Before the 2021 NFL season even kicked off, the Carolina Panthers decided to take quite the gamble.
They were placing their future in the hands of former New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, a player who noticeably struggled to live up to his first-round draft hype. Between bad coaching, a bad offensive line, a lack of overall weapons, and yes, poor play from Darnold himself, the Darnold era in New York turned out to be a complete disaster.
Early signs of a bounce-back season from Darnold occurring with the Panthers were promising. However, following some recent injury news out of Carolina, things could trend south rather quickly.
Sam Darnold is starting to come back down to earth
Before even discussing the key IR move the Panthers recently made, it’s important to highlight that the past two weeks haven’t been productive ones for Darnold.
He threw two interceptions during a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys and threw another three interceptions against the Philadelphia Eagles during an embarrassing home loss. Several mistakes and poor reads Darnold made during these two losses looked eerily similar to the mistakes he made with the Jets.
These two bad outings don’t negate that Darnold grabbed three straight wins to kick off the season. However, Darnold finds himself needing to earn the trust of his supporters back moving forward.
The Carolina Panthers just placed Christian McCaffrey on IR
One of the biggest reasons Darnold struggled against the Cowboys and Eagles is the lack of his top offensive weapon, Christian McCaffrey. The All-Pro running back is battling with a hamstring injury at the moment, and the latest update regarding his health was a negative one.
The Panthers placed McCaffrey on IR, ruling him out for at least the next three weeks.
McCaffrey is a quarterback’s ultimate best friend. His presence in the receiving game noticeably made Darnold’s life easier through the season’s first few games. McCaffrey caught 16 passes on 17 targets during Weeks 1-3, and that’s on top of the 52 carries he received.
McCaffrey is a huge part of the Panthers’ offense. In fact, you could safely go as far as calling him the team’s most important offensive player. Losing him for the next three games takes some serious wind out of the team’s sails and puts Darnold in a precarious position moving forward.
What next for Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers?
The Panthers’ upcoming schedule includes games against the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, and Atlanta Falcons. On paper, these are winnable games. The Panthers’ defense is still one of the better-coached units in the league. They should be able to keep the offense within striking distance during each of these three matchups.
With that said, no McCaffrey during these games means the pressure will be 100% on Darnold’s shoulders. This is a responsibility he’s proven unable to cope with thus far.
Whether with the Jets during his early years or with the Panthers over their past two losses, Darnold has shown us time and time again that he isn’t good enough to be the driving force to an NFL offense. Maybe that changes over the next three weeks due to a relatively easy schedule. However, it would be best if you didn’t hold your breath.
Darnold’s bounce-back season is in the process of crashing out of control.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.