Sam Darnold made his season debut during yesterday’s win over the Broncos, serving as the third different option under center for the Panthers in 2022. His tenure back in the No. 1 role will not be a one-off, however.
Interim head coach Steve Wilks said on Sunday that Darnold will get the nod once again in Week 14 when Carolina plays Seattle following their bye. The announcement comes after Wilks had indicated his intention to have him see game action in 2022, which was confirmed with the Week 12 start. The team’s No. 1 option for most of last season, Darnold was long seen as a replacement candidate this past offseason.
To little surprise, the team brought in Baker Mayfield from the Browns through a trade the team had been eyeing well before it was consummated in July. It was the former No. 1 overall pick who won out Carolina’s training camp competition, but he struggled mightily before going down with a high ankle sprain. With Darnold having suffered the same injury in the preseason and being unavailable, Carolina turned to P.J. Walker as their starter for a stretch.
Mayfield was thrust back into the No. 1 role during Week 11, a 13-3 loss to the Ravens during which he threw a pair of late interceptions. Darnold’s return to health allowed him to guide the team’s offense yesterday, though, and help lead them to a 23-10 win. The USC product competed just 11 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown, but generated a passer rating of 103.8 and will have the opportunity to build on that performance this week.
With both Darnold and fellow 2018 draftee Mayfield pending free agents, the closing weeks of the season will be highly important for both of them from a financial perspective. Solid performances from the former could help erase the struggles of the past in Charlotte (and help earn him at least consideration for a deal to compete with injured rookie Matt Corral for a 2023 roster spot), which could also have an effect on the sidelines. With Wilks reportedly making a case to remain the team’s permanent HC, plenty will be at stake as the calendar flips to December despite the Panthers’ 4-8 record.