For the first three or four weeks of the season, it appeared that a change of scenery was all that Sam Darnold needed – or rather, just to get away from Adam Gase. It worked for Ryan Tannehill, and Darnold was looking good and the Carolina Panthers were shockingly 3-0. But now a few weeks later, and that trend has reversed – the Panthers are now 3-3 and Darnold is looking shaky again. The question: is this a temporary slump for Darnold? Or were the first three weeks a fluke?
Sam Darnold is Falling Into Inconsistency Again
Darnold and the Panthers started off well, first with a revenge game for Darnold over the New York Jets. However, that is hardly much to boast about as the Jets have played very poorly most of the season. The same could be said for their Week 3 victory against the Houston Texans. The only remotely good team they beat during that 3-0 stretch was the New Orleans Saints, who have been quite inconsistent so far. However, there is no denying Darnold looked good during that time, passing for 888 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception along with three rushing touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 68.2%.
However, things have gone downhill from there. Losing to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 was not so shameful (given that they have been good so far), and despite Darnold throwing a couple of interceptions, he still had four total touchdowns. It was the next two losses to average/subpar teams that were concerning.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Darnold only had 177 passing yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. Then against the Minnesota Vikings, he went 17-for-41 with one touchdown and one interception. At one point he was 12-for-32 in that game, and only started to get things together late in the game.
Why the Inconsistency?
One might be tempted to look at the absence of Christian McCaffrey as the reason why Darnold and the offense have faltered in the last few games. But that does not entirely hold up; Chuba Hubbard has been doing fine and even has one 100-yard game of his own. And Darnold still has D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson to throw to. The issue is not necessarily a lack of weapons.
One might also suggest the easier early schedule during the first three weeks. And while the Jets and Texans both do generally fall into the dumpster fire category right now, the Eagles and Vikings are not exactly great either. The former is a poorly coached team in a state of flux with an occasionally promising young quarterback, and the Vikings are essentially being dragged along by a strong offense while being a mess otherwise. Losing to the Eagles in general is not a good sign and Darnold playing poorly against either of those two teams is not a good sign either.
Though one might be tempted to separate Sam Darnold’s time with Gase from the equation, it still bears mentioning here – because Darnold often played inconsistently there as well. Most of us probably remember Darnold’s infamous “I’m seeing ghosts” game from 2019 where he got eaten alive by the Patriots. In fact, a lot of the first half of that season was not good. But in the latter eight games of that same season, he passed for 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions, which included a four-touchdown performance in one game. So this would not be the first time he has had an up-and-down season.
While the change of scenery still is good for Darnold (getting away from Adam Gase is always a good thing), we are still seeing some familiarity here as he is going from looking like a legitimate threat to struggling – and in this case, struggling against teams he has no business struggling against. So while the 3-0 start may not have been a complete fluke, he’s still in another one of his slumps right now. Indeed, to a certain degree, this may still be the same old Darnold – inconsistent with occasional streaks of greatness.
He is going to have to get out of this current slump sooner rather than later if the Panthers are going to stay alive in the playoff race. A game against the New York Giants in Week 7 is as good a chance as any, seeing as their defense has not been particularly great this year.
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