchdowns, 11 turnovers, and a 57.8 passer rating.
Darnold’s injury following the Panthers’ Week 9 game prompted the team to bring back Cam Newton, who started four of the five games missed by Darnold. That experiment went poorly as Newton lost all four of his starts and earned a passer rating of just 64.6.
Shortly after acquiring Darnold from the Jets for three draft picks in April, the Panthers picked up his fifth-year option for a fully-guaranteed $18.858 million in 2022. Barring another trade, he will be sticking around in North Carolina next year.
As for the short-term, there is still no indication from Rhule as to who will start at quarterback for the Panthers in their Week 17 game at New Orleans or whether the team will still use a platoon approach.
The only thing that is certain for Carolina is that Darnold should be safe from further booing with the Panthers’ final two games set to be played on the road.