Aug 26, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is forced from the pocket by the Buffalo Bills defense during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers QB Sam Darnold carted off with apparent ankle njury

Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold was carted off the field after sustaining an apparent left ankle injury in the third quarter of the Panthers’ preseason finale against the visiting Buffalo Bills on Friday.

Darnold was in the process of throwing an incomplete pass when Bill defensive tackle C.J. Brewer pulled the quarterback down, causing Darnold’s left ankle to twist unnaturally under Brewer’s weight.

The injury ends a preseason in which Darnold lost a battle for the Panthers’ starting job to Baker Mayfield.

On Friday, Mayfield played Carolina’s first four offensive series, throwing two touchdown passes. He completed 9 of 15 passes for 89 yards.

Darnold entered in the second quarter and connected on 5 of 11 passes for 49 yards. He also ran for a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

The Panthers led 21-0 at the time of Darnold’s exit.

Darnold, 25, broke into the NFL with the New York Jets, who made him the third overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Southern California. He went 13-25 in three years as the Jets’ primary starter, then was traded to Carolina in April 2021.

Last season, Darnold finished 4-7 as a starter for the Panthers, connecting on 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 overall games.

In 50 career NFL games (49 starts), Darnold has a 59.8 percent completion rate for 10,624 yards, 54 touchdowns and 52 interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Jul 28, 2022; Spartanburg, SC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during the third day of training camp at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers QB Baker Mayfield to start preseason opener

Baker Mayfield will be the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers’ preseason opener Saturday afternoon at Washington.

The team announced Saturday morning that Mayfield will take the first series against the Commanders and Sam Darnold will take the second. PJ Walker and rookie Matt Corral will handle the rest of the game.

Mayfield, acquired in a July 12 trade with the Cleveland Browns, and incumbent starter Darnold have alternated reps with the starters throughout training camp.

Head coach Matt Rhule has called determining a Week 1 starter an “ongoing process.”

“When we know, we know,” Rhule said. “If we knew for sure, we would say it and just move on with it. When we, we know. Every day brings new evidence. Every day brings new insights. But at the same time, they’re both competitors. If one guy has a strong day, the next guy fights back the next day. I think it’s been healthy for our team. It’s been healthy for the staff. I think it’s been done the right way. I’m pleased with where it’s at.”

Mayfield, 27, completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 14 starts last season for the Browns.

Darnold, 25, completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games (11 starts) for the Panthers in 2021.

Mayfield and Darnold were the Nos. 1 and 3 overall picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, respectively.

The Panthers also announced that defensive tackle Derrick Brown will miss the game for personal reasons.

–Field Level Media

Jul 28, 2022; Spartanburg, SC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during the third day of training camp at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers coach Matt Rhule: No QB decision imminent

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule seems to be a few weeks from deciding whether it will be Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield taking the snaps in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns.

Rhule told reporters Saturday that he intends to review the quarterbacks at least until after two joint practices with the Patriots and the Aug. 19 preseason game against New England in Foxborough, Mass.

But that doesn’t mean Rhule is committed to naming a starter the following day, either.

“I’m not putting a timetable on the quarterback position until after we get back from the Patriots week,” Rhule said Saturday after both quarterbacks took part in a scrimmage. “The Patriots week is a true litmus test for us. That will really show us where guys are.”

Neither Darnold nor Mayfield achieved separation on Saturday, apparently. Rhule said he saw positives from both quarterbacks in the scrimmage, but he remembered the negative, too.

“The disappointing thing is each guy had an interception,” Rhule said. “We’ve got to protect the football.”

Darnold opened the 2021 season as the Panthers starting quarterback, aiming for a fresh start after the New York Jets decided to part ways with him and traded him to the Panthers.

In 12 games (11 starts) in 2021, Darnold posted a 4-7 record. He completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He missed five games with a shoulder injury.

In his four seasons with the Jets and Panthers, Darnold, 25, is 17-32 as a starter, throwing for 10,624 yards with 54 touchdowns and 52 interceptions.

Mayfield, 27, was 29-30 as the starter with the Browns and completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 14,125 yards, 92 touchdowns and 56 interceptions in his four seasons in Cleveland.

In an injury-marred 2021 season, Mayfield was 6-8 in 14 games started. His 3,010 yards and 17 touchdowns were career lows. He also threw 13 interceptions.

The two quarterbacks will be forever linked. Mayfield was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, while Darnold was selected third overall.

Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round with the addition of Josh Allen (No. 7, Buffalo Bills), Josh Rosen (No. 10, Arizona Cardinals) and Lamar Jackson (No. 32, Baltimore Ravens).

–Field Level Media

Jul 20, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield looks on before the game between Charlotte FC and Chelsea FC at Bank of America Stadium. at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey healthy, won’t evaluate QBs

Christian McCaffrey encountered something new upon his arrival at training camp with the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday. No, not another quarterback battle.

“I feel great — the best I’ve ever felt,” he said Tuesday of ongoing durability questions. “Feeling fast, healthy. Ready to rock.”

McCaffrey spent the weekend working out with dueling quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield and said the thing that stood out was “they have massive chips on their shoulders” to prove they are worthy of No. 1 billing.

