According to multiple reports, Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule refused to name a starting quarterback for their Week 16 contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while speaking with the media on Monday afternoon. It's an interesting turn of events for a coach and franchise that grossly mismanaged the quarterback position ahead of the 2021 season. Rhule's Panthers were well-defeated on Sunday, losing to the Buffalo Bills 31-14. The three-score margin accurately represents Carolina's overall lack of competitiveness as of late.
Rhule now finds himself in a dire situation regarding the most important position in all of professional sports. Quarterback Cam Newton was brought back to Carolina in the wake of an injury to initial starter Sam Darnold in hopes of salvaging what once appeared to be a promising campaign. Newton has failed to meet expectations, and Carolina has lost all four of his starts. Newton was especially abysmal in Sunday's loss to the Bills, completing just 47% of his passes (18-of-38) for 156 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The lackluster performance came just two weeks after Newton posted one of the worst quarterback showings in history, completing 5-of-21 passes while throwing two interceptions in a lowly 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The sample size is now large enough to where Rhule and Panthers should feel comfortable admitting defeat on Newton. Carolina's situation is so unfortunate, they are likely best served inserting Darnold back into their starting lineup. Yikes.
On Monday, Rhule indicated Darnold would begin practicing when he fully overcomes a fractured scapula suffered in a Week 9 loss to the New England Patriots. Darnold's availability for Sunday's inner-divisional showdown with the Buccaneers is currently trending on the wrong side of questionable, but Carolina has reached a new low at the quarterback position, and Darnold gives them the best chance to win going forward whenever he’s ready to return.
When Carolina acquired Darnold from the New York Jets in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round pick as well as second- and fourth-round picks in 2022, they haphazardly exercised the fifth-year option on Darnold's contract less than a month later, which is worth a guaranteed $18.858 million for the 2022 season. It was a strange decision that tied Darnold to the Panthers for the foreseeable future before Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer were even given an opportunity to evaluate his play.
Speaking of, Darnold's play prior to his injury left plenty to be desired, and the former Jet was inching dangerously close toward being benched for his outputs before injuring himself. Carolina's quarterback situation has seemingly gotten worse since, reopening the door for an unlikely Darnold return.
The once 3-0 Panthers have nothing to compete for down the stretch. It's been an unfortunate fall from grace for a squad that now finds itself at 5-9. Rhule and Co. might as well utilize the remaining games on their schedule as an opportunity to further evaluate Darnold's abilities since they’ve already tied themselves to having him on the roster for 2022. They likely won't be thrilled with the results, but it all encapsulates what a mess they've created for themselves in recent months.