CHARLOTTE — There were plenty of questions about the next steps at the quarterback position for the Panthers Monday, but head coach Matt Rhule didn't want to get ahead of himself.
Starter Sam Darnold left yesterday's win over the Falcons in the fourth quarter with a concussion. Rhule said Monday he wanted to wait to hear the results from Darnold's meetings with doctors later in the day before he went too far down any hypothetical roads.
"Sam will see the doctor today, so obviously, he's in the concussion protocol," Rhule said. "We'll wait and see where he's at before any next steps."
Darnold took a vicious shot in the right shoulder from Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun, and his head snapped back and then hit the turf. As he's in the protocol now, Darnold would need to be cleared by an independent neurologist before he could return.
When asked if backup PJ Walker would start next week's game against the Patriots if Darnold couldn't go, Rhule again avoided getting too far down the road.
"Again, I'm not going to get into too many hypotheticals," Rhule said. "Right now, if he was unable to play, P.J. would be the next guy up. But I'm hopeful that Sam will play, and we'll see how that plays out today and through the course of the week.
"But for us, we just go through the process of seeing where Sam is at first, and go from there. That's always the best way to approach it."
Walker nearly threw an interception at the goal line before Chuba Hubbard's game-sealing touchdown, and Rhule again called that decision "unacceptable." But he defended Walker's overall ability, pointing to the game against Detroit last year as evidence they can win with him.
"Obviously really, really disappointed in that throw he made on the goal line. That's a ball you get out there, and you throw away," Rhule said. "I'll say this, I don't think there's a guy in the locker room that doesn't believe in him. I think most of our guys see him in practice, saw him last year against Detroit, and know he can lead us.
"All that being said, he has to protect the football. We can't go out there and turn the ball over. That's really the tale of our season. If P.J. is asked to play, I expect that he'll play well. . . . With a full game, the whole game plan, the whole practice reps of the week, I believe that he can do a really nice job for us."
But when asked about the possibility of bringing in a free agent such as Cam Newton, Rhule again went back to his position that he wanted to see what Darnold's condition was first.
"I'm obviously not going to get into hypotheticals," he said. "I'm going to see what happens with Sam today; just take that process one day at a time. Worry about him first and then work out afterward."
Regardless of the status of his quarterback, Rhule wasn't going to apologize for the way they won the game. He pointed to holding the Falcons to 213 total yards, and controlling the clock for more than 35 minutes (by running 47 times and converting 10-of-17 third downs).
"We're going to have to terms with, we're a defensive football team, and when we play good defense and win the takeaway battle, we're going to win games," he said. "Part of that on offense is running the football. I'd like to score more touchdowns in the red zone, and we had a chance to do that. . . . But to have a two-score lead with 30 seconds left in the National Football League is hard. So I was proud of our guys. I thought they played well as a team together."
Asked to elaborate on the notion of being a defensive team, Rhule pointed to the amount of top-shelf talent the Panthers have accumulated on that side of the ball.
"When we line up to rush the passer, we've sometimes got three first-rounders rushing the passer," he said. "We've got a first-rounder and a second-rounder at corner. We've got an All-Pro at corner. We've got a first-round linebacker. We've got a lot of first- and second-rounders on defense, right? So I'm saying that to say, they've been our strength. The offense has had some good games and bad games; they've come along. This game, we said, hey let's try to go play great defense and let's run the football. It's what we should have done the last couple games. It's what we said we were going to do; it just didn't quite get executed. It got executed this game.
"I think some of us out there in general, if it's a 13-10 game, or a defensive struggle, think it's an ugly game. But any time you can win in Atlanta, that's really hard to do."
And by living up to that personality the way they did Sunday, they can make it easier on any quarterback.
View all of the best photos from pre-game, in-game and post-game from Carolina's win at Atlanta.