He described the quarterbacks as “two professionals, great players who have seen a lot in this league. They’re both hungry.”

But McCaffrey said it isn’t his job to “evaluate quarterbacks.”

“It’s not our job to look forward or look to the past, but show up, do your job — do whatever I can to help my team win,” he said.

If you have two starting quarterbacks you have none, the old adage goes, and head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers are about to give the modernized version a test.

For at least the early portion of training camp and the preseason, the Panthers have two starters — Mayfield and Darnold. A competition that could last the month of August is the way Rhule plans to decide who starts in Carolina.

“To me, my job is not to pick the starting quarterback,” Rhule said Monday. “The players will do that with the way they play. My job is to make sure that we have really good players in the room, which we do, and make sure that they have opportunities. So it’ll be a fun ride and when we know we’ll know.”

Mayfield is the newest addition to the Panthers’ quarterback carousel.

After a 3-0 start to 2021, the Panthers won two of their final 14 games and capped the season with seven straight losses while Darnold, Cam Newton and PJ Walker took turns under center.

Mayfield was available because the Cleveland Browns acquired Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans. He played through injuries in the second half of last season and had 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.

“This year, I expect to win. I want to win,” Rhule said. “I’ve never had, going into the season saying, ‘Oh I want to win this many games and keep my job.’ I’m not doing that, man. I want to win at the highest level.”

McCaffrey’s health is critical, to the point Rhule has already said he won’t play in preseason games again.

“I’ll be ready to go, excited to be healthy,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey has been riddled with injuries since his All-Pro season of 2019, part of the reason he said his dorm room at training camp looks like one part training room and one part “Four Seasons.”

“It’s probably the boujeeist room on the team,” McCaffrey said.

He didn’t play in the preseason in 2021 and said he’s working to “adapt” but he trusts the plan.

“I would hold him out of all the preseason games again,” Rhule said. “I think he’s had enough hits on his body. But I think, just as we move forward, we’re gonna have a little bit of a different strategy practice-wise with him.”

McCaffrey, 26, played 91 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2018. In 2019, he played 93 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps and led the NFL with 2,392 yards from scrimmage. Of them, 1,387 were rushing yards, and he ran for 15 touchdowns.

He added 116 catches for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns.

After that season, McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension. And because of a variety of injuries, he’s played in just 10 of 33 games over the last two seasons, totaling 1,159 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Jun 15, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) and quarterback Matt Corral (9) and quarterback Davis Cheek (4) walk to their next drill at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers’ Matt Rhule gives QB Sam Darnold vote of confidence

Carolina coach Matt Rhule said quarterback Sam Darnold would be the Panthers’ starter if the season began now.

“Sam’s gotten a lot better,” Rhule told reporters at Thursday’s minicamp practice. “Really, really improving in the offense and if we played today, Sam would be our quarterback.”

The vote of confidence for the 25-year-old Darnold sheds a little light on the club’s evolving signal-caller situation.

Carolina has been linked to Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield ever since he requested a trade in March. In April’s draft, the Panthers traded up to select Ole Miss signal-caller Matt Corral in the third round. The team also has veteran P.J. Walker and undrafted rookie Davis Cheek on the roster.

“Sam’s job is to take the next five weeks, make sure he shows up to (training camp) better than what he is right now,” Rhule said. “He said to me yesterday how good he feels footwork-wise in the offense. He’s got to get to training camp and improve and he’s got to do it with the pads on with people trying to knock you down.

“You look at the quarterbacking world from high school through college now, it’s so much 7-on-7 a lot of guys can throw it — it’s what you do when guys are trying to chase you down. So, those are his steps. He knows that, I know that, (offensive coordinator) Ben (McAdoo) knows that, that’s our job as coaches is, our job is not to think hey we need to go get this, go get that — that’s (general manager) Scott (Fitterer’s) job — our job is to get Sam as ready as possible.”

Darnold compiled a 4-7 record in his first season with Carolina in 2021, completing 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Drafted No. 3 overall by the New York Jets in 2018, Darnold is 17-32 as a starter with 10,624 passing yards, 54 TDs and 52 interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

QB Sam Darnold back for Panthers, but Cam Newton to start

Sam or Cam?

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule showed his cards Wednesday as Sam Darnold returned to practice for the first time since being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

Rhule said Cam Newton, signed after Darnold was hurt, is still the starter but Darnold won’t be entirely forgotten.

Darnold “will play at some point” on Sunday vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rhule said, but he must clear all pregame hurdles in practice this week first.

Darnold has been out since a Week 9 shoulder injury, with the Panthers going 1-4 in his absence. Newton was signed by the Panthers on Nov. 12 and has started each of the last four games, but has been ineffective in the passing game.

Newton has thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions in his five appearances for the Panthers this season. He has also rushed for five touchdowns, but has coughed up four fumbles in his last two games.

The Panthers are just 5-9 and guaranteed to finish with a fourth consecutive losing season.

–Field Level Media

Nov 7, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during pre game warm ups before the game between the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers exploring options after Sam Darnold lands on IR

Head coach Matt Rhule said the Carolina Panthers will “explore any and all options” after placing quarterback Sam Darnold on injured reserve Wednesday.

