NFL

Steady Darnold steps up to lead Panthers to another win

By Sports Desk September 24, 2021

Sam Darnold may never develop into the kind of quarterback who can truly carry a team, but he has been exactly what the Carolina Panthers needed so far this season.  

Despite losing his top offensive weapon early in the second quarter, Darnold turned in yet another efficient if unspectacular performance on Thursday, helping the Panthers defeat the Houston Texans 24-9 to remain unbeaten.  

Darnold did not throw a touchdown pass, but he ran for two TDs and avoided turning the ball over as Carolina remade their game plan on the fly after Christian McCaffrey left the game with a hamstring injury.  

"It's always hard playing without one of your best players, but Sam stepped up and did a tremendous job tonight," tackle Cameron Erving told reporters. 

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule did not speculate on how long McCaffrey might be sidelined, but the Panthers had plenty of experience playing without him last year as he missed all but three games due to ankle and shoulder injuries.  

Darnold was not around for that, and like everyone else in the locker room will be hoping for a speedy return by the All-Pro running back.  

McCaffrey's departure during Thursday’s game just put more responsibility on Darnold's shoulders, but he handled it calmly.  

"We're starting to find our identity as an offence," Darnold said. "I've just got to, whatever play is called, we've got to execute that play. That's my job, is to get us in the right play and make sure we're hitting on all cylinders, and the offence is moving in the right direction." 

According to Stats Perform, Darnold is the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to throw for at least 250 yards and win in each of his first three games with a team. Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs is the only other QB to do it.  

Darnold is a different kind of quarterback to Mahomes, but he suddenly has one hallmark of the Kansas City star's game: confidence.  

"One thing about Sam: he has some moxie, man," Rhule said. "I mean, it's him just playing within the system but also I think he has a courageousness, but he's not crossing the line and going over the top. He's protecting the football." 

Turnovers have always been a key concern around Darnold – he had 39 interceptions and lost nine fumbles in 38 games with the New York Jets – but he has only two turnovers this season, just one of them an interception.  

That improved ball security has prompted the Panthers' coaching staff to give Darnold a bit more leeway.  

"If you watch the way we called the game, it means we trust him," Rhule said. "Even in that last drive, we were throwing four verticals with him. 

"I just think in my mind, I say to myself all the time, these are professional football players. Let them go play. Don't try to over-manage the game. Let them go make plays." 

Of course, the season is only three games old, and the Week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys will provide the most difficult test yet – particularly if McCaffrey is unavailable.  

But the much-maligned 24-year-old has earned some respect with his performance so far.  

"Sam, he's a gamer," said Panthers linebacker Haason Reddick. "Guy's a flat-out baller right now." 

Related items

  • Cowboys head coach McCarthy to miss Saints clash due to COVID-19 protocols Cowboys head coach McCarthy to miss Saints clash due to COVID-19 protocols

    The Dallas Cowboys have confirmed head coach Mike McCarthy will not take be able to attend Thursday's game against the New Orleans Saints due to COVID-19 protocols.

    ESPN reported on Monday that McCarthy, whose side have lost three of their last four games following a six-game winning streak, had tested positive for coronavirus.

    The reports stated the Cowboys had suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 within their team camp, with starting right tackle Terence Steele, three offensive coaches and two strength coaches having to withdraw from Thursday's game.

    Dallas subsequently confirmed McCarthy would not take to the field against the Saints due to COVID-19 protocols, though did not state if he had contracted the virus.

    The statement also confirmed the team would conduct its Monday meeting virtually, with McCarthy cleared to carry on working in a remote capacity ahead of the game.

    Dallas (7-4) sit top of the NFC East heading into Week 13, while New Orleans are third in the NFC South with a 5-6 record in 2021.

  • Patriots blocking out the noise after stretching win streak to six Patriots blocking out the noise after stretching win streak to six

    The New England Patriots are ignoring the noise surrounding their six-game winning streak after maintaining that run by brushing aside the Tennessee Titans.

    A dominant second-half showing propelled the Patriots to a 36-13 win over a banged-up Titans team that had previously been the top seed in the AFC.

    It is now the Patriots who have their eye on the number one seed after displacing the Titans, with only the Baltimore Ravens (8-3) above the 8-4 Patriots in that race.

    But head coach Bill Belichick and his players are giving little regard to talk of their playoff positioning with five games still to play in the regular season.

    "Eight games – look, eight games isn't enough to clinch anything or win anything," said Belichick. "We have a long way to go."

    Edge rusher Matthew Judon, who registered another sack to take his tally to 11.5, insists the Patriots are in the same place mentally as they were prior to the winning streak and rejected claims of this being a statement victory for New England.

    "It is the same confidence. We didn't change, we won't waver and it is the same confidence we had when we were 2-4," Judon replied when asked about their confidence level.

    "It doesn't matter if it is a tight game or a blowout, our confidence won't change and we won't waver as a team, as a unit and as players. We come in this building to work every day and we are only going to continue to get better."

    "I think someone asked me that a couple weeks ago and the statement or whatever you want to call it, is we have to come out here and win every single game.

    "One week at a time so if we don't give up any points and no yards, that game is a statement and every week we have to strive for a statement win.

    "If you want to call this a statement or if you just want to call it the next game, we just have to take it week by week and go out there. The statement for us is on to the next week."

    The Patriots face the Buffalo Bills, whom they have leapfrogged for the AFC East lead, in Week 13.

    And wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who scored two touchdowns against the Titans, believes that could be the game to give a clear picture of where the Patriots stand.

    "I don't think there is a ceiling at all. We try to emphasise that. [Matthew] Slater just talked to us after about not getting overzealous about ourselves," said Bourne. "Just being in the moment and playing each game, each week, and thinking about that game.

    "We're onto Buffalo now and that's the focus. That'll be good for us to just certify ourselves."

  • Watt: Steelers' defense 'absolutely embarrassing' in Bengals rout Watt: Steelers' defense 'absolutely embarrassing' in Bengals rout

    T.J. Watt described the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive performance as "absolutely embarrassing" after they were routed 41-10 by the Cincinnati Bengals.

    The Steelers suffered their first season sweep at the hands of the Bengals since 2009 on Sunday, stretching their winless run to three games.

    The humbling defeat leaves the Steelers 5-5-1 but still within striking distance of the final AFC Wild Card spot, which is currently possessed by the Los Angeles Chargers, who defeated Pittsburgh 41-37 in Week 11.

    Bengals running back Joe Mixon gashed the Steelers for 165 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Steelers have given up an average of 180.5 yards on the ground over the last four games.

    Though they are still in the mix for the playoffs, star edge rusher Watt knows that will change if they cannot stem the tide on defense.

    "It wasn't something any of us are proud of," Watt said. "You never want to have that feeling coming out of a game. We put it on tape and now we have to own it, move forward and know that everybody sees what just happened and what we can expect moving forward.

    "We have to stop this before it continues to unravel and become a bigger issue than what it already is. We can't keep playing like this. It's absolutely embarrassing.

    "We're trying to solve it and clearly we're not doing a good enough job. We have to go back to the film and everyone has to look at the film and watch themselves critically and figure out how to stop this thing because it's continuous."

    Head coach Mike Tomlin shared Watt's sentiments.

    "It's alarming, it is," Tomlin said of the amount of points conceded. "We're not trying to play it cool by any stretch.

    "We don't play football like that, but we have been our last couple of weeks, so some adjustments need to be made."

    The Steelers' final six games are all against playoff contenders. They face the Baltimore Ravens twice and also have games with the Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

    And veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is under no illusion as to how those games will turn out if the Steelers cannot make said adjustments.

    Asked if this is the worst Steelers defense he has been a part of since being drafted in 2011, Heyward replied: "I don't know, I'm probably going to say yes.

    "I don't look at the past. All I can do is worry about the present. There's a lot of football to be played, but if we do what we did out there today, we won't win another damn game."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.