CHARLOTTE – Sam Darnold threw three interceptions, two on back-to-back drives, as the Carolina Panthers dropped their third straight home game with a 24-6 loss to the New England Patriots.
Darnold started the game despite spending the majority of the week in concussion protocol and battling a right shoulder injury. The Panthers activated Darnold on Saturday after he split reps with backup PJ Walker in the last two days of practice. The Carolina QB said he didn’t believe the lack of work during the week contributed to his poor play.
“I was ready. The coaches had me ready to play,” Darnold said. “Going out there and making those decisions that I made on the picks, that’s something I can’t do no matter how many reps I get during the week.
Carolina Head Coach Matt Rhule said he believed in Darnold going into the game, and said he didn’t give any thought to benching him in a second straight losing effort.
“I thought he was going to have to play his way out of it. The shame of two of the interceptions was they were inside the third when we were about to get points,” Rhule said. “I pulled him two weeks ago, he played a really good game last week, I wanted to give him a chance to play his way out of it. Just seemed like the right thing to do.”
The Panthers forced two turnovers including an interception by ex-Patriots DB Stephon Gilmore and a sack/fumble forced by Brian Burns which Frankie Luvu recovered. Carolina lost the turnover margin, however, thanks to Darnold’s three picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Rhule said that’s a trend that can’t continue if the Panthers want to win games.
“We just can’t continue throwing the ball up, we have to protect the football. Those are decision making things that we’ve talked about, and here we are Week Nine it hasn’t happened,” Rhule said.
New England’s success came with their ability to stay on the field on third down, converting 6-of-14 opportunities. Conversely, the Panthers struggled converting third downs, succeeding on just 3-of-11 attempts.
The contest saw the return of Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey, who said he “felt good” following his first action following five missed games due to an injured hamstring. McCaffrey’s return didn’t give the Panthers the jolt they had hoped in the running game as his 52 yards contributed to a paltry 78 yards rushing by Carolina.
The Patriots ran the football efficiently, gaining 151 yards on 39 attempts. Panthers defensive end Haason Reddick said he’s at a loss for why Carolina couldn’t get stops defensively.
“I thought we did a good job against the run at first. Evidently after a while, they had plays that were hitting, it seemed like moreso yards after contact,” Reddick said. “I believe even I could have done better. Just gotta go watch the tape and try to rally the guys together to see how we can regroup and get this thing in the right direction.”
Reddick also took up for his teammate Burns, who suffered an injury at the hands of Patriots QB Mac Jones on the sack/fumble. Jones appeared to pull at Burns leg while he was on the ground, a play which Reddick called “egregious” no-call.
“I definitely thought it was a dirty play. I thought it was completely dirty,” Reddick said. “Hopefully it’s something that the league addresses.”
Carolina had to deal with the Burns injury, but also two starters departing on the offensive line due to ailments. Matt Paradis suffered what Rhule called a “somewhat serious” knee injury in the first quarter, while Cam Erving left with calf injury in the second quarter and did not return.
Darnold failed to lay the blame of inconsistencies at the feet of the patchwork line, but he did field questions about his viability going forward as a starter.
“Guys tell me they trust me. I can’t turn the ball over,” Darnold said. “As far as I know, I’m (still) the starting quarterback.”
Carolina lost its third straight home game, after winning its first two at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers (4-5) hit the road next week, taking on the Arizona Cardinals (7-1) at 4:05 PM in Glendale.