Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule explains why he benched Sam Darnold on Sunday

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Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule had enough of Sam Darnold’s poor play.

Early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game at the New York Giants, Darnold was benched in favor of Panthers backup quarterback PJ Walker. Walker’s first drive didn’t fare much better than any of Darnold’s, as it ended with a three-and-out (and a sack on third down).

Darnold’s day before his early exit: 16-of-25 passing for 111 yards and an interception.

Rhule said after the game that he and his coaching staff came to the decision to bench Darnold gradually — after an uninspired first half and several drives in the third quarter that just didn’t “feel the way it’s supposed to feel.” He called a third-and-2 incompletion with 7:48 remaining in the third quarter the “tipping point” in his decision.

“The last thing I want to do is embarrass somebody because I know this is going to be the story this week,” Rhule said. “But you go back to the olden days, before all the pressure, quarterbacks would have to go sit for a little bit and have to come back. So we’ll see. Sam will define who he is. This is up to him.”

Rhule emphasized that Darnold is still the Panthers’ starter.

“Sam will be the quarterback,” he said. “I just wanted to get something going today. I just felt like this was it. PJ is always ready, but as long as Sam does the right things, he comes back.

“Obviously (Darnold) is going to be disappointed. But if you’re a competitor, you’ll show up this week. And I know he’s a competitor, and he’ll show up this week.”

Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold sits on a cooler in the bench area during the game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, October 24, 2021 in Rutherford, NJ. Darnold was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter and replaced with backup quarterback, PJ Walker.
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold sits on a cooler in the bench area during the game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, October 24, 2021 in Rutherford, NJ. Darnold was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter and replaced with backup quarterback, PJ Walker.

Sam Darnold benched after 4 bad starts

Sunday marked Darnold’s worst performance to date as a Panther. He led an offense that only converted on 2 of 12 third downs and notched about 140 yards on 44 plays.

It’s worth noting Darnold was limping for much of the second half. It’s unclear when he started to hobble, but it likely was caused by one of the three sacks and 10 quarterback pressures the relatively unheralded Giants’ defensive front caused.

Darnold’s play has deteriorated without running back Christian McCaffrey next to him in the backfield. In his first three games, the young quarterback threw for an average of 296 yards a game and had notched six total touchdowns. He became the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for at least 300 yards in three straight games.

Since McCaffrey’s injured absence, though, Darnold has looked lost. That was particularly clear in his team’s overtime loss to Minnesota, when he threw 41 passes but only connected on 17 of them and took four sacks.

Carolina trailed the New York Giants, 15-3, at the time of Darnold’s departure and lost 25-3.

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