However, Rhule said he would not get into hypotheticals when a reporter asked whether those options included longtime Panthers quarterback and current free agent Cam Newton.

Rhule said Darnold will be out at least four weeks with an injured throwing shoulder. He was diagnosed earlier this week with an incomplete scapula fracture.

The Panthers signed quarterback Matt Barkley off the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad on Tuesday, and Barkley is expected to be the backup Sunday to P.J. Walker against the host Arizona Cardinals.

A former XFL star, Walker relieved Darnold in the Panthers’ Week 7 loss to the New York Giants last month and went 3-for-14 passing for 33 yards, taking three sacks.

Walker, 26, won his only previous NFL start last season, completing 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Carolina’s 20-0 defeat of the Detroit Lions on Nov. 22, 2020.

After a 3-0 start, the Panthers have lost five of their last six, including a 24-6 defeat to the New England Patriots on Sunday. Darnold went 16-for-33 in that game with 172 yards, three interceptions and zero touchdowns.

Carolina acquired Darnold in April from the New York Jets in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022. They later shipped Teddy Bridgewater to Denver, lining Darnold up to earn his place as the franchise quarterback.

Darnold, 24, has started all nine games for Carolina in 2021 and has thrown for 1,986 yards, seven touchdowns and a league-high 11 interceptions with a 59.5 percent completion rate.

Barkley, 31, has appeared in 19 games for the Philadelphia Eagles (2013-14), Chicago Bears (2016) and Buffalo Bills (2018-20), mostly in a backup capacity. He made six of his seven career starts for the Bears in 2016. Barkley owns a 58.4 career completion percentage and a 1-to-2 TD-INT ratio (11 touchdowns, 22 picks).

Newton, 32, was cut by the Patriots on Aug. 31. The 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player was 68-55-1 as the starter in Carolina from 2011-19 and is the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards (29,041) and touchdown passes (182).

Also, defensive end Brian Burns did not practice Wednesday because of his ankle injury and said it would be nice to get an apology from Patriots quarterback Mac Jones but “it’s not gonna happen.” Then he added, “I would just like to play them again. And I wish all my fellow D-end brothers happy hunting.”

Jones grabbed Burns’ ankle and twisted it to tackle him as Burns was pursuing the football after Jones lost a fumble. Many of the Panthers considered it a dirty play.

–Field Level Media

Sep 19, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA;  Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) comes on to the field before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers’ Sam Darnold, Christian McCaffrey both active Sunday

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Christian McCaffrey are both active for Sunday’s game with the visiting New England Patriots.

Darnold cleared concussion protocol on Saturday, the same day McCaffrey was activated from injured reserve.

Darnold, 24, was considered a game-time decision after getting hurt in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 19-13 win at Atlanta.

He has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,814 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games in his first season with the Panthers (4-4).

McCaffrey, 25, has not played since Week 3 due to a hamstring injury. He is expected to be limited to about 30 snaps against the Patriots (4-4).

He rushed for 201 yards and a touchdown on 52 carries and caught 16 passes or 163 yards during the Panthers’ 3-0 start to the season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is injured and leaves the game after being tackled by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun (54) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers lose QB Sam Darnold (concussion) during win over Falcons

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is in concussion protocol after being knocked out of Sunday’s 19-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons during the middle of the fourth quarter.

Darnold was injured on a scramble in which he gained 8 yards to the Atlanta 3-yard line and was tackled by Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun.

He exited the game and was replaced by P.J. Walker.

Carolina coach Matt Rhule said he didn’t immediately know how long Darnold will be sidelined. He said the team will need to add another quarterback on the roster if Darnold’s absence is lengthy.

The Panthers (4-4) host the New England Patriots next Sunday.

Darnold, 24, completed 13 of 24 passes for 129 yards and rushed eight times for 66 yards prior to the injury.

Darnold, who was acquired from the New York Jets in the offseason, has passed for 1,814 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Walker threw one incompletion after replacing Darnold. The second-year pro made one start in 2020 and completed 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 20-0 win over the Detroit Lions.

Walker, 26, is 3-of-15 passing for 33 yards in two appearances this season.

Carolina has been rumored to be considering a trade for Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline.

–Field Level Media

Jul 28, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA;  Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a pass during the Carolina Panthers Training Camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers to debut Sam Darnold; D.J. Moore, Brian Burns hurt

Sam Darnold is suiting up for the Panthers’ preseason game Saturday and Carolina coach Matt Rhule plans to have the quarterback debut, if only for one series.

Darnold could play “one or two” series against the visiting Baltimore Ravens, Rhule said, but a final decision isn’t likely to be made until gametime.

Darnold was acquired from the New York Jets in an offseason trade and replaces quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who landed with the Denver Broncos.

The Panthers won’t know the status of two starters injured Thursday — wide receiver D.J. Moore and pass rusher Brian Burns — but neither is likely to suit up for the weekend exhibition.

Burns watched practice with a wrap on his shoulder and Moore left a joint workout with the Ravens on Thursday with stiffness in his back.

–Field Level Media