Just when you thought the Carolina Panthers had hit rock bottom, they grabbed their shovels Sunday against the New York Giants and dug a few hundred feet deeper.
Even a fourth-quarter quarterback change couldn’t help the Panthers against the Giants, who came in 1-5 but whipped Carolina, 25-3, at MetLife Stadium.
It was the Panthers’ fourth straight loss, dropping Carolina to 3-4, and so much went wrong for a team in disarray.
The headline was that Sam Darnold got benched. The Panthers traded for Darnold in April with high hopes he could be their quarterback of the future, after attempts at trading for Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford were rebuffed. Instead, he was benched before the end of his seventh game as a Panther, as head coach Matt Rhule tried to find a spark by inserting PJ Walker into the lineup into the fourth quarter.
Rhule said after the game that Darnold would stay the team’s starter and would start the next game, Oct. 31 at Atlanta.
Walker didn’t help when he was in the game. He short-hopped a couple of throws, had a 22-yard gain negated by a holding penalty and generally looked as bad as Darnold, never getting close to scoring any points himself.
Darnold ended up 16-for-25 for 111 yards and an interception; Walker was 3-for-14 for 33 yards. Carolina mustered only 173 total yards on offense. It was Jimmy Clausen-esque in terms of ineptness. The Panthers went only 2-for-15 on third-down conversions.
The Panthers came out with the idea they were going to throw the kitchen sink offensively at the Giants. Carolina went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 36 on its very first drive — and made it. Darnold ran the no-huddle offense on the first possession, with decent results. Zane Gonzalez banked in a 45-yard field goal off the left upright after the first drive stalled, and Carolina led 3-0.
And that was it for Carolina’s offense. The defense kept the Panthers in the game for the entire first half, making one superb goal-line stand early, but again wore down in the second half.
Darnold was horrible after that first drive, with an overthrown interception near the goal line the worst mistake. But there were so many more errors — missing open receivers who were 5 yards away, taking an intentional grounding penalty that caused a safety, failing to run when he had open space and could have made a first down. In nine drives, he managed only three points — and with the safety, he gave away two.
Now the Panthers have to throw it all on the table at QB again, just like they did when they punted on Teddy Bridgewater after just one year. Should Walker start next week? Should the team re-enter the Deshaun Watson trade sweepstakes, even given all of Watson’s off-field issues? All of that seems possible — even probable — now.
Ex-Panthers stand out for Giants
▪ Two former Panthers had a nice day against their old team. Kicker Graham Gano nailed field goals from 49, 53 and 44 yards. Cornerback James Bradberry intercepted a terrible Darnold pass in the second quarter for the Giants (2-5).
▪ Panthers coach Matt Rhule insisted the team was going to stick with the run in this game, but the Panthers didn’t even when the game was close. In the first half, which the Giants only led 5-3, Carolina threw the ball 19 times and ran 13 times, for 39 yards.
Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson found no cure for his dropped-ball problem: He had his hands on four different balls Sunday that he couldn’t come up with. They weren’t all pure drops, but again, he had his hands on all four.
▪ Best catch of the afternoon: Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who grabbed an overthrown pass on a trick play one-handed, used his helmet to help bring it down and came up with it for a 16-yarder. It was the first career reception for Jones, the former Charlotte Latin and Duke star.
▪ The safety the Panthers gave up on Darnold’s intentional grounding penalty was the first time they had allowed one since Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter sacked Cam Newton for a safety in 2016.
▪ The game had an odd twist in terms of the running backs. Both the Giants’ Saquon Barkley and the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey were out due to injury. Dave Gettleman, now the Giants’ GM and formerly the Panthers GM, drafted them both with top-10 picks.
▪ New Panthers punter Ryan Winslow will soon become old Panthers punter Ryan Winslow if things don’t improve. He kicked poorly Sunday. Carolina hired him originally, remember, in part because he was familiar with holding for Zane Gonzalez. Rhule said after the game the Panthers would “potentially” be switching punters.