QB Sam Darnold forced out with concussion during 'excellent' start as Carolina Panthers snap skid

ATLANTA -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold suffered a concussion with 6:58 remaining in Sunday's 19-13 win against the Atlanta Falcons, putting his status for next week's game against New England in question.

The Panthers scored a touchdown three plays after the injury and Carolina hung on for the victory, ending a four-game skid.

Coach Matt Rhule said he didn't know the severity of the concussion, so it was premature to determine whether the Panthers (4-4) will need to acquire another quarterback before Tuesday's NFL trade deadline, or even sign a free agent.

P.J. Walker, who finished Sunday's game, would be the starter against the Patriots if Darnold isn't cleared from the concussion protocol. Players typically miss at least one game after sustaining a concussion.

"If he's out long-term, we'd probably have to go find someone to play with P.J.," Rhule said.

Walker, who was 1-0 as the starter at Carolina last season when Teddy Bridgewater missed a game, said he's ready for the challenge.

"My confidence level never changes," said the former XFL star, who was 5-0 for the Houston Roughnecks before the league shut down in 2020 because of the pandemic. "It's always up there. I know the guys in that locker room believe in me.

"I tell people I was home two years ago. I don't want that feeling again. When you get an opportunity, you've got to make the best of it, whether it's two plays or three plays. Opportunities come and go. So when you get the chance, you've got to make it count."

Darnold took a hard hit from Atlanta linebacker Foyesade Oluokun on a quarterback keeper around the left side. The 8-yard play on first-and-10 from the Falcons' 11 set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Chuba Hubbard. But it ended Darnold's day.

"He showed the team his toughness, he was going to do whatever it takes for us to win today," Rhule said of Darnold.

Darnold was having his best performance in more than a month. He completed 13 of 24 pass attempts for 129 yards with no interceptions. He'd thrown seven interceptions the past four games that saw Carolina lose four straight. He played so poorly in last week's loss to the New York Giants that he was benched early in the fourth quarter in favor of Walker.

Darnold also rushed eight times for 66 yards, including a third-and-9 scramble for a first down on the play before he was concussed.

"Sam, I thought, was excellent today," Rhule said.