It’s not that he doesn’t give it his all every time he steps onto the field.
But he was going up against his former team, the New York Jets.
Perhaps the NFL wanted to immediately put Darnold in his place by having him face the franchise that made him a first-round draft choice in 2018.
Pitting him against Zach Wilson is a classic predecessor versus successor storyline that fans could eat up.
Sam Darnold with a change of scenery pic.twitter.com/EbjAOxLiOc
— Pardon My Take (@PardonMyTake) September 19, 2021
Darnold had the last laugh at that game’s end after helping the Panthers win over the Jets, 19-14.
But aside from getting revenge against the Jets, Darnold revealed an improved version of himself during the game versus New York.
Draft experts touted Darnold as one of the next-generation quarterbacks who can take over the league.
That’s why there were high expectations bestowed upon him when the Jets drafted him third overall.
He did show some flashes of brilliance, but he did not live up to the hype because the talent level with the Jets was shallow.
Zach Wilson: 3-7, 45 yards, 3 INT
Sam Darnold: 14-18 200 yards, 2 TD pic.twitter.com/faIfGUZtQN
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) September 19, 2021
Despite the challenges during his rookie season, Darnold still finished the year with 2,865 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The year after, he completed 273 passes for 3,024 yards and 19 touchdowns.
In his third year with the Jets, Darnold ended up with 2,208 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, he could not lead the Jets to a winning record in any of those seasons.
Weeks before the 2021 draft, the Jets traded him to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick in 2021 and second and fourth-round picks in 2022.
After some preseason competition with Will Grier and P.J. Walker, Darnold finally got the starting quarterback role.
Panthers Find Their Bite
Darnold played comfortably with the Panthers during their 2021 opener against the Jets.
It does help to have a talented roster around your quarterback.
Christian McCaffrey is one of the top running backs in the game and is equally devastating in passing and rushing attacks.
That talented supporting cast allowed Darnold to gain more confidence in facilitating the offense.
Sam Darnold speaks to the media after the win https://t.co/GavpjwZN81
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 19, 2021
He did not throw interceptions during their game against the Jets, but he finished with 279 yards and a touchdown pass to Anderson.
The New Orleans Saints were next on their schedule, and it looked to be a challenging game because of how they dominated the Green Bay Packers.
But Darnold and company made it look easy against the Saints with a 26-7 win.
McCaffrey was once again a menace all over the field with 72 rushing and 65 receiving yards.
Moore had 79 yards while Brandon Zylstra finished with 44 yards.
They both caught a touchdown pass from Darnold, who finished with 305 yards and a 68 percent completion rate.
Sam Darnold ➡️ Brandon Zylstra
Panthers (+3) strike first against the Saints. 🏈 pic.twitter.com/LHkuAwB7B0
— Pickswise (@Pickswise) September 19, 2021
The Panthers were up 17-0 at one time before getting their second win in as many games.
In contrast, Wilson threw four interceptions in the Jets’ 25-6 loss to Mac Jones and the New England Patriots.
Though it’s a small sample size, the Panthers proved that a change in scenery and system will do wonders for a talented quarterback.
The Jets do not know the Darnold they are seeing because they didn’t help him be that man.