Darnold benched by Panthers in MetLife return

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold was benched early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 25-3 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

The decision came four days after coach Matt Rhule said he had “bought in” on Darnold as his quarterback when asked about the possibilities of Carolina pursuing a trade for Houston’s Deshaun Watson.

“I believe Sam is going to be a great quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, and I haven’t done any work on anyone else,” Rhule said Thursday on a conference call with Giants beat writers. “He’s my focus, and I expect him to play his best football moving forward.

“I’m not looking anywhere else.”

Rhule turned to backup P.J. Walker with 12:41 remaining Sunday and Carolina trailing 15-3. Darnold had an intentional grounding penalty from the end zone in the first half that resulted in a safety. He also had an interception near the New York goal line on a poorly thrown ball.

It was his seventh interception in the past four games after throwing only three in Carolina’s 3-0 start. Sunday’s loss dropped the Panthers to 3-4.

Darnold was 9-of-18 for 52 yards and the interception against standard pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He entered the game completing 61% on those plays, second worst among qualifying quarterbacks.

Sunday’s game was Darnold’s first game at MetLife Stadium after he spent the first three seasons of his NFL career with the New York Jets, who traded him to the Panthers this offseason.

Walker finished 3-of-14 for 33 yards and also had ran for 13 yards during his time in the game.

The Panthers, according to league sources, were interested in Watson before the quarterback’s legal issues. He has 22 active lawsuits filed against him with allegations of sexual assault or sexually inappropriate behavior during massage sessions.

League sources said the Panthers aren’t currently pursuing Watson with the Texans asking for at least three first-round picks for the former Clemson star.

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