Since their hot 3-0 start to the 2021 season, the Carolina Panthers have plummeted, losing three straight on the heels of Sunday's overtime defeat to Minnesota.
The latest loss came as quarterback Sam Darnold once again struggled for long stretches.
Through the first three quarters Sunday, the signal-caller completed just 9-of-24 passes for 95 yards with an INT for a 32.5 passer rating. Darnold's 17.8 passer rating in the first half was the second-lowest of his career. The only time Darnold had a lower halftime rating: 13.5 in Week 7, 2019 versus New England when the QB admitted to "seeing ghosts."
Panther coach Matt Rhule didn't mince words Monday.
"Sam's not playing well enough -- let's just start there -- which means that Sean (Ryan), Joe (Brady) and me are not coaching good enough," he said of the struggling offense. "We're 3-3. There are a lot of teams that are 3-3. I think it's just starkly clear in front of us what the issues are. We turned the ball over twice in our three wins. We turned the ball over eight times in our three losses. Now when I say 'Sam's not playing well,' what does that mean? That means the offensive line isn't getting it done for him, it means the running backs aren't getting it done for him. Everyone on offense, every receiver, every tight end, every back, every O-lineman, their job is to help our quarterback play well. We are not getting that done."
Darnold's pass-catchers didn't help him out, including at least seven drops, per Pro Football Focus.
The QB bounced back somewhat in the fourth quarter, completing 8 of 17 attempts for 112 yards and a TD to force overtime. But the Carolina D couldn't hold, giving up a TD on the first drive of OT.
Darnold's play has been erratic the past three weeks, missing passes and crumbling behind a struggling offensive line. He has thrown six INTs the past three games after just one in Weeks 1-3.
One solution for the Panthers buffering Darnold is establishing the run. With Christian McCaffrey still out, that means leaning on rookie Chuba Hubbard, who had 61 rushing yards on 16 attempts and a TD.
"The shame of the game yesterday to me, when you really go back and watch the game, you know, we ran the football well, we just have not been committed enough to running it," Rhule said. "And that's going to change, I can just tell you right now. You'll see a vastly different look from us moving forward. We're not going to line up and drop back and throw it 40 times a game and think that's going to win the game for us. It hasn't. There's no (Christian) McCaffrey. Well, Chuba (Hubbard) 's showing us that he can run the football at a high level when given enough opportunities. We're gonna redefine who we are, and we're gonna run the football, and we're gonna protect our quarterback, and we're not gonna turn the ball over anymore. That's the only way that we're gonna win."