Cam Newton's streak of five straight starts for the Carolina Panthers is coming to an end. Head coach Matt Rhule announced on Wednesday that Sam Darnold, not Newton, would start Week 17's game against the New Orleans Saints.
Panthers’ HC Matt Rhule named Sam Darnold as the starting QB for Sunday’s game against the Saints.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 29, 2021
Newton was signed by the Panthers after Week 9 when Darnold, who had began the season as QB1, went down with a partially fractured scapula. Newton appeared on the field a few times in Week 10, scoring two touchdowns over just nine offensive snaps. That win for the Panthers took them to 5-5 on the season.
Unfortunately for Newton, who was returning to the team that drafted him following a one-year stint with the New England Patriots, Week 10 was the high point. He started the next five games for the Panthers, and each one was a loss.
Darnold the best option for now
Darnold was designated to return from injured reserve on Dec. 15 and cleared for contact a week later. He didn't start Week 16's 32-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but was under center for quite a bit of the game. He completed 15 of 32 passes for 190 yards, and was sacked four times.
Darnold was far from great against the Bucs, but Rhule doesn't have a lot of (or any) good options available against the Saints. He can start Newton, who has started and lost the last five games, or he can start Darnold, who led the team to a 4-5 record and hasn't started since Week 9. Darnold's upside is that his contract with the Panthers is guaranteed for 2022, and so the team has very little choice but to see what he can do following his shoulder injury.
"Sam has been working hard to get back," Rhule said about Darnold on Wednesday via ESPN. "I thought he did some good things last week. … We're going to give him this opportunity to show what he can do."
With the 5-10 Panthers already eliminated from playoff contention, Rhule has gone with Darnold, who is likely the quarterback who will cause his own team the least amount of problems against the Saints. "Likely" is the keyword there, though. We'll find out if that's actually true on Sunday.
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