QB Sam Darnold lifts Panthers to win, will get another start

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks didn't need an extra day to evaluate the film to say quarterback Sam Darnold played well enough in Sunday's 23-10 victory over the Denver Broncos to get another start in two weeks against the Seattle Seahawks.

"Yes, he does start at Seattle,'' Wilks said without hesitation.

Darnold, making his first start since last year's season finale at Tampa Bay, completed 11 of 19 pass attempts for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a touchdown, rolling into the end zone after recovering his own fumble at the 2.

Most importantly to Wilks, Darnold didn't commit a turnover and he wasn't sacked for only the third time in 51 career games since entering the NFL in 2018 as the third-overall pick by the New York Jets.

Baker Mayfield, who won the starting job over Darnold in training camp, had six interceptions to six touchdowns in going 1-5 as the starter. PJ Walker had three interceptions to three touchdowns in going 2-3.

"He did a good job,'' Wilks said of Darnold. "He managed the game, ran the offense efficiently, connected down the field at times, moved the pocket and he did a great job of getting outside.''

Managing the game is all Wilks wants with his defense playing at a high level.

All Darnold wants to do is win and feel comfortable doing it.

"It took a couple of plays for me to finally feel comfortable out there,'' said Darnold, who began the season on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. "Once I got my feet wet a little bit and threw my first completion, it was smooth sailing, especially with the way we were running the ball.''

The Panthers rushed for 185 yards on 46 carries against a defense giving up only 115.3 yards rushing a game. The defense did the rest, holding the Broncos to 246 yards and only three points until a late touchdown.

Wilks believes that's the formula that will help the Panthers (4-8), who have a bye next week, stay relevant in the NFC South, which is led by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6).

"We talk about it all the time,'' said Wilks, who is 3-4 since Matt Rhule was fired after a 1-4 start. "When I say manage the game, I'm talking about being smart, not forcing it in there. Always ready to take your check down, particularly when get in field goal range, not taking a sack. Just being aware of the situations. He did a good job of that today.''

Darnold's performance likely meant Mayfield has played his last snap for the Panthers, barring injuries. Walker should be ready to return from a high ankle sprain after the bye and is expected to be Darnold's backup.

That means Mayfield, unless the Panthers opt to release him, would be inactive against the Seahawks.

Darnold, in the final year of his rookie deal, on Sunday began putting himself in position to at least be considered for a role with Carolina next year. The Panthers are expected to select a quarterback with a first-round pick.

"As long as I get to play football, I'm happy,'' Darnold said.