The Carolina Panthers benched starting quarterback Sam Darnold in favor of P.J. Walker during the fourth quarter of Sunday's matchup against the New York Giants.
Walker entered the game with the Panthers trailing 15-3. Darnold was 16-of-25 for 111 yards and an interception. He was sacked three times.
Head coach Matt Rhule told reporters after the game that Darnold's benching was only temporary:
Darnold, 24, has had a roller-coaster of a first season with the Panthers. It started about as perfectly as the team could have hoped for, as the Panthers went 3-0 and Darnold threw for 888 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, taking six sacks.
But it's gone downhill just as quickly. In his past four starts, Darnold has thrown for 796 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions, taking 15 sacks. A benching had been brewing.
The Panthers made a pretty significant commitment to Darnold, trading away a 2021 sixth-round pick and 2022 second- and fourth-round selections this offseason. They then chose to pick up his $18.8 million fifth-year option for the 2022 season, which is fully guaranteed.
The 2021 season, in essence, is an extended audition for Darnold. While his guaranteed deal means he'll be around next year as well, the Panthers will have more clarity after the 2021 campaign if they can build around him or if they need to start considering alternative options, be it via the draft or a trade.
If Darnold continues his downward trend, it won't be a very difficult choice for Carolina.