Sam Darnold’s return from injury Sunday was likely not as sweet as he might have expected it to be.
After making his first appearance since early November, Panthers fans appeared to greet the 24-year-old quarterback with boos when he replaced starter Cam Newton in a 32-6 Week 16 loss to the Buccaneers.
The icy reception from fans shows just how bleak the Panthers’ quarterback situation is. In Darnold’s absence, the Panthers re-signed Newton and he has struggled with five interceptions against four touchdowns in six games. Still, the crowd was not thrilled with Darnold’s return to the field, which comes with the team now on a five-game losing streak.
Darnold, who was traded to the Panthers by the Jets in April, did turn the crowd’s boos to cheers when he avoided a sack and connected with receiver Shi Smith for a 63-yard pass play. The Panthers scored a field goal on the drive, one of the few highlights for the team. Darnold finished the game 15-of-32 for 190 yards.
Ahead of this week’s game against the Bucs, Panthers coach Matt Rhule spoke about Darnold seeing the field again after recovering from injury.
“We brought him here to be a starter. We want to see if he can play at that level again,” Rhule previously told the NFL Network.
“It was told to me early on this week about playing two quarterbacks,” Newton said. “Did I approve of it? That’s not even a thought to me. As a player, you play. The coaches, they coach. If he deems that is what is best for this team to win, then it’s for me to swallow my pride and get on board. And I did that.”
After leading Carolina to a promising 3-0 start this season, Darnold quickly regressed to the discouraging form he showed with the Jets. The team opted to trade the former No. 3 pick this offseason and draft Zach Wilson as the franchise quarterback.
So far this season, Darnold has recorded seven touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Darnold was activated off injured reserve this week after suffering a shoulder injury in his throwing arm in November.