Sam Darnold: "I'm fully aware I didn't play my best football"

Sam Darnold runs off field

CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, when asked what was wrong with his offense right now, replied: "All of it."

Running back Christian McCaffrey talked about the need to "point the thumb," which is their way of saying clean up your own yard rather than blaming others.

But there's no mistaking the overarching issue at the moment.

Quarterback Sam Darnold threw three interceptions in the second half, leading to a 24-6 loss to the Patriots Sunday.

The Panthers offense as a whole had plenty of issues on the day. They lost two starting offensive linemen to injuries, and trailed 14-6 at halftime when they had a 2-0 edge in turnover ratio.

But when Darnold started throwing it to the Patriots, the whole operation came unraveled. And he knows that.

"I'm fully aware I didn't play my best football today," Darnold said.

While it's always dangerous to oversimplify things in a complicated game, the trend is hard to ignore.

In the Panthers' four wins this year, Darnold threw two interceptions.

In their five losses, he's thrown 10 interceptions.

When they take care of the ball, particularly when McCaffrey is on the field, they have a chance to lean on a talented defense. When they don't take care of the ball in games like this one, and the Giants game, bad things happen.

Rhule said he wasn't going to make any long-term decisions about Darnold's job status until he watched film. And he said he left him out there Sunday, unlike two weeks ago in New York, in hopes he could "play his way out of it."

He didn't.

Darnold attributed his first interception to "poor decision-making." The second was an amazing play by Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. The third, he admitted was thrown behind wide receiver DJ Moore. And when you have to go through that many descriptions of interceptions, the problem is apparent, and questions about his job are something he couldn't answer.

"I can't turn the ball over," Darnold said. "That's one thing that any coach will tell you. I've got to stop turning the ball over.

"As far as I know, I'm the starting quarterback. So I'm going to continue to play and continue to give it my all for this team. I'm not going to sit here and tell you guys why I should be the quarterback. I believe in myself and that's all that matters."

During the game, the frustration was apparent. After the third interception, wide receiver Robbie Anderson was shown coming off to the sidelines yelling at Darnold, and throwing his helmet.

Anderson said he and Darnold were "cool," and that the answers to the problems were collective, rather than individual.

"Just got to keep fighting, keep working," Anderson said. "What we've been doing is obviously not working. So if we keep doing it, that's technically insanity. So we've got to find a new way to work, and find a way to get better. All the way across the board, everybody, just collectively do better as a whole. And get back to the direction we want to go in, which is win.

"Just everybody turn their grind up and work harder. In football, I think sometimes you overthink it. Just focus on the fundamentals and keeping things basic and working harder. Put in extra time in film and little things and let it pay off in the long run. And playing disciplined, and don't beat ourselves."

That's clearly what happened Sunday, between Darnold's turnovers and things like Ian Thomas wiping out a promising drive in the red zone with the team's first taunting penalty of the year.

McCaffrey talked about how they're 4-5, with a lot of season in front of them.

"It's a week-to-week league," he said. "You have to have a short memory. The teams that get emotional, and start to hear all the stuff from outside that doesn't matter, you can start to crumble if you do that. But we've got a mature team, and we're going to practice hard, prepare hard, and we're onto the next one."

McCaffrey said Darnold was equipped to handle that.

"Sam has shown he can be great. Sam obviously, he'll be the first to point the thumb and say he's got to be better," McCaffrey said. "But once again, the head coach and the quarterback, in my opinion, get way too much credit and way too much blame. So while it's easy to put it on Sam, it's a team loss. I've got to do better. Everybody in the locker room has to be better. That's what we're striving to do this week."

View photos from Bank of America Stadium as the Panthers take on the Patriots in Week 9.

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