Panthers bench Cam Newton for Sam Darnold ahead of Saints game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers coach Matt Rhule says Sam Darnold will start at quarterback on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints instead of 2015 league MVP Cam Newton.

Newton is 0-5 as Carolina’s starting quarterback this year and has lost 13 straight starts as the Panthers starting QB dating back to the 2018 season. Newton won seven games in 2020 during a one-year stint with the New England Patriots.

“Sam has been working hard to get back,” Rhule said Wednesday. “He played well in this ballgame the first time (they played the Saints) and I thought he did some good things last week” in a 32-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Panthers (5-10) were eliminated from playoff contention last week.

Darnold started the season 3-0 after being acquired from the New York Jets for three draft picks, but has a 1-5 record in his last six starts.

He led the Panthers to a 26-7 win over the Saints in Week 2, completing 26 of 38 passes for 305 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Cam Newton during the Panthers’ loss to the Buccaneers on Dec. 26, 2021.
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Rhule said Newton will be ready to play if needed, but wouldn’t commit to using him in two-quarterbacks role as he did last week with both QBs rotating against Tampa Bay.

“We understand the business that we are in,” Darnold said when asked if he has spoken with Newton. “It is what is is and we are both very professional. With that being said, me and Cam are cool with each and I will leave it at that.”

Newton has completed just 54.8% of his passes this season and thrown for 676 yards in his five starts with five interceptions and four touchdown passes. He has also run for 225 yards and five TDs.

When asked how he’s handled the news of his benching, Rhule said Newton has been “the ultimate professional” and added that the 11-year NFL veteran showed “as much energy on the practice field as anyone.”

The Panthers have more committed to Darnold than Newton.

Darnold is under contract for more than $18 million next season because GM Scott Fitterer picked up the fifth-year rookie option in his contract before ever seeing him play a down for Carolina.

Sam Darnold Panthers
Sam Darnold (#14) during the Panthers’ loss to the Buccaneers on Dec. 26, 2021.
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Newton, on the other hand, is an unrestricted free agent and it’s not expected he’ll re-sign with Carolina.

Darnold missed five games with a shoulder injury, but said he’s now healthy.

“I got an appreciation for the game,” Darnold said. “It’s a cliché, but you don’t realize what you have until it is gone. When you’re out it sucks to watch and not have anything to do with wins and losses.”

In other quarterback-related news, the Panthers added third QB P.J. Walker to the COVID-19 reserve list. The Panthers now have 11 players on the list.

The news comes one day after Carolina cut quarterback Matt Barkley.

NOTES: Rhule said cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been ruled out for Sunday’s game due to a groin injury. Gilmore is the fourth Carolina cornerback to go down with an injury this season, joining Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson and A.J. Bouye on the sideline.