CHARLOTTE – Sam Darnold threw for one touchdown and ran for another as he exacted his revenge in his first game against his old team, as the Carolina Panthers defeated the New York Jets, 19-14, in front of 70,211 at Bank of America Stadium.
Darnold found Robby Anderson for a 57-yard touchdown pass and scampered in for a five-yard score just before halftime, capping off just his second 200-yard passing half of his career.
The Panthers defense came to play as well, swarming rookie Jets QB Zach Wilson for six sacks, including one from Shaq Thompson, who led the team with 10 total tackles.
Thompson also picked off Wilson in the first half, making amends for a penalty he committed on the previous play that resulted in a first down. Before the game, the team announced that Thompson would change his jersey from #54 to #7, taking advantage of new rules on numbering made by the league before the season.
“Shaq has had a rebirth with the number 7,” Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule said. “He was all over the place. He’s a guy who can do a lot.”
The former Washington Husky reflected on what he called his “best game as a Panther”.
“It’s a big accomplishment to put it all together,” Thompson said. “We’re not done yet, there’s a lot of mistakes out there, but we made some plays that overrode the mistakes.”
Darnold looked calm and competent, despite the Jets’ defensive line getting the better of the Panthers in the second half. Darnold threw for 279 yards, all but 45 of them coming in the first half, on 19-of-28 passing.
The former Jet shook off any indication that this game had any higher meeting than just any other opponent.
“I’m not gonna lie. Seeing them on the other side [at the beginning] that was a little different for me,” Darnold said. “You kinda forget about it in the game.”
New York stayed pesky, scoring right at the two-minute warning on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Corey Davis, their second scoring hookup of the game. Carolina managed just one field goal after halftime.
Christian McCaffrey returned to the lineup for his first action since last November, touching the ball 30 times for 187 all-purpose yards. He also had an 18-yard run to secure a first down in the final moments to seal the game.
The guy they call “CMC” said he felt amply prepared for the workload.
“We practiced really physical, we had two joint practices that were pretty physical, and I think it’s important for me to have little contact before the season just to get used to it,” McCaffrey said. “It felt awesome just to be back out there with the guys, it’s been a long time.”
Rhule liked the composure from his quarterback, who withstood six quarterback hits from New York.
“We had some whiffs on some pass pros,” Rhule said. “[On] the deep play to Robbie, Christian [McCaffrey] blocked a defensive tackle by himself, we don’t make that play without him. Might have been his best play all day.”
Darnold’s lone blemish came on the third drive of the game, where the Panthers failed to score on a drive that stalled at the Jets’ four-yard line. The Panthers QB bumped into fullback Gio Ricci while preparing to hand the ball to McCaffrey, causing a fumble recovered by New York. The turnover punctuated a problem for Carolina that carried over from last season, inefficiency in the red zone. On three trips to the red zone, the Panthers managed just one touchdown and nine points overall.
The kicking game had its struggles in the game as well, as new kicker Ryan Santoso missed an extra point following Carolina’s first touchdown. Rhule also elected to punt from the Jets’ 34-yard line, passing up a 51-yard field goal, which is usually in the range of most placekickers. The Panthers can release Santoso before their second game against the Saints to keep from surrendering a conditional 7th-Round draft pick to the Giants.
Carolina didn’t come out of the game unscathed from an injury standpoint, either, as the Panthers lost DB Myles Hartsfield to wrist injury. Rhule said after the game he feared the injury was “significant”.
The Panthers will stay at home one more week as they open divisional play next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium.