CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are waiting for the word on medical tests before they know or say their next steps at quarterback.
Darnold got an MRI on his right shoulder Monday, after coming in with soreness following yesterday's game. He had taken a hard shot on his throwing arm from Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun the week before, and was questionable on the injury report last week (he was also in the concussion protocol).
As to the future, whether it's this week's game against the Cardinals or beyond, Rhule said he was taking things one step at a time.
"I think right now we're focused on him and his health," Rhule replied when asked if Darnold would remain the starter. "Those of us at the game, we know, and Sam would be the first to tell you, that wasn't good enough from the quarterback position. We had guys open with some opportunities we weren't able to connect on. Too many batted balls, can't happen at this level, and obviously three giveaways. When you look at our season, when we've protected the football, we've had a chance to win, and when we've given the ball away multiple times, we all know the results.
"But the play at that position has to be better. When you're the quarterback, you're depending on everybody else around you. I thought Sam played an excellent game last week against Atlanta, but yesterday was obviously not the best. He's a tough guy, he went out there and competed for his team, coming off missing some time during the week. Nothing's ever on just one guy, but the play has to be better.
"In terms of where we are moving forward and all those things, we'll always try to do whatever it takes to be great. I'm not going to get into hypotheticals and all those things. I kind of handle things one bit at a time. See where Sam's health is, and then make the best decisions after that."
Darnold has thrown 10 interceptions in the team's five losses. He's thrown two picks in their four wins.
Later in the press conference, Rhule was asked directly if Darnold would remain their starter if he were healthy.
"To be honest with you, with everything he's gone through, I'd have to see him this week," Rhule said. "I'd have to see him on Wednesday and see what healthy looks like. I've seen Sam play well. I thought he played well last week. Going back to the first three games, kind of been on this journey with him, trying to help him take the next step. Thought he took a step last week, took a step back this week. Why? We have to figure that out.
"So I think for me right now, I just have to figure out where he is. Is he OK to play this week? Is he cleared to play, and if he is, what exactly does that look like before I do anything else."
At the moment, backup P.J. Walker is the only other quarterback on the active roster. They have James Morgan and Josh Love on the practice squad. Morgan, a former fourth-round pick of the Jets from Florida International, has been on the practice squad since Week 1. Love, a San Jose State product who was in Rams camp in 2020, just arrived last week.
Of course, the Panthers have problems beyond the quarterback position.
Center and team captain Matt Paradis was lost for the season to a torn ACL on the second snap of the game Sunday. Veteran Pat Elflein, who was inactive Sunday, will likely start in his place if he's able to go this week. Sam Tecklenburg filled in for Paradis, but Elflein gives them a more experienced option, which matters since the center calls all the protections here.
They're also monitoring the status of defensive end Brian Burns, who left Sunday's game with an ankle sprain. He's also getting an MRI.
View photos from Bank of America Stadium as the Panthers take on the Patriots in Week 9.