Sam Darnold encouraged heading into regular season

#14 QB Sam Darnold

CHARLOTTE — A half of football is not much from which to draw conclusions.

But for Sam Darnold and the Panthers' first offense, the news was mostly good.

Darnold was a sharp 19-of-25 for 162 yards and two touchdowns, walking off the field for the final time before the regular season with a comfortable 17-0 lead.

"There was some good, there was some bad," Darnold said, in the kind of low-key response he normally brings to these settings. "It was good to get out there and get that game feel. I think all the starters can attest to how there was some good; there was some bad."

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule mentioned the same thing, saying he wasn't crazy about a play that was ruled an incompletion, but was close to a sack-fumble. Avoiding turnovers is central to what they want from Darnold, so that was of note, particularly since they were deep in Steelers' territory at the time.

"That's not what we need, you know, we're in field goal range," Rhule said.

But on the whole, for such a limited body of work, it was good, and leading a pair of touchdown drives before calling it a night (including a sharp two-minute drive) was the positive result they needed.

"He looked comfortable," said wide receiver Robbie Anderson, who caught one of the touchdowns. "He looked efficient. He looked pretty good to me."

Anderson knows Darnold best from their days in New York, but said he sees a different quarterback now.

"If you're comparing based on the offense itself is really different," Anderson said. "I just see a more mature player, and he just seems a lot more comfortable out there."

Darnold continuously talks about going back to tape and learning from it, and he saw things he wanted to work on.

"For me, it's really just learning from last year and understanding when to get the ball out in a timely manner," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing is finding completions when the defense does a good job of covering guys. So I've just got to keep learning from that and getting better in that area."

Rhule said they deliberately called certain plays to see Darnold in particular situations, and for the most part, they were encouraged. But he's also appreciated the way Darnold has approached his new assignment here.

They're not asking him to save a franchise the way they did in New York. He has more help here. His job is literally his job, and no one else's. And Rhule likes the way Darnold's going about it.

"He's not maybe gonna get the guys up and give the guys a speech, you know, the rah-rah speech guy," Rhule said. "But he is starting to demand accountability from guys, and guys play for him because he doesn't make excuses. I believe in true, true, true leadership. I don't believe in convenient leadership. There's a lot of convenient leaders out there that say the right things in the big moments, but they don't live that way and do that.

"I think if you live a life of doing the right things, then people hear what you want to say. And I think Sam is emerging and developing in that way. But the most important thing is to be the first guy to come in and last guy to leave."

View in-game photos from the Panthers preseason finale against the Steelers.

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