Panthers QB Sam Darnold named starter for Week 17 game vs. Saints

Sam Darnold is back in the starting lineup.

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule announced Wednesday that Darnold would start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

It will mark Darnold's first start since he went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury after Week 9. Carolina went 4-5 in nine Darnold starts this season. Last week, the quarterback returned from IR and played 44 snaps in the 32-6 loss to Tampa Bay, as Rhule seesawed between Darnold and Cam Newton.

Newton heads to the bench after signing in Carolina following Darnold's injury. The Panthers lost all five games Newton started, including Week 16. Rhule noted that Newton "will be ready" if needed.

The move back to Darnold is the latest swerve from Rhule, who has churned through starting quarterbacks in his first two seasons in Carolina. The 5-10 Panthers are eliminated from postseason contention.

The team placed backup QB P.J. Walker on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday.

The Panthers' offense has been a mess in recent weeks, without running back Christian McCaffrey and sporting an offensive line that ranks among the worst in the NFL. Carolina couldn't consistently produce through the air with Newton under center, and the hope is inserting Darnold will inject life into the passing game.

Darnold didn't shine as a starter earlier this season, completing 59.4% of his passes for 1,986 yards, seven TDs and 11 INTs in nine starts. But he did have one of his best games against the Saints in a Week 2, 26-7 win. That afternoon, Darnold went 26-of-38 passing for a season-high 305 yards, two TDs and one INT.

Losers of five straight, Rhule hopes to get back on track with Darnold before heading into the offseason. The quarterback is under contract in 2022 for $18.585 million, fully guaranteed, after the Panthers picked up his fifth-year option.

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