Panthers bench Sam Darnold in loss to Giants; HC Matt Rhule says QB will start next week

Another bad outing led to the premature end of Sam Darnold's day.

Down 15-3, the Panthers benched their starting quarterback early in the fourth quarter against the Giants on Sunday in favor of backup P.J. Walker.

Carolina went on to lose the game, 25-3.

"Just felt like we needed some sort of a spark," head coach Matt Rhule said of the decision to sit Darnold. "Not that anything was necessarily him, I think it was all of them. Hoping P.J. would go out there and make a run or do something to kind of get us going. Sam will be our quarterback next week, he'll be our quarterback moving forward."

The Panthers face the Falcons in Atlanta next Sunday.

Darnold finished 16-of-25 for 111 yards, threw an interception and took three sacks. Walker didn't fair much better in garbage time, completing three of his 14 attempts for 33 yards; he also took three sacks over the course of four drives.

Few could've predicted the 45-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal that concluded the game's opening series would be Carolina's first and last points. With Darnold under center, the Panthers accumulated just 128 total net yards, punted on five of their eight drives and looked completely out of sync. Their best drive -- nine plays, 52 yards -- came in the second quarter and ended with an interception by former Panthers corner James Bradberry on the NYG 5 after a Darnold misfire.

"The last thing I wanted to do is embarrass somebody, because I know this is going to be the story this week. ... Sam will define who he is. Like, this is up to him,'' Rhule added.

Since beginning the season 3-0, Carolina has struggled mightily over the last four weeks, getting outscored 116-77 and putting forth a poor effort in all three phases.

The startling drop off inspired Rhule to openly critique the play of Darnold and the team at-large in the days leading up to Sunday's game. "Sam's not playing well enough," Rhule said before adding that the entire offense has not been up to par.

As has been the case since he entered the league, the spotlight is squarely on Darnold's head. Like Rhule previously eluded to, the entire team is struggling to find its way but that does not make up for the questionable decision-making the 24-year-old continues to show. Plays like the safety he surrendered during the Panthers' third series are a prime example of that.

When asked afterwards if he deserves to keep his starting spot, Darnold replied, "Yeah. Ultimately it's not my decision to make that," according to The Charlotte Observer. How he responds on the road next week will be fascinating to watch.

A matchup against the reeling Giants figured to be the club's chance to get back to its winning ways but it wasn't meant to be. Darnold's benching is a clear sign that there are still more than a few things the team still needs to work on in the weeks to come.

"We have to coach way, way better. There's no doubt. But we also have to play better," Rhule said. " ... Everyone who walks into that building this week, starting with me, has got to have a sense of urgency that we should've had the last couple weeks and it feels like it during the week but it doesn't show up on Sundays. So, at some point, it's got to change."

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