Panthers swap out Cam Newton for Sam Darnold in 2nd quarter vs. Bucs

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Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule was waiting for just one reason on Sunday . . . and he got it.

At the 1:48 mark of the first quarter in Sunday’s Week 16 contest, quarterback Cam Newton made perhaps his final mistake as a Panther at Bank of America Stadium. Newton, whose throw was compromised by his offensive lineman backing into his elbow, lobbed up an ugly interception to safety Jordan Whitehead.

This followed what was a strong first possession for the offense, where the franchise’s all-time leading passer headed a nine-play, 64-yard scoring drive. The touch, highlighted by a 33-yard run from Newton, ended in a 24-yard field goal for new kicker Lirim Hajrullahu—giving Carolina a 3-0 edge to start the game.

As a result of that turnover, however, Rhule turned the reins over to Sam Darnold on the team’s opening possession of the second quarter. Darnold was activated on Saturday after missing the previous five games due to a fracture in his throwing shoulder.

He, on his first throw back, proceeded to escape pressure and find a wide open Shi Smith for a 63-yard catch-and-run.

But wait, there’s more!

Rhule then sent Newton back into the game with the Panthers set up at the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. Two plays and two yards later, he then sent Darnold back in on the third-down play, which wound up in a sack and a subsequent 29-yard field goal.

Welp, looks like we’re in for some hot potato under center today.

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