Panthers HC Matt Rhule on QB Sam Darnold: Week 1 a ‘good first step’

Week 1 was a week of many firsts, for both the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets, even if one of those firsts was the other team’s last.

Former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold made his Panthers debut on Sunday afternoon, beginning his path to redemption following a disappointing three-year stretch to start his young career. And for head coach Matt Rhule, that beginning went quite well.

“I thought he hung in in the pocket. We weren’t great upfront tonight,” Rhule said about Darnold. “But he hung in there, he moved around, he slid around the pocket, he found guys down the field, made key third-down throws, make key first-down throws, protected the football.”

A major theme for Darnold this offseason was the reconstruction of how he stands in the pocket. He exhibited some improvement away from the skittish, happy-footed quarterback we largely saw in New York, appearing sharper and more confident throughout much of the afternoon.

Rhule believes there is obviously room for more improvement, as Darnold could’ve been better on some of misses. Overall, however, he was pleased with the start.

“It was a good first step. Good first game. I think for him, this was probably a real step forward,” Rhule later added of Darnold’s demeanor. “He was in the moment the whole game. I didn’t have a lot of concerns. I was just anxious to see how he’d be in terms of playing the Jets in that moment. And he looked like he had fun the whole day.”

He should have had fun, too. Darnold finished the day having completed 24 of his 35 attempts for 279 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in a win over the team that just traded him.

Take that, New York.