Sam Darnold takes another step forward

Sam Darnold

CHARLOTTE — As compliments go, "complementary" could be considered faint praise.

But with the way the Panthers are playing defense right now, that's all they need from quarterback Sam Darnold and the other side of the ball, as those new parts learn to work together.

Darnold had a strange interception when the pocket collapsed on him Sunday, but was otherwise clean in a 26-7 win over the Saints.

"It's great, it's complementary football, we talk about it all of the time," Darnold said. "But us having the ball and sustaining drives, obviously we want to do more in the red zone, we want to score more points. But to be able to stay on the field as an offense and then our defense going out and creating three and outs and stopping them, it's really good football."

Darnold was 26-of-38 for 305 yards and two touchdowns, just short of his second straight 100.0 passer rating day (the pick dropped him to 99.1).

Head coach Matt Rhule correctly pointed out that the interception is something they have to get rid of, but on the whole, Darnold is doing the small things well.

"Obviously, the one turnover can't happen," Rhule said. "But I'm not asking him to be perfect the entire season. So, I thought he made big throws in crucial downs, on third down."

Darnold spread the ball among seven different receivers, and mixed things up considerably relative to last week.

With reserve wideout/special teamer Brandon Zylstra catching the first touchdown of the day, to tight end Dan Arnold finally giving them a target at that position (three catches for 55 yards), Darnold is moving the ball around to guys other than Christian McCaffrey (who had 29 more touches Sunday) and DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson.

While Darnold won't expound on it much himself, Arnold said he can see his quarterback getting more and more comfortable.

"I think it's going to be really exciting to see his trend over the season," Arnold said. "I think this is kind of just the beginning of what he's capable of doing. He's definitely gotten way more comfortable. Him and coach [Joe] Brady are getting on the same page. They're really talking together and ironing out details in the practice week that need to be ironed out. Then we've been executing on Sunday.

"He's just more relaxed. That freak play where he was trying to get rid of the ball. I didn't really see exactly what happened. He comes back to the sideline, and he's just onto the next play. Coach Rhule talks about 'What's next?' (Darnold's) about that. He knows that he can trust guys and that we can trust the defense to make a stop. Everybody's got each other's back, and he knows that. It's really fun to play football when you know that."

All of that comes with the payoff that matters, as Darnold is 2-0 as an NFL quarterback for the first time, and showing real signs of progress. He didn't realize that stat, of course, but that's kind of the way he rolls.

"I'm just going to continue to do my job," Darnold said. "That's all I am worried about. I have always had a lot of confidence; that's never going to change, just finding completions and continuing to move the ball down the field. It's a good feeling."

View photos from the field during Carolina's Week 2 game against the Saints at Bank of America Stadium.

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