Armando Salguero: Sam Darnold Resuscitates Career In Carolina? Not So Fast

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We’ve been through two whole weeks of the NFL season. And while many people, including some within the NFL, believe every week is a referendum about the league’s players, coaches and teams, that’s not exactly true.

Every week, especially the ones early in the season, are merely a snapshot in time.

Yeah, I know. That’s not sexy or the stuff of clickbait.

But it’s wise.

And with that in mind, I present to you the Carolina Panthers and their quarterback Sam Darnold.

The Panthers are 2-0 and could likely be 3-0 after Thursday night because they’re facing the Houston Texans, which are keeping starting quarterback Deshaun Watson in bubble wrap until they can trade him, have backup (yes, that’s the truth of it, regardless of what the Texans say) Tyrod Taylor out because of a hamstring injury, and have third-teamer Davis Mills slated to start against the Panthers.

Mills, a rookie third-round pick, has thrown 18 NFL passes.

This has the makings of a rough night for the Texans and another win for the Panthers, especially if one considers Carolina’s defense played only 44 snaps against New Orleans on Sunday. So the unit that limited the Saints to one touchdown should be more than fresh enough for the Mills-led Houston offense on a short week.

All this amid the fact Darnold and coach Matt Rhule are getting a lot of compliments for their work after two weeks.

Darnold, an escapee from the New York Jets asylum, is playing well. He’s got a 100.5 QB rating after two games.

“We have a lot of confidence in Sam,” Rhule said. “At the same time we’re also going to continue to coach him everyday. There’s not going to be any days off until the end of the year, you know, there’s not going to be like, ‘Hey great job’ for none of us.

“Because Sam doesn’t want that. Sam wants to get better and Sam wants to improve. We’ll coach the good things. We’ll coach the bad things, and all of us, players and coaches alike we’ll try to get better.”

And this is where we reach for that wisdom I spoke of earlier.

The Narrative Industrial Complex is now telling us Darnold is suddenly a new man and an excellent player because he’s gotten around Rhule and Carolina’s better offensive talent and this is just fact now.

Except that is more of a prediction than a statement of fact.

Because we’ve seen only two games, folks. And Darnold has had similar streaks of clarity with the Jets before that signified nothing.

In his rookie year he had consecutive great outings against Houston and Green Bay. In those two December 2018 games, Darnold completed 48 of 73 passes for 594 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

His combined QB rating those two games was 113.6.

Better than his QB rating now.

In November of 2019, Darnold had consecutive great games against Washington and then Oakland. He completed 39 of 59 passes for 608 yards with six TD passes and one interception.

His combined QB rating those two games was 132.5.

Better than his QB rating after two games this year.

After each of those two games years ago, the narrative about Darnold was that he’d found himself. That the light had switched on in his head. That the game had slowed down and he’d arrived.

But eventually that narrative faded and then turned almost 180 degrees as Darnold played more games.

And, I get it, this is a new place without nearly the same media pressure. This is a new team, new coach, and new system in Carolina. Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady have reputations of running innovative schemes and raising the play of their quarterbacks.


So how do they explain Teddy Bridgewater?

The same people who are now suggesting Darnold is headed for better days because the Carolina coaching staff has gotten hands on him and is molding him into a finished quarterback have no explanation for Bridgewater.

Bridgewater signed with the Panthers last year after inconspicuous years with both the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. He arrived kind of the way Darnold arrived this year, with some promise and hope.

But Bridgewater was mostly just functional under Rhule and Brady. And the Panthers decided after the season that Bridgewater wasn’t it. Not good enough.

They decided they needed to upgrade and Darnold is that guy — at least for this year.

Except Bridgewater, now in Denver, is so far better than Darnold. He’s producing more than Darnold and playing better in Denver than he did under Rhule and Brady in Carolina.

Bridgewater has completed over 75 percent of his passes in each of his first two games this year. He’s sixth in the NFL in passer rating at 120.7, which is so far nearly 30 points higher than his 92.1 rating with Carolina.

To summarize:

Sam Darnold has had two games in which he’s played well, which means he’s found a home in Carolina because the team has greater talent and because he’s being coached better.

Except he had similar two-game performances with the Jets multiple times before regressing to the mean and forcing the team to find somebody new.

And the Panthers, with outstanding coaching, have raised Darnold’s game after two games so these guys really know how to improve young quarterbacks.

Except Teddy Bridgewater, who was with the Panthers last season, is playing better in Denver and playing better than Darnold so far.

Got it.

Darnold may become much better as this season progresses. He might become much better than he ever was with the Jets.

But to say he’s that after two games? Not so fast

Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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Written by Armando Salguero


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  1. Good read. I agree, let’s pump the brakes on Darnold. Dude faired much better vs the Saints D than Rodgers but he also only beat the Jets by 5. Unless Matt Ryan and the Falcons continue to suck I think Darnold pans out to be the 4th best QB in the NFC South.

  2. I can tell you the obvious difference in Bridgewater and Darnold. Christian McCaffrey. The guy was out most of the season injured last year with Bridgewater running the show. That’s quite a gigantic piece of the offense missing that Darnold now has at his disposal. Bridgewater is a very good NFL QB, and I have said that repeatedly. He was handed a crappy hand last year losing McCaffrey, he took the blame, Denver saw the opportunity and wisely signed him. Denver now looks great. Bridgewater is the same guy; nothing changed. Darnold was in a similar situation in NY, but had no McCaffrey out injured – his team just stunk naturally. You can’t blame QBs for not producing on suck-tastic teams with no playmakers or o line. That’s like expecting an Indy car driver to compete to win while driving a pace car. Trevor Lawrence and Zac Wilson are now getting the same dumb treatment Darnold and Bridgewater got last year. They’re driving pace cars.

    • Yup. McCaffrey being out last year was huge. Bridgewater was the scapegoat in Carolina. They’re honestly probably pretty even as far as capability/talent but Darnold is just younger w/out the catastrophic knee injury.

  3. Darnold went to USC and no QB from that school has ever won anything in the national felon league not one Palmer was prolly the best but again didn’t win a thing in a pretty long career so I agree on pumping the brakes a bit on this dude.

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