Sam Darnold on 3-INT day in Panthers loss: 'I'm fully aware I didn't play my best football today'

Not even the return of Christian McCaffrey could fix the Panthers offense.

Sure, the dynamic running back recorded 106 scrimmage yards, but it was essentially for naught following another underwhelming outing by quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw three interceptions including a pick-six in a 24-6 loss to New England on Sunday.

"I'm fully aware I didn't play my best football today," Darnold said after the game, per the team's official transcript.

Truth be told, Carolina has struggled to play its "best football" for well over a month, going 1-5 while getting outscored 153-102 over its last six games. Week 9 provided more examples of the same issues head coach Matt Rhule harped on a few weeks ago.

Against the Patriots, Darnold was off the mark and out-of-sorts all afternoon as his partnership with receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson continued to yield little results. Darnold finished 16-of-33 for 172 yards while failing to throw a touchdown pass for the third week in a row.

Things reached a critical point at the start of the third quarter when, on the third play of the half's first series, Darnold was intercepted by Pats cornerback J.C. Jackson for an 88-yard pick-six. Darnold followed that with INTs on consecutive red zone trips, all but stalling any hopes of a comeback. A visibly frustrated Anderson, who was the target on the second INT, appeared to have words for the QB on the sideline after his third turnover.

"Robby is a competitor just like all of us," Darnold said of the exchange. "... Obviously you want your teammates to be able to say, 'Hey, let's go. We have a lot of game left, let's tighten up, let's put some points on the board.' I mean it's nothing more than that, me and Robby are cool, so I'm not worried about that."

Outside of Zane Gonzalez's second-quarter conversions, there were no points to be had on this day for Carolina. A bad sign ahead of a Week 10 clash with a Cardinals team that could be vulnerable if Kyler Murray (ankle) and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) remain out.

For now, Darnold remains the starter but his coach was not as quick to solidify that decision as he had been in previous weeks. After harping on the decision-making, Rhule said he'll wait until he reviews the film before making any big statements on Darnold's future.

"I know Sam prepared hard. I thought he went out there I thought he showed toughness. He gritted to the end so I don't want to lay anything at his feet," Rhule said. "We can't have a quarterback throwing the ball up in the air. He knows that. I know that. Whether we have to get with the coaches and figure out is it the coaching, is it him, what is it? We just can't keep doing this. But I have to see everything before I can probably answer that better tomorrow."

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