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Carolina Panthers

Sam Darnold, Christian McCaffrey have a day (at a time)

Sam Darnold rushing TD

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers talk a lot about valuing people who are the same guys every day.

So if you went to the postgame interview room hoping Sam Darnold might be gloating about a win against his old team, or Christian McCaffrey might be over the top talking about his workload after a season lost to injury, well, you haven't been paying attention to who they are.

Darnold was his usual understated self, never taking the bait, never making a game against the Jets into anything other than the first one on the schedule.

And McCaffrey managed to handle everything with a shrug as normal, even though he touched the ball 30 times and made a block that might have been the play of the game.

But of course, it was the Jets, which meant all eyes were going to be on Darnold.

As is his custom, Darnold downplayed any emotions about beating the team which contributed to him taking a beating for three years. He said it was "a little different for me," seeing green uniforms on the visiting sideline, but he put that aside quickly.

"You kind of forget about it in the middle of the game while you're playing," he said. And after watching him work for five months, you realize that's just kind of how he's wired.

But aside from two ugly early trips to the red zone (which included a failed fourth down attempt and a fumble when the ball appeared to hit fullback Giovanni Ricci), Darnold turned in a solid game.

He finished 24-of-35 for 279 yards, with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson (who had a jet plane celebration — he was going to enjoy beating his old team even if Darnold didn't). Darnold also ran for a score, keeping that touchdown ball as a tangible reminder of his first win here.

"It was just good to get a win," he said flatly.

That's not a surprise to his teammates, who voted him a captain last week, and have been impressed with his ability to fit into a new environment.

"He was calm," wide receiver DJ Moore said. "He wasn't too crazy. He was just calm, cool, collected."

"I've never seen him different," McCaffrey said. "I think that's the biggest thing for us that we see, since OTAs, he's been the same guy. He comes to work every day, he's a first-one-in, last-one-out kind of guy, and that's the kind of guy you want leading your team."

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said he was confident in his quarterback anyway, but had a good feeling when Darnold started teasing him during pregame for talking to so many old friends from New York.

"He was making fun of me before the game, saying you're saying hi to more people than I am," Rhule said with a smile.

"Coming into the game, he was the least of my concerns," Rhule said. "I wasn't worried about Sam. He's been locked in this week. . . . He's the kind of guy you want to succeed. And when you have those guys in the building, things are good.

"I think Sam's resilient. Honestly, this whole week, he's been locked in. I think he was ready to go all week, and played like it, and hung in there."

As for McCaffrey, he had 21 rushes for 98 yards, and nine receptions for another 89 yards. So you know, your basic 30-touch, 187-yard day from a guy who missed 13 games last season with a collection of injuries.

That might be too much of a workload to be sustainable, but not for him — at least not right now.

"Yeah," he replied when asked if he was ready for that much action. "I'm ready to roll."

For all the yards, his best play came when the ball never touched his hands at all.

On Darnold's deep touchdown to Anderson, McCaffrey helped out his offensive linemen by picking up a defensive tackle coming up the middle.

"The deep play to Robby, we whiffed up front, and Christian blocked the defensive tackle himself," Rhule said. "If that doesn't happen, that play doesn't happen. That might have been Christian's best play of the day."

McCaffrey grinned when asked about the block, saying it reminded him of all the blocks he's gotten over the years from guys who never got the attention he does.

"I get a lot of satisfaction from that," he said. "Those are the fun plays. Those are the plays that are fun for the guys. There are so many guys who never get recognized. We work as one unit, all 11 guys, that's the most important thing. Football is the biggest team sport that gets a lot of individual attention, but you can't have one without the other."

Rhule also complimented McCaffrey for getting down in bounds after a late first-down rush, the kind of play that didn't help his stat line, but enabled Darnold to take a knee, which is always the best revenge in any game.

"That's just how unselfish he is," Rhule said of McCaffrey. "I thought he looked great out there. We'll continue to build off what he did schematically and continue to improve. I think Christian's ready to have a great year."

If he does, then Darnold has an ever better chance to continue to build. But they'll both build in a way that sounds more boring than it actually is — one day at a time.

View in-game action photos of Carolina's season opener against the Jets.

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