Sam Darnold has mixed game in Panthers’ Week 17 loss to Buccaneers

Sunday’s crucial NFC South showdown between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers came down to Sam Darnold and Tom Brady. If the ground game wasn’t going to do it, as neither team had a rusher over 35 yards, then the quarterbacks had to.

Battling in the fourth quarter with the greatest player of all-time was a tough ask for Darnold, even if he’d been playing the best football of his career. Entering Week 17, he carried an average of 8.6 yards per attempt and a 104.3 passer rating on season—the highest and fifth-highest marks in the NFL since he took over as starter.

And while he did manage to even exceed both of those numbers in Tampa Bay, it came with a bit of a side effect. For the first time here in 2022, Darnold threw an interception and was credited with a pair of lost fumbles.

He was sharp the majority of the day—shooting layered passes into the end zone, finding clutch plays on critical downs and showing off his arm strength and athleticism quite consistently. That helped him tie a career-high of 341 passing yards and three touchdowns.

The Buccaneers tried to make Darnold beat them with his arm, and he almost did just that. If not for a heroic performance from wide receiver Mike Evans, who roasted Carolina’s back-up cornerbacks for 207 receiving yards and three long scores, Darnold’s performance likely would have put Carolina into a playoff position.

While his fumble late into the game ultimately was the dagger for the Panthers, it is hard to place a lot of blame on Darnold—who produced the offense’s biggest passing outing of the season.

Week 17 grade for Darnold: B+

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Story originally appeared on Panthers Wire